India is a victim of numerous road accidents annually. Road safety is a necessary measure that needs to be taken for the safety of all road users. It is the all-encompassing methods and measures used to prevent road users from being killed or injured. The typical road users include pedestrians, cyclists, motorists, vehicle passengers and passengers of on-road public transport. India’s road safety is the worst in the record. About 149,000 people lost their lives on Indian roads in 2018 alone. India accounts for about 2% of motor vehicles globally. Yet, it is the home for more than 11% of the world’s road traffic deaths. According to a UN study, India loses 3% of its GDP to road accidents by removing prime age adults from the workforce. The Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act, 2019 was enacted this year to address the hazard of deaths and injuries due to road accidents. According to Union Transport Minister, it could come down by half if the provisions of this Act are implemented stringently.
What is the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act, 2019?
- The Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act, 2019 aims to improve road safety in India by amending Motor Vehicles Act, 1988.
- This amendment Act has introduced heavy fines for drunken driving, driving without a licence, dangerous driving, over-speeding, etc.
- It is implemented nationwide since 1st September 2019.
- Now the penalties have been increased 10 times in several violations.
- This amendment is based on the recommendations of the Group of Transport Ministers of States.
- It should be noted that it is only a model Act and that the state governments are free to make their own laws and rules.
Why do we need it?
- According to the data by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, there had been 4.64 lakhs accidents that claimed the lives of 1.47 lakhs people.
- Two-wheelers accounted for over a third of all road accidents.
- As per the 2018 WHO report, the highest number of road accidents in the world occurs in India. Even China, with the highest population, falls behind in this regard.
- Hence, a stringent law with heftier punishments is a need of the hour to nudge people to follow the traffic rules so that there is a reduction in the number of accidents that occur in India.
- This Amendment Act is implemented to deal with the rising travel demand, for fast-paced motorisation, technological growth, and the waning road safety.
- It also addresses the contemporary issues such as increasing corruption in the transport offices across the nation, rise in taxi aggregators like Uber, Ola, etc., without any appropriate guidelines, last mile connectivity and accessibility to the growing population, rural transportation needs and the mounting road accidents and related deaths in the county.
What are the significant features of the Motor Vehicles Amendment Act, 2019?
- Road Safety: This Act has increased penalties for traffic violations and other illegal activities like juvenile driving, drunken driving, driving without a licence, dangerous driving, over-speeding, overloading, etc. These penalties will be increased by 10% every year on 1st April, as notified by the Union government.
- Recalling vehicles: This Act allows the Central government to recall the motor vehicles if they are found to have the capacity to harm the environment, driver or other road users. The manufacturer of the recalled vehicles will have to:
- Reimburse the buyers for the full cost of the vehicles, or
- Replace the defective vehicles with another vehicle that is similar or with better specifications.
- Vehicle fitness: This Act mandates fitness testing of the vehicles. This would reduce corruption in the transport department while also improving the roadworthiness of the vehicles. The process of testing and certification of the automobiles is regulated more effectively as the testing agencies are brought under the ambit of the Act and standards will be set for the vehicle testing institutes.
- National Road Safety Board will be established to advise the Centre and the States to provide advice on all aspects of road safety and traffic management. It consists of representation from the state governments.
- Good Samaritan: The Act defines a Good Samaritan as the one who renders emergency medical and non-medical assistance to the victim at the scene of the accident. The assistance must have been: in good faith, voluntary and without expectation of any reward. Such a person will not be liable to any civil or criminal action for any injury or death of the accident victim that is caused due to negligence while assisting the victim.
- Cashless Treatment: This Act provides for a scheme that delivers cashless treatment of road accident victims during the golden hour. It is a period of up to 1 hour following the traumatic injury due to the road accident. This is the period when the likelihood of preventing death through prompt medical care is high.
- 3rd party insurance: This Act includes driver’s attendant in the 3rd party insurance. There will be no cap on liability insurers. There will be a 10-time increase in insurance compensation. Also, the claim process has been simplified. Insurance firms have to pay claims within a month if the victim’s family agrees to it. It also increased the minimum compensation for the hit and run cases from Rs.25,000 to 2 lakhs in case of death and from Rs.12,500 to Rs.50,000 in case of grievous injury.
- Motor Vehicle Accident Fund: This Act requires the Central government to constitute a Motor Vehicle Accident Fund to provide a compulsory insurance cover to all road users in India. It will be used for:
- Treatment of persons injured in a road accident as per the golden hour scheme.
- Compensation to the representatives of a person who died in a hit and run accident
- To compensate a person who was grievously injured in a hit and run accident
- To compensate for any individual as prescribed by the Union government
The funding for this will come from:
- Payment of a nature notified by the Central government
- A grant or loan by the Central government
- Balance of the Solatium Fund (existing fund under the Act to compensate the hit and run cases)
- Any other source as prescribed by the Central government
- Improving services using e-Governance is one of the major focuses of this Act. This includes:
- Providing online driving licenses: This Act provides online learners license with mandatory online identity verification. Driving test will be computerized to avoid fake Driving Licenses. This also ensures transparency in the RTO offices.
- Vehicle Registration: To improve the registration process of the new vehicles, registration at the end of the dealer is being enabled and restrictions are imposed on temporary registration. However, it is said that the state transport departments can inspect the vehicles at the dealer end. To bring in the harmony of registration and licensing process, it is proposed to create National Register for Driving Licence and National Register for Vehicle registration through VAHAN (ICT-based solution for vehicle registration) and SARATHI platforms (licencing).
- National Transportation Policy ensures the development of an integrated transport system. It will enhance the powers of the state governments to provide last-mile connectivity, rural transportation etc.
- Taxi Aggregators are defined under this law. They are the digital intermediaries or market places used by passengers to connect with a driver for transportation purposes (taxi services). This Act also provides guidelines for Tax Aggregators.
How will this Act improve India’s road safety?
Road safety encompasses users, vehicles, and infrastructure. The Motor Vehicles Amendment Act, 2019 addresses these three aspects in the following ways:
Road safety and infrastructure planners:
- This Act proposes to create a National Road Safety Board to advise the Central and State governments on road safety and traffic management.
- It empowers the Central government to come up with a National Transport Policy to help develop a framework for planning, granting permits and setting priorities for the road transport sector.
- This Act links infrastructure design to safety.
- If agencies, contractors or consultants fail to design or maintain safe roads, the government can penalize them with fines up to $1,500.
- This Act also provides a new category of permits that may help in increasing the public transportation facilities in cities and rural areas.
- Research has shown that the risk of being involved in a traffic crash increased with every kilometre travelled in a personal vehicle.
- Increase in the use of public transportation can reduce traffic, thus improving road safety
Road Safety and Vehicle Manufacturers:
- This Act empowers the government to mandate the manufacturers to recall if their vehicles’ features have the potential to harm the environment and individual’s health and safety.
- This Act also allows the Union government to levy penalties up to $15 million if the automobile manufacturers fail to comply with the motor vehicle standards.
- This Act, in short, will ensure that the vehicles are safe for both the environment and the road users.
- It also recognizes taxi aggregators to ensure regulations of drivers’ working hours, riders’ data sharing and other aspects like speeding, traffic violations etc.
Road Safety and Road Users
- Penalties for various road rules violations have been increased. This may act as a deterrent and may improve safety on roads.
- It also provides a Motor Vehicle Accident Fund that ensures compulsory insurance for all road users. It can fund for medical treatment and provide compensation for the victims.
- It also enables protection of the “Good Samaritans” so that they are not at risk in case the law is turned against them.
- Also, as per the Act, the guardians are guilty in case of the offences are committed by the juvenile drivers.
What are the issues of this Act?
- The implementation may be difficult at the all-India level.
- Road transport is a Concurrent List subject. Therefore the State governments are free to enact their own laws.
- For this Act to be of use to all, effective surveillance is a must. However, India still does not have a monitoring system that can efficiently observe traffic violation and accidents all across the country.
- Thus, electronic surveillance through CCTVs, speed guns and other related equipment is vital for the successful implementation of this law. Who will bear the cost of this humungous task is yet to be known.
- Funding already exists to compensate hit and run accident. The purpose of the new Accident Fund is unclear.
- State governments will issue licenses to the taxi aggregators in accordance with the Central government guidelines. Currently, the state governments determine the guidelines for the working of taxis.
- There could be cases where the state taxi guidelines are different from the Central guidelines for aggregators.
- Thus, there is confusion over its implementation at the state-levels.
What can be the way forward?
- Strict enforcement of the provisions of the Motor Vehicle Act can ensure the curbing of road-accident related deaths in India.
- The Centre and the states must come together in addressing the implementation issues.
- The government can improve the surveillance of the roads for the safety of all users.
- Improving the accessibility to cheap and safe public transport can reduce traffic and accidents on the roads.
- The state governments should make sure that there is transparency and must provide a hassle-free experience for citizens at the Regional Transport Offices.
- The government must nudge vehicle manufacturers to update their technologies and adopt the global best practices regarding vehicles’ and passengers’ safety.
- Improving the roads and providing sidewalks can reduce road accidents.
- Increasing the awareness about the new laws on the road can also decrease the accidents on roads.
- Using new sensors in on-road cars and onboard analytics can give real-time driving suggestions to drivers to avoid accidents.
Government’s step to ensure stricter law enforcement is a need of the hour. However, the implementation difficulty is seen due to technological and manpower constraints. Also, Laws can’t always help improve human behaviour though it may help to a certain extent. It is in the hands of society at large to improve road safety in India.
Critically examine the significance and limitations of the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act, 2019. What can be done to address the current limitations of India’s road safety measures?