An insight into the latest amendment of the motor vehicles act in its attempt to curb the traffic violations.
If one drives through a major road in any metropolitan, it is sure that there will be at least one pair of traffic policemen either waiting to catch a violator or already having a very animated conversation with a person not following the traffic rules. The reason for which 90% of the conversations are ‘animated’ is of course, the exorbitant number of fines that the violator must pay. That has to do with the latest amendment of the Motor vehicles act. But the question in hand is that will the amendments have a sizeable impact on the people following the rules diligently?
To answer that, let us first know a bit about the act. The Motor Vehicles Act, passed in the year 1988 by the Indian Parliament, regulates almost all aspects of road transport vehicles. It has provisions for traffic regulations, vehicle insurance, registration of motor vehicles, controlling permits and penalties. The Act came into force from 1 July 1989.
The government in 2019, came up with the motor vehicles (Amendment) Bill to makes changes to the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988. The amendment proposes a huge increase in various penalties for traffic violations, protection to Good Samaritans, recall of defective vehicle parts by automobile companies, holding builders accountable for poor quality of infrastructure and making vehicle owners criminally liable for violations committed by juvenile drivers.
Now, the amendment did obviously have various new laws that it introduced regarding road transport. But the one which has brought a lot of mixed opinion is the increase in the fares(challan) with regards to basic traffic violations such as driving without the seatbelt on, riding a two-wheeler without wearing a helmet to name a few.
Before we move ahead with the analysis of the amendment, I would like to show you the financial aspects of an Indian citizen. Now, the net salary or income of an Indian is Rs. 1,043,373. Keeping that in mind according to economist Mariyam Aslany, 40% of India’s population is middle class of which 30% is lower middle class and about 10% is upper middle class. The survey also reveals that 40% of the population is in the lower class and the rest constitutes to the upper class. This clearly shows the income inequality that the country faces.
Now, coming back to the act, some of the revised rates for penalties are, driving without license, the previous amount to be paid was Rs.500 and now it is Rs. 5000. Another significant increase is the speeding penalties increasing from Rs.500 to Rs.5000 as well.
If a person not familiar with the Indian roads happens to take a walk on the main or busy streets in the metros, he will be in for a surprise as to see the amount of people committing traffic violation. It truly is a ‘hard to digest’ fact for an Indian, saying that this person would have knowingly or unknowingly have committed a traffic violation themselves. The main reason being the fact that as India is a nation of 1.3 billion people and in these times with the financial flexibility, many Indians have the capacity to purchase a vehicle.
Add to this the traditional and old system of procuring a driver’s license you have yourself a haphazard method of having legal drivers.
The law mandates that before a license is to be provided, an applicant must have either been to a driving school or must be given a thorough understanding of the law. Now with the aforementioned information on the amount of people applying with the tardiness of the authority there are many drivers who do not know the traffic laws, or the penalties attached with their violation.
It requires to hands to clap, taking the mentioned information as one hand the other must be corruption and incompetence of the traffic police. The act of paying off a traffic policeman to not have any charges on oneself has become so common that it has become a matter of trivia in the country. Combine the two and what you have is the perfect situation for a chaotic and unruly set of commuters on the roads.
To tackle this the government did introduce the amendment, its view clearly being to curb the percentage of violators drastically and in a short span of time. So, The Rajya Sabha cleared the Bill on July 31, 2019, with 108 votes in favor and 13 against it, with three amendments moved by Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari. This act was then given a mixed bag of reactions by the public in India.
Many from the upper and middle class saw it as a game changer that will make roads safer and transform commuters into law-abiding citizens due to fear of stiff penalties. The other group laments that the new rules will increase corruption and do little to improve road safety.
A closer look into the aspect of paying fines does reveal that it is harder for nearly 40% of the population to pay such amounts for committing a traffic violation. Yes, it can be argued that the person must not commit a traffic violation at all. But the reality is that people will get caught and they will have to pay an amount which they can never stomach. Let us take an example, of an online food delivery person. This person’s income is based on the amount of deliveries he makes in a day. Which means he works all day and earns a modest amount. Say, he gets caught for not wearing a helmet, he will have to cough up Rs.1000 for it. On a good day of deliveries, the maximum he will make would be approximately Rs.6000-7000. Which would then leave him with around 5000-6000 earnings for that day.
Then the third and most peculiar of arguments against the act is the fact that people pay road taxes to have the government use the money in developing methods in reducing accidents and save lives; not to only be invested in infrastructure. But the main aspect of that argument is that this law would be perfect on paper, but with the presence of corruption in India, it sadly cannot be perfect, in reality. Just like how we say a person may commit a violation it can be said that a policeman will take a bribe.
Of course, it cannot be generalized but it is true. If the law were followed sensibly and corruption completely missing, the dread of solid punishments would clearly improve conduct on streets.
Now in my opinion, what is likely to occur is that, firstly people will be more careful so as to not violate the rules, but the prospect of earning higher sums from bribery will remain in the policemen.
So, what I am trying to imply here is that traffic violations are a major cause for road accidents that result in death in India. The purpose which the amendment wants to serve is laudable and must be implemented diligently.
But with the financial status of nearly half the population the amount that a violator must pay does seem exorbitant. The percentage of increase must be lowered in order to meet both ends of having people not break the law and if it is broken it must not have a drastic impact on the budget of that person. Let us take the example of the penalty for driving without having a seatbelt on, it has been increased by a whopping 10%. A plausible rate could be having it increased by 5% making the penalty Rs.500.
It still is an increase and it surely will not have a large effect on the wallet of an offender.
Now, in some of the metropolitan cities, policemen are being asked to wear a body cam which will serve the purpose of evidence if in case there is a question raised regarding the traffic violation. In my opinion this seems to be the best option as it serves two purposes.
The first being, the policeman is being monitored and his actions recorded which will help as a resistance against bribery. Secondly it will also help in disputes against the policemen in court and act as evidence in such matters.
In conclusion, the latest amendment to the motor vehicles act can be seen as an effort by the government in correcting an area of law and safety which had been clearly neglected by many past governments for the preceding years. It is also more than necessary now that the amounts of vehicles on the road have increased ten-fold and a diligent system must be maintained.
It does have its fair share of criticism for the amounts mentioned but with the compliance of both the citizens and the policemen, India can decrease the curve of accidents and deaths occurring on its roads.
Author: tarun s,
IFIM law school, 1st year