Indian roads are seeing the growing number of accidents and the resultant loss of life and livelihood. Nearly 5 lakh road accidents take place in the country every year, in which close to 1.5 lakh lives are lost.
- So, recently Cabinet has cleared amendments to the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 through Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill, 2016.
- Also Supreme Court passed a judgement to ban the liquor vends along the highway showing concerns for the rise of increased road accidents.
Thankfully the debate has shaped up towards increased road safety and role of state of implementing suitable policy towards it. Let us analyse the different aspects of Road safety
- India is a signatory to the Brasilia Declaration that mandates halving road accident fatalities by 2020, and the government is very serious about meeting this commitment.
- WHO, in its Global Plan for the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020, has recommended that countries should implement road safety activities according to “five pillars” which include
1. Road Safety Management through institutions and legislative framework;
2. Building Safer Roads through proper design, engineering and traffic calming measures;
3. Safer Vehicles promotion;
4. Safer Road Usage Education and through efficient
5. Post-crash Response.
Based on this recommendation the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways has been making concerted efforts to promote road safety.
- A National Road Safety Policy has been put in place that recommends adopting a multi-pronged strategy to tackle the problem based on the 4 E’s viz Education, Engineering (both of roads and vehicles) Enforcement and Emergency Care.
- Towards overhauling the institutional and statutory framework, the Ministry constituted a Group of Ministers from across states in March 2016 to deliberate upon and propose strategies for reducing road fatalities and to suggest actionable measures for implementation.
- On the basis of recommendations of the GoM, the Motor Vehicle (Amendment) Bill has been cleared by the Cabinet.
Highlights of the Bill
- Under the Act, the liability of the third party insurer for motor vehicle accidents is unlimited. The Bill caps the maximum liability for third party insurance in case of a motor accident at Rs 10 lakh in case of death and at five lakh rupees in case of grievous injury.
- The Bill provides for a Motor Vehicle Accident Fund which would provide compulsory insurance cover to all road users in India for certain types of accidents.
- The Bill defines taxi aggregators, guidelines for which will be determined by the central government.
- The Bill also provides for: (i) amending the existing categories of driver licensing, (ii) recall of vehicles in case of defects, (iii) protection of Good Samaritans from any civil or criminal action, and (iv) increase of penalties for several offences
- The state governments have also been called upon to formulate action plans for improving road safety and implementing the same by fixing time bound targets for fatality reduction and identifying and allocating adequate manpower, financial and other resources to achieve the targets.
- In response, a large majority of the state governments have constituted State Road Safety Councils (SRSC) , notified Road Safety Policies , submitted Draft Action Plans for reducing accidents and fatalities and designated Lead Agencies for dealing with road safety issues. The rest are in the process of doing so.
- The government will also set up a National Register for vehicles and driving licences, which will issue a unique registration number to remove duplication.
- The Bill also enables the Centre to recall vehicles whose components or engine do not meet the required standards. Vehicle manufacturers can be penalised up to Rs 500 crore in case of non-complaince of rules in parts or engine.
- The penalty for drunken driving is being increased by five times to Rs 10,000, and if such driving results in the death of another person, the driver can be charged with a non-bailable offence with a jail term up to 10 years.
- Road engineering has emerged as another priority area. Road safety has been made an integral part of road designing and safety audits are being taken up for selected stretches of National Highways.
- As short-term measures, rumble strips, reflective stickers at junctions, fixing signboard/ cautionary board, providing signage and speed restrictions are being used.
- As long-term measures construction of vehicular under-pass, by-pass, flyover, crash barriers and slope stabilization techniques are being taken up.
- Rectification of black spots is being accorded top priority; Rs 11,000 Crore have been set aside for rectification of black spots.
Vehicular Safety Standards.
- Trucks are prohibited from carrying protruding rods; Anti–locking Brake System (ABS) have been made mandatory for heavy vehicles;
- Bus Body Code for safer and comfortable buses and Truck Body Code for safe cabins to drivers and other road users have been notified.
- Mandatory Fitment of Speed Governors on Transport Vehicles to avoid over speeding.
- In addition all public service vehicles, (except two and three wheelers, e-rickshaws) have to be equipped with or fitted with vehicle location tracking device and one or more emergency buttons.
Road Safety Education
- On the education front, the Ministry has roped in a large number of NGOs and also corporates to carry on public awareness campaigns on the issue of road safety.
- The Ministry is also running campaigns through the print, electronic and social media to make people sensitive to the urgency of following traffic rules.
- Every year, the week from 9th January to 15th January is observed as the Road Safety Week when a number of activities are organized to bring this issue into the public eye.
Other Measures by the Ministry
- The Ministry is also implementing a scheme for setting up of Model Institutes of Drivers Training and Research and Model Automated Centers for checking fitness of the vehicles
- The Ministry launched a Highways Advisory System as a pilot project on Delhi-Jaipur highway. It is a free-to-air information distribution system that uses radio to make the travelling experience on National Highways safer, faster and hassle-free.
- For effective trauma care cranes and ambulances are provided to state governments under the National Highway Accident Relief Service Scheme for deployment on national highway
- The Ministry had launched pilot projects for Cashless Treatment of Road Accident Victims which it is proposed to implement this scheme along the Golden Quadrilateral, North South and East West Corridors (about 13500 km) as well at an estimated cost of about Rs. 250 Crore.
Setu Bharatam Initiative
It is an ambitious programme with an investment of Rs. 50,000 crore to build bridges for safe and seamless travel on National Highways.
The programme aims at making all national highways Railway Level Crossing free by 2019.
208 new “road over bridges / road under bridges” are envisaged for construction, while 1500 bridges will be widened, rehabilitated or replaced.
Some Issues and lacunae in the policy
- The Bill caps the maximum liability for third party insurance, but does not cap the compensation amount that courts can award. In cases where courts award compensation higher than the maximum liability amount, it is unclear who will pay the remaining amount.
- Under the Act, compensation for hit and run victims comes from a Solatium Fund. The Bill creates a new Motor Vehicle Accident Fund in addition. With a Fund already existing to provide compensation for hit and run accidents, the purpose of the new Accident Fund is unclear.
- State governments will issue licenses to taxi aggregators as per central government guidelines. Currently, state governments determine guidelines for plying of taxis. There could be cases where state taxi guidelines are at variance with the central guidelines on aggregators.
- While the penalties for contravening provisions of the proposed scheme on interim relief to accident victims are specified in the Bill, the offences that would warrant such penalties have not been specified. It may be argued that imposing penalties without knowing the nature of the offences is unreasonable.
Solutions have certainly been set in motion in moving towards road safety. However, policies can lose all meaning if they are not implemented well. Rules can only be as effective as their enforcement. Ensuring road safety is a matter of collective responsibility, and good results demand cooperation from every player – from policy makers to enforcement agencies, automobile makers to road users. Only then can we hope to save lives on our roads.