Come Sunday, violating traffic rules and getting away with it will not be easy. Driving under the influence of alcohol or not giving way to an ambulance or fire brigade may cost one as much as ₹10,000, imprisonment, or both.
The President earlier this month gave his assent to the bill, the government’s maiden attempt to enact a separate law on road safety. The law lays down stringent rules for vehicle makers, drivers and cab aggregators and aims to change road behaviour and improve road safety.
Stiffer penalties will affect almost every life — be it not wearing seatbelt, or making guardians responsible for a juvenile driving a vehicle, or increasing penalties manifold for offences such as drunk and dangerous driving, over-speeding, even driving without insurance, and overloading vehicles with goods or passengers.
In fact, not wearing helmet will not only attract a fine of ₹1,000, but lead to suspension of licence for three months.
If implemented in law and spirit, the Motor Vehicles Act will go a long way in inculcating a sense of responsibility among citizens to abide by the law. Besides, certain clauses under the Act hold authorities more responsible, empowers citizens while attempting to weed out corruption. For instance, a contractor can be fined for failing to comply with standards on road design. Similarly, offences committed by enforcing authorities will have to pay twice the penalty under relevant rules.
Road transport and highways minister Nitin Gadkari is trying to change India’s reputation as a country with law and order being a massive problem on the roads. Besides, incessant corruption and not-so steep penalties have also led to people believing that they can get away by bribing a state authority.
Obtaining a driving licence (DL) will not be easy if a person lacks adequate skills as driving tests are expected to become technology-driven. Reducing human interface is expected to curb corruption. At present, the test of obtaining a DL is manual, with untrained people often getting DLs. In addition, there are several cases of one person having more than one or fake DLs. This in turn leads to more untrained drivers on roads, resulting in a large number of road accidents, fatalities and severe injuries. In 2017, there were over 1,47,913 road accident-related deaths, up from 1,46,133 in 2014.
“To now face the police and haggle over a ₹10,000 fine is not what I want to do. Also, I believe as a country with big aspirations, it’s high time we ensure laws are followed on the roads. I hope the high fines bring in some more civil behaviour on the roads," according to Sonakshi Banerjee, a daily commuter in Delhi, National Capital Region (NCR).
The recently amended Act provides for an annual increase in fines by up to 10%, a move that will be a good enough deterrent for a person driving a vehicle to not break rules, a senior transport ministry official told Mint, adding, higher penalties were needed since they were revised after 30 years.
“The implementation of higher penalties would undoubtedly ensure that vehicular discipline will improve and make a daily commuter more conscious on the road. But the government’s move to increase the penalties by 10% every year without reviewing the progress achieved by it every year seems to be arbitrary. A common citizen would feel that such high penalties is a way for the government to reduce its cash crunch as people would be reluctant to get entangled in legal disputes in traffic cases, and rather pay penalties quickly," said Sayli P, a resident of Baroda.
According to Sewa Ram, professor, transport planning at School of Planning and Architecture, the government should aggressively publicize the revised, higher penalties as the change was massive and will be implemented as early as Sunday.
“It is only the people active on social media who are aware of the changes in traffic rules. People are not aware of the magnitude of penalties and its impact. Not many people would know that driving licence can be ceased for three months for violation of certain rules," he said.
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