Some lessons from panel on MV Bill

About 1.5 lakh people die in road accidents in India annually. A majority are in the age group of 15 to 45 years.

While India has the second largest road network in the world. But these roads may also be ranked as the most dangerous in the world today, contributing to maximum traffic accidents.

Road traffic deaths in India are increasing drastically – from about 1,30,000 in 2010, to close to 1,50,000 today. A majority of the victims are in the age group of 15 to 45 years, which does not only put a serious burden on their families, but also has a significant impact on the GDP of the country.

Over the last few years, the government has made several attempts to strengthen motor vehicle legislation. In August last year, the Union Cabinet approved amendments to the 1988 Motor Vehicle Act, which was later tabled in the Lok Sabha and subsequently referred to parliament’s Standing Committee. The committee submitted its recommendations after reviewing the comments from the public, various private agencies as well as state governments. Here are the five main highlights from the recommendations:

The committee rightly observed that road traffic crashes occur due to multiple reasons including road design, potholes, wrong signage, high speed, inferior driving skills etc. One of the big hindrances to taking corrective measure is lack of proper data around road accidents. A substantial number of accidents are never studied or investigated scientifically.

The committee recommended a new provision — Section 213A — to be inserted in the MV Bill so that the central government can initiate scientific investigation of causes of road crashes. It also observed that the present bill did not address the issue of accidents caused by faulty road designs, construction or maintenance. It recommended that a penalty provision (Section 198A) may be inserted in the bill to hold road contractors and concessionaires accountable for faulty design, construction and maintenance of roads.

The committee observed that road safety is a complex subject requiring a dedicated and continued focus and mere enhancement of penalties would not solve the problem. It proposed to constitute a high-powered road safety board, comprising both central and state governments, to ensure availability of adequate funds for technologically upgrading and updating standards.

It should have adequate authority to guide the government. The committee also suggested that a national road safety fund be constituted with an additional cess on first time sale of new motor vehicles that could fund all these activities.

Enhanced penalties for traffic violators: The MV Amendment Bill recommended enhanced penalties for several traffic violations. While the committee did appreciate the increased penalties for most offences, it also suggested improvement in infrastructure and reduction in penalties in some cases. For example, in case of vehicles carrying extra passengers, the committee feels that penalty of Rs 1,000 per excess person is high and recommends that it should be reduced to Rs 200 per person as in many parts across India, especially in rural areas, availability of efficient and reliable transportation is a problem that can’t be solved with penalties.

The Amendment Bill has suggested that vehicle registrations may be done at dealers’ end to ensure proper registration of all vehicles. However, the committee noted that a vehicle dealer is an agent of the manufacturer and hence it should not be given any registering authority.

At the same time, it also observed that RTOs throughout the country are overburdened and understaffed. Moreover, there are issues around transparency and corruption. The committee, therefore, agreed with the delegation of powers to dealers with the rider that strict guidelines may be prescribed for the functioning of the vehicle dealers.

Aggregators vs local taxis

The committee noted that the control of transport vehicles is the exclusive domain of state governments. However, with the amendments on aggregators, the central government would get overriding control on aggregators. The committee, therefore, recommended that every state should have its own guidelines to control the operations of aggregators.

It observed that the aggregators should not wipe out small operators and local taxi drivers from the system and felt that with increasing number of aggregators, especially in metros, penalties must also be prescribed to prevent malpractices.

In addition, the panel also stressed that non-motorised vehicles do not follow road rules, creating nuisance, and recomm­ended corrective measures like non-monetary penalties of traffic rule education. It suggested that non-motorised vehicles sh­ould not be allowed on national highways and main roads of me­tro cities. While the same is relevant for access controlled highways and expressways, it would be inappropriate and unadvisable for other roads, especially city roads. The bill should rather emphasise on creating dedicated spaces for such modes like cycle tracks and footpaths.

India needs to embrace the ‘vision zero’ approach for addressing road safety. This approach is based on the principle that human life must take priority over all other traffic challenges, such as congestion, speed, and road capacity. It accepts that to some extent, human error is unavoidable, and that transportation systems need to be designed to ensure that such errors do not result in fatalities.

(The writer is Director- Integrated Transport, WRI India)

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