The Motor Vehicle (Amendments) Bill of 2016 was first approved by the Union Cabinet back in 2016. Recently, the Lok Sabha gave it the green signal. It still has to go through the Rajya Sabha and then get the President's approval before it finally gets implemented.
The amendment aims to bring down the number of road accidents and fatalities by cracking down on traffic violators. Fines for jumping red signals, driving under the influence of alcohol, driving without seatbelt or helmet, etc. are proposed to be increased several folds in the Bill. Here's a list of some of the changes the bill intends to make to the Motor Vehicle Act of 1988:
1. Drunk driving will attract a penalty of Rs 10,000, up from previous fine of Rs 2,000. An increase of five folds will hopefully ensure that fewer people go behind the wheel after a session at the bar.
2. Not wearing a helmet or not buckling up the seat belt while riding/driving will cost Rs 1,000 in fine compared to the existing penalty of Rs 100. Pillion too will need to wear a helmet regardless of gender. Only Sikhs will be allowed to ride a two-wheeler without a helmet. In fact, it's now proposed to have anyone over four years age riding on a two-wheeler to wear a helmet.
3. In the case of a hit-and-run case, the offender will have to cough up Rs 2 lakh as compensation to the family of the deceased, up from a measly amount of Rs 25,000 that's currently in place. Depending on the offender's carelessness and the severity of the accident, the number could shoot up to Rs 10 lakh.
4. If a minor person is caught with a traffic violation, the parents/guardians will also be held guilty while the youngster will be tried under the Juvenile Justice Act. The registration of the vehicle will also stand terminated in such an event. Holding parents/guardians responsible for such an offence should curb underage riding/driving.
5. Not giving way to emergency vehicles such as ambulances and firefighters will cost Rs 10,000 in fines. This is a proposed rule that should go into effect as soon as possible. Road users in India are still unaware of how to give way to emergency vehicles, and post implementation of this rule, we hope the things will improve.
6. Carrying more passengers than specified in the RC will result in a penalty of Rs 1,000 per extra person. While such a practice is common in the commercial auto space, it's also prevalent in private segment. It is another practice that makes our roads unsafe.
7. On the commercial side, an overloaded vehicle will be charged Rs 20,000 in addition to Rs 2,000 per additional tonne of goods.
8. The officers will have the power to impound the driver's documents in the event of rash driving, over-speeding and drunk driving among others. It will be interesting to see how this proposed rule will be implemented as catching the offender and making him confess in the case of rash driving will be a bit tricky to manage.
9. To get the cops to lead with example, on duty law-enforcing officers will be subject to double the penalty under the respective categories in case of a violation. This should mean that the Traffic Police be more cautious than ever of doing their job diligently. Another practice that should help make our roads safer.
10. Car and bike manufacturers will be required to recall their vehicle if an issue is discovered in any of the critical components that could potentially lead to an accident. Some of the carmakers are already making voluntary recalls but post the implementation of this proposed rule; they'll forcefully have to make a recall. Some of the critical components in cars include airbags, ABS, brakes, etc., which, if found to be working improperly for a larger number of cars, will have to be rectified without any extra charges to the car owners.
11. All government vehicles will need to have at least a third-party insurance.
Save for a nominal year-on-year dip in 2012, the number of fatalities have been on a constant rise since 2005, according to a 10-year report released by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways in 2016. Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh led the road of embarrassment with a total of 69,059, 63,805 and 54,947 accidents in 2015, respectively. It was far more surprising to see Uttar Pradesh leading on the charts of fatalities despite a relatively lower number of accidents. Uttar Pradesh witnessed a total of 32,385 accidents in 2015 claiming 17,666 lives and injuring 23,205 people.
The good part about the proposed Bill is that the road users not involved in the accidents will also be encouraged to extend a helping hand. For this, Good Samaritan guidelines have been incorporated in the Bill so that more help can be extended to road accident victims. Once the Bill is passed, there will be a clearer picture on these guidelines. We hope road users don't end up with all the formalities that currently stop them from extending help.
Also, in the case of hit & run cases, the compensation for victims is proposed to increase from Rs. 25000 to Rs. 2 lakh. The Bill also has a provision for payment of compensation up to Rs 10 lakh in road accident fatalities.
As expected, two-wheeler riders form a big part of the fatal accidents and not wearing a helmet further adds fuel to the fire. For two-wheeler riders, being visible can the first step in road safety, and with the mandatory inclusion of the always-headlamp-on (AHO) feature, it'll be easier for other road users to see two-wheelers from a distance.
Manufacturers too are incorporating modern technologies that help save lives and also prevent an accident in the first place. Volvo is leading the charge with the XC90 T8 Inscription SUV, which can detect pedestrians, cyclists and even animals, and apply brakes automatically even if the driver fails to do so in time. However, the Swedish carmaker isn't keen on bringing the same technology to their more affordable models, limiting its access to the uber-rich only.
On the mass market front, Maruti Suzuki has taken an oath to bring ABS, dual airbags and ISOFIX child seat anchors to as many cars as possible. The company commenced launching cars that meet the upcoming safety norms set to go live later this year well before the due date, thereby setting an example for other carmakers to follow. In fact, they have already ensured that their existing portfolio also gets ABS and airbags standard, save for the entry-level hatchbacks. At Rs 4.59 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi), the petrol-powered Sigma variant of the Maruti Suzuki Ignis is currently the most affordable car to come with all of the required safety features and a strong passenger shell to meet the new guidelines. The upcoming Swift DZire and the next-gen Swift are also expected to get the new safety features as standard equipment on all variants.
Let's hope that the new norms, increased penalties for the offenders and newer cars and other means of transport help in reducing the number of fatalities on the Indian roads.
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