As safe as it should be, is the right answer. But we dug deeper!
By showing a European version of the Nano (very imaginatively called... er... Europa) at the Geneva Motor Show in March, Tata Motors was sending a strong statement about the safety features incorporated into the Nano body shell. The right place to begin when we are talking about the safety of the Nano should be the body shell.
Unlike conventional cars, the Nano is not built as a 'body on chassis' vehicle. Nor is it built like most modern cars as a 'monocoque.' Instead, a combination of a 'space frame' and a 'monocoque' is employed to ensure that the resulting 'mono-volume' body-in-white (the shell minus bonnet, doors and bumper, etc) combines the advantages of both. This shell makes the Nano inherently safer than a simple monocoque.
At this point, we would like to point out that using an extruded aluminium bonded chassis as in the case of the Mercedes-Benz Smart would have been prohibitively expensive -- if safer -- for the Nano application.
The Nano is developed to meet all the safety features that are applicable for passenger cars in India -- which is not saying much. What we like is the fact that the car will be able to meet the upcoming safety norms too. Current norms stipulate that the cars sold in India should meet norms set for full frontal crash, head impact on steering wheel, body block impact on steering system and seat belt anchorage strength, etc.
In addition to these regulatory tests, the Nano was also subjected to 'roof crush' test (for protection in rollovers). The new norms will see offset frontal impact as well as the critical side-impact tests and Tata engineers are confident of meeting these criteria. The Nano structure also features crumple zones in the front, strong doors to resist side intrusion and a cabin that maximises survival space in the event of a collision.
Again pointing at the export possibilities, the exterior and interior are designed to be smooth and rounded with no sharp features to reduce risk of injury to pedestrians and occupants (very important to meet the strict European guidelines) and earn a respectable rating at the Euro NCAP as and when Tata Motors wants to seek it. The Europa will also feature an Electronic Stability Programme and ABS and these may filter down to India -- albeit at a price.
Extensive computer simulation based on Finite Element Based Methods has been extensively used during the development phase of the Nano. The passenger compartment has been reinforced to minimise deformation and the doors are engineered so that they don't get jammed during the crash. The roof has been strengthened to prevent it from collapsing and thereby resulting in the loss of survival space for the occupants.
The Tata Group has a great deal of expertise when it comes to automotive software development (ask the Ferrari racing team!) and developing a state-of-the-art ABS and ESP for the Nano shouldn't be a worry at all. And we are certain that in the near future, the Nano will get these safety bits.
But what worries us today though is the lack of left-side rear view mirrors on all the Nano models. It wouldn't have cost a lot more, and come to think of it, all two-wheelers in India feature two mirrors already!