India has the dubious distinction of having the highest number of road accidents in the world. The National Crime Records Bureau adds to this the chilling observation that at least 14 people die on India's roads every hour. According to the World Health Organisation's Global Status Report on Road Safety in 2009, speeding, drinking and driving, and the low use of seat belts and helmets are the main contributing factors for fatalities. These are exactly the factors that contribute to Indian roads being the most dangerous in the world. This, in turn, is a result of the lackadaisical implementation of traffic laws and people treating them as silly things that come in the way. Which is why the Delhi government's approval to increase penalties for traffic violations in the city is so welcome. It could even provide a benchmark for the way road laws across this lawless nation are implemented at large. At the heart of the matter is the need to provide a strong deterrent to a driving society that doesn't intrinsically believe in obeying road signs and traffic regulations. Clearly, this can't be brought about through piecemeal hikes in fines and random punishments. It has to be brought about in a drastic measure that essentially makes every person in a vehicle realise that the risks of getting caught and the quantum of punishment if he breaks traffic laws far outweigh the benefits of 'cutting corners'. And this is exactly what the Delhi government amendment to the Motor Vehicles Bill intends to do.
But laws are flimsy words on paper if they are not implemented with equal measure. This is where the intent of the implementers - in this case, the traffic police - comes so much into play. The ad hoc nature of booking and charging drivers flouting the law has to give way to a blanket practice of punishing those who break the law. There are far too many cases when a fine is turned into a slip of currency notes into the policeman's pocket. For this purpose, the decision of the Delhi Police to firm up its Police Research Group that essentially polices the policemen is heartening. Some voices have already aired the view that tougher fines will tempt corrupt policemen to up their 'rates' and increase bribes in general. The watchdog body's role in this matter will, therefore, be crucial to the success or failure of the actual implementation of the amended penalties that have been planned.
While traffic violations may be deemed low in the hierarchy of crimes, as one underlined at the beginning of this editorial, they are not. Only a mindset change of law enforcers in treating traffic violations as a serious crime can lead to a mindset change of people at large. This, in turn, can have a far-reaching effect on India's relationship with laws beyond traffic regulations. Law enforcement on roads is much more visible than any other variety. If we can ensure that road laws are taken to be sacrosanct and not the joke that it's now considered as, one could even see laws in general being taken seriously in this land of 'functioning anarchy'.