Welcome boost to road safety

Most of the amendments made to the Motor Vehicles Act of 1988, as passed by the Lok Sabha last week, are welcome and well-intentioned and they are expected to have a positive impact on road safety. Some amendments have been seen as ambitious in the environment prevailing in India but being too good cannot be held as a drawback. The bill has incorporated most of the best recommendations and suggestions that came out of a long public debate and consultations on the matter. It has also tried to take into consideration the changes and developments in technology, road usage, lifestyles and habits and other factors that have a bearing on the use of vehicles and road safety. It is, in that sense, a contemporary legislation. While being a central legislation, it will also involve state governments in a major way because much of the implementation should happen at the state level.

Some of the highlights of the Bill are the use of digital technology for processes like registrations and licences, stricter penalties for violations of the law such as drunken driving and over speeding, and making it easier to reach help to accident victims. Some provisions, such as making the contractor who built the road accountable for accidents, are innovative. Further safety provisions relating to the use of helmets and seat belts have been introduced. Higher compensations have been prescribed in hit-and-run cases. Standards have been laid down for electronic monitoring of highways and roads, and a framework for operation of taxi aggregators has also been created. Insurance is an area that needed reform and there has been a difference of views on the issue of a cap on liabilities.

This, and in fact other provisions, can be discussed again in the Rajya Sabha when the Bill is presented there in the monsoon session.  The Bill is comprehensive and touches upon all aspects of road safety like the state of roads and vehicles, human agency, institutional processes and legal and other matters. But effective implementation is as important as formulation of the law. For example, the steep hike in penalties will have any use only if the provision is enforced. It is the certainty and not the severity of punishment that deters offences, big and small. The transport department is known for corruption and malpractices which lead to accidents. Some of the provisions in the Bill should help to introduce processes and procedures which reduce corruption. On the whole, the Bill should be able to bring down the number of road accidents and fatalities, in which India has the dubious distinction of leading the world.

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