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Putting Brakes On High Road Fatality

Union Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari has lamented that the Road Transport and Safety Bill 2015, which was framed to replace the Motor Vehicles Act 1988, is not finding traction owing to “vested interests” raising objections holding its presentation in the Parliament. Gadkari need not despair as the bill aims to bring a systemic change in order to reduce road fatality and whether it is government departments or private players, no one wants a change in the system that is not going to benefit them. The bill has taken almost a year and might take more time before the provisions are revised according to valid suggestions. As far as the intention of the government goes it is worth supporting. The World Health Organisation published its global safety report last year which stated that India has the highest road traffic accident rate among all countries with over 1.4 lakh deaths annually, beating even China. According to Gadkari, this year’s annual fatality is 1.5 lakh. Most of the fatalities were on account of over-speeding and drunk driving. The number of people seriously injured in road accidents is four times the number of those who succumbed.  Deaths and debilitation in road accidents places a huge emotional and economic burden on the families.

The government’s aim was to make India ‘accident-free’. The initial target was to reduce the number of road accidents by half. About 5 lakh road accidents took place in a year with 1.5 fatalities; by reducing the number of accidents to 2.5 lakh in the first five years, the government was hoping to save 2 lakh lives. The Road Transport and Safety Bill set new standards for vehicle regulation and driver licencing. The bill puts checks on vehicle manufacturers and provides for recall for vehicles in case of faulty design – something that was not provided in Indian law. A comprehensive regulation was to be introduced with regard to design and manufacturing of motor vehicles. It will emphasize adopting new technologies in areas like alternative fuels and retrofitting. The vehicle registration system, which has so far remained under the jurisdiction of the state governments, would be centralized. A standard registration process would be applied across all states. The database records of the vehicle registration would be linked to certificates of fitness, insurance and past offences. Likewise, driver licensing system will also have standardized processes across all states. Tests for driving licence are going to be taken away from the hands of corruptible transport officers. Testing might be outsourced to private players who would be expected to conduct rigorous, standardized and professional testing. Technology would be used for driving licence tests in order to introduce transparency.

The bill has drawn a lot from the road safety standards of the US, Europe and Asian countries such as Japan and Singapore. It is a very ambitious, comprehensive bill that seeks to integrate the regulation systems for motor vehicles right from the manufacturer to the user. The first objection has come from states that say that integration means centralization which will mean divesting states of their powers and revenues. Gadkari has to address the grievance by ensuring that the new law does not impinge on the federal system. Questions have been raised about high cash fines including the method of fixing fines. Manufacturers find fault with penalty of Rs 5 lakh for faulty design of vehicles. The fine is Rs 3 lakh and a seven-year imprisonment for death of a child in certain circumstances. Driving at excessive speed may attract a fine of up to Rs 3,000. Also, as Gadkari is also minister for highways he should also work toward widening of existing roads and building of four-lane and six-lane roads in order to provide space to motor vehicles.

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