Can heavy road fines reform the way India commutes?

Challenges are umpteen. Just hiking charges for traffic offences may not change nation’s driving culture.

Written by September 18, 2019 14:36

The new Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act, equipped with heavy fines and penalties for road offences, came into force from September 1. The exorbitant fines came as a shocker for many as the scale of punishment was unheard of, till now. For those facing the music on roads, it’s nothing less than a nightmare.

But, the bigger question is – will the stringent traffic rules stop road fatalities, will it put an end to pollution emitted by old & creaking vehicles and will it bring discipline among commuters?

For answer to these underlying questions, one will to wait for long. And, mind you, achieving the desired objective of new Motor Vehicles Act (MVA) is not going be an easy ride. The ride ahead is bumpy, ridden with many roadblocks.

Road Transport Minister faces an uphill task ahead. Effective implementation of new rules, stamping out corruption among traffic cops and winning confidence of commuters – are some of the top challenges, which will decide legislation’s fate and rate of success.

A look at some major impediments, which needs to be overcome for making it a success:

Fear factor to stop road casualties

The new rules have harsh penal provisions for any traffic offence. On the very first day, about 4,000 challans were issued in Delhi alone. A scooterist was charged Rs 23,000 in challan following which he chose to abandon it as the fine was less than scooter’s price. In subsequent days, many such cases followed. Auto rickshaw challaned over Rs 50,000 while trucks charged over Rs 1 lakh – such episodes created a lot of heartburn.

Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari took note of palpable anger but sought to justify the move by calling it a game-changer initiative.

“Respect or Fear of the law is good but nation don’t have any of them,” Gadkari told the newsmen.

The stringent laws are meant to put brakes on road fatalities in a nation, which loses almost 1.5 people per year in road accidents.

Gadkari’s premise is that hefty charges will discourage commuters from rash driving, over-speeding and will thus bring death toll down. Adopting healthy practices like wearing helmets, PUC will further strengthen India’s record on ‘road mishap deaths’.

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Corruption in RTO offices

Can paperwork check road accidents? A person is charged Rs 5,000 for not carrying driving licence but questions arise – why gaping holes exist in licence issuing system? Why the Regional Transport offices (RTOs) look like a den of corruption rather than an efficient machinery.

You travel to RTO of any town, anywhere in the country. Touts, middlemen hold sway here, exercise unbridled power and one has to resort to their help for getting licence issued. Moreover, most RTOs don’t have a vehicle to conduct road test. Most of the time, people get their licences without showing driving skills or passing a test. What is required – is a handsome payoff to the touts.

The rogue transport offices are certainly a source of worry. Inspite of pulling up transport officers, govt is pressurising commuters. But, aren’t car and bike users are also to blame for this? Being part of the payoff chain, no one can wash hands off the lobby that operates.

Indian drivers – ready to come to blows anywhere

One may argue but the fact is Indian commuters are impatient, hot-headed and ready to get into altercation at slightest provocation. Honking without a cause, trying to get ahead of others rather than waiting in queue – all this leads to chaotic situation on already clogged roads.

Highways and flyways have come as a challenge rather than an added facility as the countrymen are still getting first brush with fast lanes and stipulated speed of around 100 kms.

New MV Act’s successful implementation will require active co-operation from citizens. Unless the behavioural changes happen, the plan may end as yet another ‘conduit of corruption’.

Less co-operation from states

Lastly, the resentment and reluctant attitude of states including BJP-led ones has taken the Centre by surprise. It is encountering trouble where it least expected. States want ‘watered-down fine structure’ so that people don’t break their back, if they have to pay penalty for any traffic offence.

A fortnight since its implementation, the law still awaits roll-out in a couple of states. Therefore, it runs risk of getting drowned out in the noise of protest or may fizzle out before the official roll-out.

Challenges are umpteen. Just hiking charges for traffic offences may not change nation’s driving culture. For all-round success, it will require a holistic approach, active participation of all stakeholders concerned and above all, people-friendly demeanour of the govt.