India’s road safety crisis is no secret anymore. The numbers are so staggering that they could cause a few accidents from shock, if you just read them! At least 4,80,652 accidents led to 1,50,785 deaths in 2016, which means 413 people died everyday in 1,317 road accidents. There were at least 17 deaths in 55 accidents every hour.
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However, the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act was passed by the Lok Sabha last year, but never got the nod from the Rajya Sabha, which got adjourned indefinitely this year.
Meanwhile, a recent report shows that most accidents in India involve “newest vehicles”! Those vehicles that had been used for 0-5 years played a part in 40.3 per cent of road accidents in 2016, while those that had been on the roads for 5-10 years were involved in 32.7 percent of accidents.
Does that mean that you should not buy new vehicles, or that they need to include a statutory warning that they are injurious to life? No. It only reflects the driving skills of the current crop of drivers behind the wheel.
According to a communication from the Ministry based on road accident data, a large number of accidents (around 78 percent) occur due to the driver’s fault. In Pune, about 175 bikers were reported killed in September, 2017. About 40% of them could have been saved if they had worn helmets, according to the police. A 17-year-old student in Delhi died while driving on the wrong side of the road. A Hyderabad driver was crushed by a speeding truck and found with alcohol bottles in his car.
Hence, the main reasons for deaths that have been documented include poor driving skills and what you see on most roads – rule violations and indiscretion. Speeding is the reason for 66.5 percent of all road accidents, accounting for 61 percent of deaths. The second reason is reckless use of cellular phones. Cell phone usage led to just under 5,000 accidents and more than 2,000 deaths last year.
But why harp on the passage of the amended Motor Vehicles Act, then, as a step toward safer roads and less accidents?
Amendments to the Motor Vehicle Act
In order to answer that, let us look at some of the key provisions in the pending Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill 2016. The new law has proposed 68 amendments to 233 sections and 28 additions to the 1988 Motor Vehicles Act. The following are some of the clauses that are being relied upon to reduce accident rates:
- Fines would shoot up for drunken or rash driving, overspeeding, riding without seatbelts and talking on mobile phones while on the drive.
- Contractors, consultants and civic agencies would be accountable for faulty design, construction or poor maintenance of roads
- The government can recall vehicles whose components or engines do not meet the required standards. Manufacturers can be fined in case of sub-standard components or engine.
- For deaths in hit-and-run cases, the government would offer a compensation of Rs 2 lakh or more to the victim’s family – an increase from just Rs 25,000.
- The bill has a provision for protection of Good Samaritans. Those who come forward to help accident victims will be protected from civil or criminal liability.
Let us now relate some of these to the most common causes of accidents today.
Would the Bill really be effective in bringing down accidents caused by rash or negligent driving, or violation of driving rules? Are the penalties that the driver is supposed to pay for rash driving enough to be a deterrent?
The Bill increases the penalties for those offences that are the driver’s fault. Hence, the minimum fine you need to pay if you are caught driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs has increased from ₹2,000 to ₹10,000.
It you drive rashly, you would need to cough up a fine ₹5,000, up from ₹1,000.
Driving without a seat belt would invite a fine of ₹1,000. And if you haven’t worn your helmet, the fine could be ₹1,000 along with a three-month suspension of the driving licence too.
The increase in fines, however, do not seem to be exorbitant, given that most such road accidents happen in urban settings. Will the increase in fines really control the accident rate, then?
“Yes, if enforced properly,” says a middle-aged man, Tarun, who rides a two-wheeler. “After all, if I have to pay an extra Rs 1,000 for not wearing a helmet, why wouldn’t I wear one?”
Top five cities responsible for maximum road fatalities in 2016:
|City||Road fatalities (2016)|
Accidents caused by road management issues
Faulty design, poor maintenance and bad road engineering comprise yet another significant reason for accidents on Indian roads. About 10,000 road accidents were caused by speed breakers that killed 3,396 people. Potholes were even bigger killer traps causing at least 6,424 road accidents. Out of these, 2,324 proved to be fatal.
The 2016 Bill notes the anomalies in road management and specifies that the central government must draft a ‘National Transportation Policy’ that would set up a framework to facilitate road transportation planning, grant permits, locate and fix priorities. It has to be drafted along with different state governments.
There is also a provision to make the government ensure proper electronic surveillance on national, state and urban roads, drawing up a comprehensive set of rules.
The necessity for enactment of these provisions into law becomes acute when we consider that rules are rarely followed. On one proposal from the Supreme Court mandating road safety audits, the Ministry admitted that there weren’t enough qualified auditors in road safety engineering. Only a strict law with penalties would prevent the state and national governments from abdicating their responsibilities.
The active bystander
Another important provision of the Bill provides safety and security to the bystander who intervenes to reduce fatalities in a road accident. Prompt and immediate medical attention within the first 60 minutes has the highest likelihood of saving the life of an accident victim. Within just one hour of the accident, the central government needs to execute a plan to offer “cashless medical treatment” to accident victims.
The Bill also incorporates the provisions of the Good Samaritan guidelines, that was given the force of law by the Supreme Court in 2016. These guidelines protect Good Samaritans (bystanders who come forward, in good faith, to help road accident victims) from civil and criminal liability and make it optional for them to disclose their identity to the police or medical personnel.
Can the new law be effective?
Many critics dismiss the law as mere cosmetic tinkering. Even as the government waits for the Rajya Sabha’s nod to pass the Motor Vehicle Act (Amendment) Bill 2017, they point out that the entire law has to be overhauled, not just amended, as it is “as old as 30 years”. Once the Amendment is passed, the Bill has to be stringently implemented and enforced too.
But even for the first step, there seem to be a number of obstacles. Will the government, police and people work towards a holistic solution, or will the idea be just another victim?