The Modi government recently approved the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill, 2019 in an effort to make Indian roads safer for both drivers as well as the pedestrians. The act bolsters measures to assist road accident victims as well as stiffens the penalties for various driving violations. The Amendment Act is aimed at enhancing road safety, improving process of issuing licenses and permits, weeding out corruption in RTO offices and ushering use of technology for regulating road traffic. The 2019 act intends to plug all gaps which were existing in the earlier act. The 2019 act is progressive that holistically incorporates all the tenets of road safety i.e. users, vehicles and infrastructure.
High Rate of Road Accidents in India
The country which is endowed with rich demographic dividend is also facing the biggest threats of losing these young lives to the road accidents. India, today faces a risk where around 400 people perish every day on the roads. That amounts to the loss of one life every four minutes on Indian roads. Biggest matter of concern is that over 50% of road deaths in recent years have been in the age group of 14-35 years, those in the prime of their productive age. In 2018 alone, speeding was responsible for over 66% of road accidents and over 5% were caused due to drunk driving. Even though Indians own barely 2% of the world’s motor vehicles, they account for more than 11% of 1.3 million people dying on road traffic crashes world over each year. Moreover, the number of lives lost in accidents on Indian National Highways during last year was 54,046 and total road deaths in 2018 is estimated to be close to 1.5 lakhs.
Road Safety and Economic Growth
While there is general recognition of road traffic injuries and fatalities, little is known about the link between road traffic injuries and economic growth. A UN study mentions that India loses 3% of its GDP, equivalent to over $58 billion in value terms every year due to road traffic crashes. A study by the World Bank finds that countries that do not invest in road safety could miss out on anywhere between 7% and 22% in potential per capita GDP growth over a 24-year period. To address such a dismal state of road fatalities and traffic rules violations in the country, the government passed Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act, 2019. This has come not just as a silver lining in the dark state of road safety policy in the county but will also result in an enhanced productivity of the people and country as a whole.
However, a certain section of media has criticised stringent penalties being imposed for violation of the rules and calling the act as draconian especially for the people belonging to lower strata of the society who don’t have capacity to pay hefty amount. But these people fail to realise that more often than not, it is the poor who suffers most from road mishaps due to loss of life of a bread earner of a family or reduced earnings due to some disability in the absence of any insurance cover. With greater fines, a behavioural change will be triggered among the people especially who are the biggest sufferers. This will prompt them to make the rules a part of their everyday life and not as a forced and an unwanted act.
Stricter Deterrence to Curb Road Accidents
No wonder the fines and penalties are going to make a sizeable dent in violator’s pockets but it’s meant to have a deterrent effect on those who let basic traffic rules slide, and end up with dents in their vehicles, or worse, their bodies and lives. So, applicability of the law across the section of society without any bias is discerning. The higher fines are a much-needed measure to curb traffic offenses in India, which has some the world’s most unsafe roads when it comes to driving. The Modi government that takes cue from the behavioural economics to bring about a sustainable and substantial change in the country expects the higher fines to be a stronger preventive measure for road users breaking the rules. This deterrence will cultivate the habit of obeying the rules on the roads which were till now taken for granted because of low penalties which mattered little to people.
A Progressive Law
The present act is the most thought through act is evident form its clauses which contain provisions not just to penalise but also to provide compulsory insurance to all road users in India. This will bring a respite to the poor families losing their loved ones on the roads. The fund will pay for treatment of crash survivors, provide compensation for the victims’ families and establish other systems to support all kinds of road users, from pedestrians to two-wheeler riders, pillion riders, private motor vehicle users and large vehicle users. The times are gone when a juvenile could get away with underage driving. With the coming of new legislation, not only does the owner of the vehicle gets fined with a jail term, but the juvenile could also become ineligible for a licence until 25 years of age. The onus of maintaining discipline on the roads is not only on the users but also on the manufacturers of vehicles who would be penalised for producing motor vehicles with the potential of damaging the health and safety of road users.
A Step in the Right Direction
For the country which has already suffered a lot with this preventable epidemic, the new Amendment Act was a dire need of the hour. The attitude of “rules are meant to be broken” or the rules are only for the poor is no more existing. For the government that puts its people first and eyes for development for all, providing secured and safe living through this act is a step-in right direction. By triggering a systemic change towards road safety, the new law will bring about a behavioural change among people thus making their lives stress-free and simultaneously will ensure higher economic growth of the country.