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Time to change gear

The way India drives vehicles may change soon and we will possibly witness a revolution in road safety.

The government has approved the Motor Vehicle (Amendment) Bill and has pronounced stringent penalties for contravention of traffic rules. Welcome harsh provisions have been proposed for juvenile driving, driving without a permit, unsafe driving, drunken driving, over-speeding and overloading.

According to the World Health Organization, road accident is the ninth chief cause of death worldwide with over 1.2 million people dying on the roads every year. Approximately 150,000 people in India are killed every year due to traffic mishaps. India has one of the peak rates of accidents in the world. The prime cause for these fatalities is disrespect to road safety standards. Everyone should be aware of road rules and regulations, be he his a pedestrian or driver. Awareness of road rules can lower the chances of accidents.

Desh badlega kya?

Each nation has its own traffic laws. In Japan, spattering water to any foot-traveler is unlawful. In Singapore, speed limits, excessive penalties for offenders and technology have been employed to ensure safe driving. In Switzerland, authorities are strict about drunken driving so much so that passengers traveling in the same car as a drunk driver lose their licences. In the USA, drivers on the road have to move aside to allow emergency vehicles such as ambulances and fire engines to pass. And we all know the story of how an ambulance got the way to move during the road protest in Hong Kong. In USA ambulances are given priorities over the President.

As per the disclosure by the Ministry of Home Affairs, traffic on roads can be halted only in the case of movement by the President, the Vice President, the Prime Minister and visiting foreign luminaries. So, the million-dollar question is whether we learn from other nations to maintain superior road safety.

Will the Bill ensure a happy journey?

The Bill now has been passed in Lok Sabha and has to be approved by the Rajya Sabha. Here are some of the vital characteristics of the Bill:
• Aadhaar number will be compulsory for applying for a driving licence and vehicle registrations. The validity of the driving permit has been reduced to 10 years. The Bill blocks the payout limit on third party insurance. The 2016 Bill had crowned the maximum liability at
Rs 10 lakh in case of death and Rs 5 lakh in case of critical injury.
• Manufacturers have to willingly recall the manufacturing defect or inferior vehicles being sold and reimburse the buyers, the full price of the vehicle. Also, the government has the power to impose a fine up to Rs 500 crore.
• The custodians or titleholder of the vehicle will be held liable if teenagers dishonor traffic rules. People who show initiative to help accident victims will be safeguarded from civil or criminal liability.
• Contractors, consultants and civic agencies will be responsible for defective design, construction, or poor upkeep of roads leading to accidents. The government will give a compensation of Rs 2 lakh or more to the victim’s family for deaths in hit-and-run cases.

Many believe that the Motor Vehicle Bill will help reduce road accidents. All the political parties support the Bill to bring down casualties because of road accidents. However, the Bill has to accommodate several other issues automated fitness testing of vehicles, regulation or removal of intermediaries involved in licence issue process, design of roads, design of penalty structure considering India’s per capita income, etc. Although the Bill has right intentions, robust compliance strategies are needed to prohibit road injuries and deaths. Preventive action is better than punitive action, or else this Bill will also take us for a ride.

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