Every year, five lakh road accidents are reported in the country in which 1.5 lakh people lose their lives. The government has now made a commitment to reducing accidents and fatalities by 50% in five years and it intends to do this through the Motor Vehicle (Amendment) Bill, which focuses on increasing fines substantially. But passing the law may be the easy part. The real roadblock may lie in implementing it, said experts.

Union Minister of Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari introduced the Bill in the Lok Sabha on August 9. Even in framing this policy, the government has used National Crime Records Bureau, which heavily under-represent deaths of pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists.

The bill proposes increased fines for speeding, driving without licences, and drunken driving among other offences to between Rs 2,000 to Rs 10,000. In many cases, the increase in fines is ten-fold.

How increased fines play out

The increase in the fine is long overdue and much needed. The Motor Vehicles Act was passed in 1988 with fines ranging from Rs 100.

“The fines were too small," said Saji Cherian, Director-Operations, Save Life Foundation, a nonprofit that works on improving road safety and emergency care in India. "If you look at the consumer index price of 1988, Rs 100 in 1988 would be at the same value as Rs 800-1000. This is definitely a good step.”

Studies on effectivity of high fines vary in what they find. A study a peer-reviewed journal Accident Analysis and Prevention by Norwegian traffic expert Rune Elvik showed that a steep increase in fines does not always necessarily reduce violations by between one percent and 12 percent.

“People protest when fines are too high," said Kavi Bhalla, assistant professor, Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. "When other countries have imposed harsh penalties, police have typically responded by reducing the number of tickets issued so as to not upset the public.”

Better implementation

Most studies suggest that a successful road traffic policy requires highly visible enforcement activities. This could include having more traffic police on the road or setting up electronic enforcement.

One new proposal in the bill puts the the onus on the central government to make rules for electronic monitoring and enforcement of road safety, which will be implemented through the state governments. The system envisions the use of speed cameras, closed-circuit television cameras, speed guns among others to ensure violations are captured at a greater scale.

“Legislating the establishment of robust electronic enforcement for traffic violations will result in reduction in human intervention and the associated corruption,” said Cherian.

Effective road design

Transport experts say in most countries with good safety records have road designs that ensure effective speed control.

“The most effective speed road design is introducing modern roundabouts," said Geetam Tiwari from the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi who is an expert in transport planning. "In the UK, traffic lights have been replaced with roundabouts. This protects the vulnerable road users.”

The bumps along the way

The bill, however, ignores, poor road maintenance, a big cause of deaths and injuries in India. In 2015, more than 10,000 people were killed in crashes caused by potholes, speed breakers and roads that were under repair or being constructed. While blame is assigned to drivers after an accident, road contractors and engineers are almost never held accountable and this is a gap that the bill does not try to fill.

“We need to have a mandate of a scientific investigation of a road crash," said Cherian. "The police is not trained to understand this well. We could have a proforma for road accidents which could analyse correctly how the accident took place.”

Other highlights of the Bill

  • Child safety – Every child above four years carried on a motorcycle must wear a helmet. Non-compliance attracts fine of Rs 1,000

  • Increased compensation to victims of hit and run cases from Rs 12,500 to Rs 25,000

  • Guardians or owner of vehicle guilty for offences committed by juveniles

  • Protection of Good Samaritans who help road accident victims

  • Unified driver licensing system and vehicle registration system – The government has to maintain a national register for driving licenses and vehicle registration, in addition to state registers.

  • Vehicle Recall – The government may direct the manufacturer to recall vehicles in case of defects which may cause harm to the the users, other road users and environment