Globally, around 1.35 million people aged 5-29 die every year in road accidents, with another 50 million sustaining injuries, according to a World Health Organization report. Unfortunately, India is at the top of the heap, with approximately 150,000 fatalities. As Union transport minister Nitin Gadkari piloted the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill, 2019 in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday, he rued the fact that despite his best efforts over the past five years, he could not bring down the number of road accidents. The bill was passed by the lower house, and its provisions now need approval of the Rajya Sabha and then that of the President to become law.
The legislation, long overdue in the wake of rapid urbanization and a concomitant rise in vehicular traffic, has significantly stricter punitive measures that aim to reduce traffic violations such as speeding and drunk-driving. For example, if you are caught driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, be ready to pay a fine of ₹10,000, a neat five-fold increase. An act of dangerous driving or speeding/racing would attract a penalty of ₹5,000. There is another important provision relating to offences by juveniles. Teenagers are often seen speeding just for the thrill of it, and such behaviour has claimed many lives. Now, in case a juvenile is caught driving or involved in a road accident, the guardian or owner of the vehicle would be deemed guilty. A fine of ₹25,000, a three-year jail term and cancellation of the vehicle’s registration could follow.
To the extent that the stiff punishments act as deterrents on the road, they are welcome. The old fines were simply too low to bother the well-off. However, higher monetary penalties could also give a fillip to roadside corruption. Higher penalties also mean a bigger temptation for traffic cops to let offenders slip some cash in their pockets in lieu of a let-off. The government must take measures to curb such corrupt practices. Having laws is one thing, having them properly enforced is quite another.