Ever since the amended Motor Vehicle Act came into effect on September 1, many people have been arguing passionately against heavy fines that violators now face. Their main point of contention is that the poor and low-paid employees will not be able to afford such steep penalties.

I find this baffling. When it comes to road traffic deaths, India is the world’s worst-performing country. Even though Indians own less than 2% of the world’s motor vehicles, the country accounts for more than 11% of the 1.3 million people who die in road traffic crashes around the world each year.

I believe that the quantum of fines should be high enough to deter the violator from putting his own life and the life of others at grave risk. I also believe that, except for a negligible number of inadvertent violations, all the others are deliberate.

In India, violating the road rules is the norm. Take a look at our streets. Motorists zigzag at high speed through heavy traffic without regard for the other drivers or pedestrians, jump red lights, talk on their phones while driving and ride two-wheelers without helmets – sometimes with three or even four passengers. Such violations are committed by people across the spectrum of social class, age and gender.

The reluctance of many states, including those ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party, to implement the amended law emanates from compulsions of vote bank politics. But politicians must realise that certain decisions must be taken for greater good of the society, even if they aren’t popular.

The fear of heavy penalties is already proving effective as apparent from the number of cars and two wheelers lining up on patrol pumps to their their pollution checks ever since the new penalties came into force. The earlier penalty of Rs 1,000 was not enough for them to spend Rs 50 per year to obtain this certificate but the increased fine of Rs 10,000 seems to be doing the job. Similarly, in the National Capital region, it seems that many more two-wheeler riders are actually wearing their helmets. If such striking improvement in compliance can be achieved in a short period, the heavy penalties are obviously having the intended effect.

The role of education

Penalties however, are not the only solution. Efforts have also to be made simultaneously to educate the public about the necessity of complying with the rules. Visual media should also be used extensively to educate people about necessity of compliance.

Schools should play more active part in inculcating civic sense and ensuring that their students grow up to be law-abiding citizens. One notable effort is already being made at the primary school located within the Border Security Force campus in Silguri, where the commandant created a traffic park, complete with lights. Children ride in toy cars and are educated about traffic rules through role play.

Traffic violations can be divided into fatal and non-fatal categories. Some violations such as driving without a helmet, speeding, jumping the red light, drunk driving, using a mobile phone while driving or not putting on the belt while driving fall into dangerous category. Others like failing to produce documents such as the registration certificate or insurance papers are less dangerous.

The government’s “e-vahan” portal could be used effectively to check violations like a vehicle being uninsured Vehicle. The portal, which has details of all the vehicles registered with the authorities, could be used to send periodic reminders to owners to renew their insurance or pollution certificates. Fines could be levied on the owner without physical intervention through the portal itself.

The traffic police should be equipped with the “e vahan” app to enable them to verify these details even if the owner is not in possession of these documents either in physical or electronic form. This will save a lot of paperwork and inconvenience.

In addition, the process of issuing driving licences needs to be reviewed. Presently, the applicant is tested only for his driving skills. There is no test of road sense in the process nor training for this. Testing on simulators could be effective in inculcating a road sense.

Dangerous violations should be monitored by cameras and speed monitors placed at suitable locations. This could minimise the need for the police to intervene physically, thereby obstructing the traffic flow. Impounding of the vehicles and driving licences of repeat violators would also go a long way in deterring offences.

Indians must understand that human life is too precious to squander because of carelessness. Heavy fines coupled with simultaneous education initiatives to inculcate traffic sense are the only way forward.