Suddenly across India, there is panic among automobile vehicle users as the police and transport authorities are jointly slapping huge amounts of money by way of penalty for traffic rule violation.
The Motor Vehicle Act, mainly relating to traffic safety, has been amended drastically with the sole view to making vehicular movement safe for all.
The new set of rules came into force on September 1 and life has been hell for the majority of habitual offenders including innocent kids and parents and citizens not educated well.
Between November 18 and 19, 2015, the Brazilian Government hosted the 2nd Global High-Level Conference on Road Safety in Brasilia, co-sponsored by the WHO, to chart progress for road safety in the 2011-2020 period. The 2,200 delegates adopted the “Brasilia Declaration on Road Safety” through which they agreed on ways to halve road traffic deaths by the end of this decade.
The Brasilia Declaration remains ever since a call to rethink transport policies in order to favour more sustainable modes of transport such as walking, cycling and using public transport.
It highlights strategies to ensure the safety of all road users particularly by improving laws and enforcement; making roads safer through infrastructural modifications; ensuring that vehicles are equipped with life-saving technologies; and enhancing emergency trauma care systems. The declaration encourages the WHO and partners to facilitate development of targets to reduce road traffic crashes and fatalities.
But as it seems, the Government of India, fully aware of the public ignorance about the declaration’s highlights and features, has ignored all critical strategies except law enforcement. Hence the massive hue and cry against what’s happening today on the traffic management front. It’s only the enforcement agencies headed by the police that are ruling the roost. Strategies including better road infrastructure and lifesaving technology for vehicles and more have not been in place at all.
Since the latest disturbing road accident data are not available, it’s logical to go by 2015 as the base year: There were about 5 lakh road accidents in India, which killed about 1.5 lakh people and injured about 5 lakh people. India, as a signatory to the Brasilia Declaration, is expected to reduce road accidents and fatalities by 50% by 2022.
The first three high-fatality States are Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu in order and they account for 33% of total Indian traffic fatalities. Three cities accounted for 18.7% of the total accidents in 2016. Chennai led with 7,486 accidents followed by Delhi and Bengaluru. But Delhi leads in the number of deaths followed by Chennai.
It is an established fact that ‘speeding’ is the biggest cause of accidents, especially on the highways-accounting for 41% of the total deaths. In India, over 1,37,000 people succumb to injuries from accidents. This figure is four times the annual death toll from terror attacks. There is one road accident death every fourth minute. Five deaths are reported everyday in Delhi and 16 children die every day in India. While two-wheelers accidents account for 30%, ironically the modern vehicles with state-of-art safety features cause the most accidents.
India is said to be the fastest-developing country after China. However, the road conditions are dangerously terrible everywhere – the metros, towns and remote villages. According to the Road Accident Report for 2014 prepared by the Road Transport and Highways Ministry, 75,000 people were killed because of the dangerous roads. Overloaded vehicles, passenger or goods, are also a major cause for accidents. Goods vehicles carrying goods like protruding steel rods cause extremely horrific accidents. Overloaded vehicles caused 36,543 deaths in 2014.
Drunken driving is perhaps the biggest reason for fatal accidents. It is am irony that most drunk drivers walk away safely from the gruesome scene due to the latest safety features in place. Pedestrians and smaller vehicles are never so lucky.
Two-wheelers account for 30% of the accidents in India. Wearing a helmet can reduce the risk of severe head injury by 72% and the risk of death by 39%. Unfortunately, helmet use has not been mandatory everywhere in India.
India has been upgrading its highways since 2000 with dividers, four and six-lane roads and expressways, but the design does not cater to the requirements of pedestrians, cyclists, two-wheelers, animal carts and other slow-moving traffic. So accidents occur oftentimes.
Not surprisingly, the enforcement officials have been lax and casual all these decades. One gets to witness police officials without helmet every now and then; and on enquiry, quite a few government vehicles keep moving without valid documents that are proof to fitness, up-to-date insurance and driver’s licence and more.
Recently, in Bhubaneswar, when the traffic authorities including the police came pouncing on daily commuters and started slapping illogically heavy fines for violations, the enraged public found some officials' vehicles plying without valid documents.
All hell broke loose and the officials had to flee or apologise publicly, embarrassing the Government. Fortunately, the considerate Chief Minister realised all was not well on the traffic front and passed orders to go lax on most rules except ‘drunk driving' and ‘lack of insurance coverage'. The relaxation is for only three months, during which offenders are expected to get their documents organised.
Most importantly, parents and guardians need to inspire young people to know most critical rules and regulations that ensure road safety:
Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari says steep penalties are not meant to collect bigger revenue but to ensure that people do not suffer injury or loss of life due to violation of safety laws.
He is right but not practically so. Sudden harsh, extremely stringent laws and rules do cause panic which results in rebellion, mob behaviour and violence all over. On being caught, huge amounts of money can never be arranged by kids, poor parents or the wage-labour community.
The best way to dissuade habitual offenders is to have the ‘driving licence' impounded instantly with no scope for renewal for some years unless the case is truly hard and deserves clemency. Monetary punishment can hurt people very badly and turn them inimical.
But cancelling licence, road permit or suspending vehicle registration temporarily will force traffic rule offenders to fall in line with law.
If offence is committed a second time, the violator may lose entitlement for life. Similarly, vehicles can be seized attracting hefty fines. Mindless financial punishment will not easily teach people any lesson.
But the fear of losing entitlement, temporary or permanent, can drive everyone to mend ways. This approach will be the most effective deterrent in matters of traffic rule violation, given the economic situation of the masses of India.
No matter what, they can never cough up the astronomical sums of money by way of penalty. If the new law is forced on people, there could be countrywide rebellion.
In consequence, all business would come to a standstill for a pretty long time as most vehicles would go off roads.