The amended Motor Vehicles Act came into effect in India on September 1, 2019. Since then, several commuters and motorists who were found flouting multiple rules began receiving challans of staggering amounts. One even received a penalty of Rs 23,000. Motorists and drivers have been crying hoarse against the new harsh penalties.
This scenario raises some pertinent questions — why did the authorities have to resort to such heavy penalties? Were these extreme rules necessary to make road users and motorists follow basic road safety precautions? Was this the only way to prevent road accidents and save lives?
While some may agree with the amendments made to the MV Act and the heavy fines, there are many who’ve been left wondering why!
The fewer the crashes, the safer the lives
Well, this is nothing to wonder about. Driving safely through maddeningly congested traffic on Indian roads is nothing less than a nightmare. People don’t carry their documents while driving their vehicles and most drive rashly, without giving a thought about someone else’s life. Many motorists even go to the extent of risking their own lives by refusing to wear safety gear — helmet and seat belt. And to cap it all, the enforcement of traffic rules by the authorities is lax, to say the least. The state of Gujarat topped the list of helmetless pillion rider deaths. Karnataka topped the list of deaths caused due to not wearing seat belts.
Keeping these safety violations in mind, traffic authorities and the government decided to present the amended Motor Vehicles Act, which was passed by both houses of Parliament. But even 6 months since the new act came into effect, it hasn’t quite proved a deterrent with no substantial changes or shift in statistics evident as yet.
Protocols on paper, but what is the reality?
So although the law has been passed, there is much left to be proved at the ground level.
India loses 3% to 5% of its GDP every year due to road accidents. Imagine the savings the country can have if the overall condition of the city roads and highways is improved, if drivers are trained better, and if traffic laws are enforced strictly.
These numbers point to the deteriorating safety conditions on roads and also to the lax attitude of the road authorities and agencies. Taking road safety to be a grave issue, India in 2015 committed itself to bringing down these whopping figures by half and signed the Brasilia Declaration.
What road users as well as traffic authorities need to understand is that safer roads means safe lives. It is the responsibility of both the users and the State to take it upon themselves to make roads safer. Apart from ensuring safety, doing so will also help bring down the number of deaths and injuries on roads.
Indian roads the most unsafe in the world
In 2018, as many as 151,417 people left their homes and never returned. More than 97,000 people died due to accidents caused by speeding. The need of the hour is for the Indian authorities to acquire better technologies to enforce the laws that are already present. As per a report released by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, 1,280 road crashes and 415 deaths occur daily on Indian roads on an average. This translates to 53 crashes and the loss of 17 lives every hour. Road traffic injuries constituted the eighth leading cause of deaths in India as per traffic figures of 2018. Mumbai, the financial capital of India, is one of the cities that records the highest number of road traffic fatalities in India.
Geneva-based World Road Federation’s World Road Statistics 2018 showed that India is the most unsafe country in the world for road users among the 199 surveyed. It is followed by two giants — China (63,000) and USA (37,000) in the number of lives lost in road accidents.
The report also reveals that out of the total people killed in road crash deaths in 2018, 48% were between the age of 18 and 35. The number of minors involved in road crash deaths accounted for 6.6% of the total casualties.
Technology aiding enforcement
Traffic authorities have gone all out to bring down accident figures. High-speed cameras and digital radar speed signs have been installed on roads and highways in a bid to deter motorists from exceeding speed limits. These radar speed sensor display boards, equipped with night vision technology, record the speed of approaching motorists and warn them to slow down. They are effective even if it’s raining or foggy.
The use of speed cameras and radar display signs has, to some extent, reined in speeding motorists, but the real numbers will emerge only a few months after the enforcement of the new rules.
The advantage of using these high-tech devices on the roads is that they make people mind their speeds. These gadgets track speed and time of the offence and help authorities encourage repeat offenders to obey and respect traffic rules.
When rules are not strictly enforced, people begin to ignore them and start thinking they can get away with violating them as and when they want. Indian motorists in particular break traffic rules because they feel they can reach their destination faster and also escape the law.
According to the World Health Organization’s Global Status Report on Road Safety 2018, India was rated 4 on a scale of 0 to 10, in terms of enforcement of drunk-driving laws. India’s rating was the lowest among the BRICS countries — Brazil (6), Russia (6), China (9), and South Africa (5).
Road safety — A challenge
Driving harshly and negligently has become a habit with motorists. These are negative habits that have gone unchecked for years. That is why it is usually only strict and effective law enforcement that can lead to a change in attitude and make negligent drivers responsible. Such measures when adopted in other countries around the world have shown positive results, and India it is hoped will be no different.
Another manner in which a change can be brought about in the attitude of the population in general about following traffic rules and regulations is by spreading awareness. Several agencies and NGOs have taken upon themselves the responsibility to spread the message to the people and make them understand the various road signs and relevant rules. Such an initiative has successfully been carried out in schools, colleges, and corporate houses.
What is clear is that the role of the State and the traffic authorities has increased in recent years towards road safety issues and implementation of stricter norms. This is good news for the people of India, who have been suffering unnecessarily for decades for no fault of theirs. Let’s hope the State continues its effort of providing safe roads and saving lives.