The move to amend the Motor Vehicles Act to improve road safety is most welcome. As signatory to the Brasilia Declaration and the Sustainable Development Goals, India has committed to halve the number of deaths and injuries from road traffic accidents by 2020.
The amendment will give the traffic police more room to enforce behaviour that could reduce the toll. However, while these amendments are necessary, these are not sufficient to improve safety on the roads.
The amendments currently before Parliament focus on safety of children during commute, protection of vulnerable road users such as pedestrians, non-motorised transport like bicycle, electronic monitoring and enforcement of road safety, creating a unified driver licensing and vehicle registration system resulting in a national electronic database, higher penalties for violations, higher compensation for hit-and-run cases, and treating offences by juveniles who should not have been driving as a separate category.
Better road design, both on the highway and inside towns, is a vital part of the agenda that finds no mention. Urban planning of physical spaces and public transport must be integrated into traffic management to minimise accidents and casualties. India’s biggest hurdle in achieving any goal is enforcement of rules and laws.
Trucks are routinely overloaded and those entrusted with the task of monitoring compliance with norms relating to speeds, loads, number of hours at the wheel, etc, are routinely incentivised to look the other way.
Enforcement cannot improve by changing laws. However, better databases that insurance companies can tap to tailor premia to suit levels of compliance with rules will help. The provision for vehicle recall is welcome.
So is incorporating the Good Samaritan guidelines to protect assistants at accident sites from civil and criminal liability. The law could mandate scientific investigation of accidents and data collection. Teaching people how to drive can and must change radically. Safety ultimately depends on the political will to enforce sensible regulation.
Date: October 21, 2019