Road safety is a concern, so is steep traffic fine

| | Chandigarh
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Road safety is a concern, so is steep traffic fine

Monday, 16 September 2019 | Nishu Mahajan | Chandigarh

If you have not been stopped or challaned by the Traffic Police for any violation so far, consider yourself lucky or do not break the traffic rules, in the first place. For, the new Motor Vehicle Act is making the violators pay through their nose.

The Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act 2019, which came into effect from September 1 has caused quite a stir in the country with almost everyone talking about the exorbitant traffic challans now.

While the stricter rules have drawn mixed response from the society, it has also triggered hilarious memes and jokes on the social media platforms.

“Sadko par Darr ka Mahool hai,” said one of the jokes, apparently pointing towards how everyone especially the traffic violators are getting a fright at the sight of a traffic cop these days.

Startling incidents like—a truck driver from Rajasthan being asked to pay a whopping amount of Rs 1.41 lakh as fine, drunk auto rickshaw driver in Bhubaneswar (Odisha) fined Rs 47500, Delhi man setting his motorcycle on fire after getting a challan of Rs 16000 for drunk driving and other violations,  Noida (Uttar Pradesh) IT professional dying of heart attack while arguing with traffic police over a suspected violation, man leaving his Honda Activa with Police after getting a fine of Rs 23000,  Vadodara (Gujarat) man affixing all required documents on his helmet to save himself from hefty challans and a man from Aligarh (Uttar Pradesh) wearing a helmet while driving a car— are some of the aftereffects seen from across the country after the new rules came into effect.

In the union territory of Chandigarh, the Traffic Police has issued more than 4000 challans under various offences in just 10 days, collecting around Rs 14 lakh fine.

As per the data provided by UT Traffic Police, three owners or guardians were found guilty in case of road offence by juveniles in the first 10 days since the new rules were implemented. As per the new provisions, there is a penalty of Rs 25000 with three years imprisonment and cancellation of registration of the motor vehicle for giving vehicles to minors for driving. 

During the same period, the Traffic Police has issued challan to more than 1300 two-wheeler drivers for not wearing helmet. Over 300 car drivers were issued challans for not wearing seat belts. 206 women were issued challans for not wearing helmets while 165 were fined for riding pillion without helmet.

From jumping the red light signal to not wearing a helmet, the challan has gone up multi-fold under the new rules. The penalty for driving without a license is increased from Rs 500 to Rs 5000 while fine for not wearing a seatbelt would attract a fine of Rs 1000 as against Rs 100 earlier. The new rules have also enhanced the penalty for drunken driving to imprisonment up to 6 months and/or fine up to Rs 10000 for first offence and imprisonment up to 2 years and/or fine of Rs 15000 for the second offence. Similarly, penalties for other traffic violations have seen multifold increase.

Interestingly, the citizens are also churning out evidence against the police personnel violating traffic rules or taking bribe for not issuing the challan. Several such videos of policemen breaking traffic rules or taking bribe from traffic violators have surfaced on social media in the past few days.

In Chandigarh, a Punjab Police cop was slapped a fine of Rs 10,000 for talking on the mobile phone while driving his scooter. His video was captured by a citizen. Also, three Chandigarh Police personnel were dismissed from the job for seeking and accepting bribe from traffic violators.

Terming the new rules as the “need of the hour”, Surinder Verma, chairman of Citizen Awareness Group says, “Paying a hefty penalty will make the traffic violators realize that they should not violate the traffic rules next time.  Irresponsible driving leads to road accidents and deaths every year. There was a need to introduce such strict rules to ensure road safety in the country.”Commenting on the allegations of harassment by Traffic Police in the name of penalising violators of traffic rules, Verma says, “Traffic cops stop people only when there is a violation or some other suspicion. People should also cooperate.”

“The ultimate aim is to ensure road safety and for that, we are moving in the right direction, he adds.

Till August this year, as many as 56 persons have lost their lives on the city roads. 53 fatal accidents have been reported in the city from January to August.

In 2018, 98 people including 35 pedestrians were killed due to road accidents in the city. A total of 316 road accidents were reported last year, out of which 294 were due to rash driving, 12 were caused due to drunken driving and 10 due to red light jumping.

The data suggests that the number of road accidents and fatalities have declined in the past three years in the city. In 2017, 342 road accidents and 107 fatalities were reported while the number of accidents was 428 and fatalities were 151 in 2016.

Harman Singh Sandhu, president of Chandigarh based NGO-ArriveSAFE says, “Only by issuing challans and imposing heavy penalties on violators, we would not be able to achieve the main objective of road safety.”

Sandhu, who is also a member of Road Safety Council, Chandigarh says, “Safe system approach should be followed where responsibility for the system is shared by everyone including policy makers, planners, engineers not just road users and Traffic Police. The safe system approach aims for a more forgiving road system that takes human fallibility and vulnerability into account.”

Sandhu was paralyzed neck down after a road accident in 1996 and has been fighting a battle for the last more than a decade to bring reforms and mitigate road accidents.

His NGO ArriveSAFE, in its recent survey about road signs or markings on Vikas Marg, Himalayan Marg and Udyan Path in Chandigarh has found that more than 70 percent of road signs or markings are missing, faded out or are not in compliance of IRC 35 and IRC 67 Codes of Practice mandated by Indian Road Congress, Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways.

About the survey, he tells, “Most of the road signages and markings are faulty (not as per the IRC standards) resulting in fear and anxiety of subjective enforcement. Even the most aware citizen finds it difficult to see the zebra crossing during dusk, dawn or in glare of the sun. Instead of promoting safe movement, the faulty signages are resulting in confusion amongst commuters.”

The NGO has also sent a representation to the UT Administration urging to direct the field staff of Chandigarh Traffic Police to not challan road users at such locations till the road markings at zebra crossings are not as per standards.

Sharing his views on the hefty penalties for traffic violations, former Union Minister and ex-city MP Pawan Kumar Bansal says, “Though it is essential that people follow traffic rules but this is not an appropriate approach to deal with the issue of road safety. This is hurting people...”

“The government’s job is not to earn money through challans. The challan fees should be brought down in the city and the UT Administration must take an appropriate action in this regard,” he says.

“During the time of issuance of challan, a number of offences are clubbed together, which makes the challaning fee huge for an individual. In some cases, people have been asked to pay penalty, which is almost half to the price of their vehicle. We need to change our approach if we want to ensure road safety,” he adds.

Undoubtedly, the law-evading citizens jeopardize the safety of fellow citizens, but at the same time, the exorbitant amount of fine remains a debatable issue.

Infact, some State Governments have decided to not implement the new Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act citing exorbitant penalties. While states like West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Punjab and Maharashtra have put on hold the implementation of stricter fines to boost road discipline, other states like Gujarat and Uttarakhand decided to reduce the rates that have been stated in the amended Act.

In Chandigarh, a delegation of Congress had recently met the Punjab Governor and UT Administrator VP Singh Badnore seeking his intervention in the matter and demanding that the challan fee be brought down under various offences in the city.

The issue was even raised during the meeting of UT Administrator’s Advisory council held on Friday with several members demanding that the focus should be on spreading awareness about the road safety and the new rules and the challaning process could be initiated after few months.

The Chandigarh Administration has however made it clear that the challan fee would not be reduced.

Manoj Parida, Advisor to the UT Administrator says, “Chandigarh being a union territory will go by the directions of the Central Government. The Administration will not slash the penalties levied under the new Act.”

He says, “The UT Traffic Police has been working to make people aware about the new rules besides penalizing the traffic violators.”

“Even though there is a high penalty for various traffic violations under the new rules, it is meant to ensure road safety which is a major concern across the country,” he adds.

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