Road safety: Diluting penalties in draft bill won't do any good

  • Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Mar 31, 2015 23:03 IST

India leads the world in road crash fatalities — 10% of global road deaths occur here.

In the last decade, more than 1 million people have lost their lives in road accidents in the country; several thousands have been injured; and hundreds of families have been destroyed.

Reports suggest that while road deaths in many emerging markets like India have dipped despite a spike in vehicle sales, fatalities on Indian roads have shot up by half in the last decade.

Despite such staggering proof, the ministry of road transport and highways is diluting stiff penalties that it had proposed in the draft Road Transport and Safety Bill, 2014, to discipline errant drivers and reduce deaths on the roads. While officials have not clarified who are opposed to the stringent fines, the transport workers’ lobby feels that the government is trying to emulate developed countries without studying ground realties.

According to the details available in the ministry’s website, anyone caught crossing the speed limit will now pay a fine between Rs 1,000 and Rs 6,000. The earlier version proposed a minimum fine of Rs 5,000 and up to Rs 12,500 for repeat offenders. For drunk driving, the fine has now been reduced from Rs 30,000 to Rs 10,000. The fine can be increased to Rs 20,000 for repeat offenders.

However, the Supreme Court on Monday asked Parliament to enhance the punishment for drunk driving, saying that non-deterrent punishment and leniency shown by courts have made several drivers behave like “emperors” on India’s roads. By making these changes in the proposed law, the government has effectively watered down a law that it was itself so gung-ho about and could have been its showpiece legislation.

Alarmed by the increasing fatalities, the NDA had begun a five-year project to cut road deaths by a fifth every year, part of the most ambitious overhaul of highway laws since Independence. The new law was prompted by the death of rural development minister Gopinath Munde in an accident last year.

The proposed ‘undiluted’ law also had overwhelming public support: A poll conducted by SaveLIFE Foundation in 12 cities of India shows that 81% of all respondents strongly favoured the passage of the Bill; and 91% believe that increased penalties for violations will improve road safety in India.

The reduction of penalty is not the only change that the government has made in the fourth version of the Bill. It has also reduced jail terms for offenders and has put a cap on insurance claims for victims at Rs 15 lakh. The Bill, as it stands now, is an eyewash and it seems the government has gone back on its promise under pressure from different lobbies.

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