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Wednesday, Nov 13, 2019

New traffic laws will improve safety | Analysis

Indian roads are accident-prone. Rather than opposing the new rules, we must welcome them

columns Updated: Sep 17, 2019 19:32 IST
Shashi Shekhar
Shashi Shekhar
More than 150,000 people die every year due to road accidents
More than 150,000 people die every year due to road accidents(Parveen Kumar/Hindustan Times)

Scene 1: We are returning to Patna from Bhagalpur. A cyclist is ahead of us on National Highway-31. Attached to the back of the bicycle, there is a small carrier on which fresh-cut vegetables are loaded. And these vegetables are spread for two and half feet across the bicycle. The bundle of vegetables is so high that you can barely see the rider. He is going at such a slow pace that there is long row of vehicles backed up behind it. The reason, there is a continuous flow of traffic from the other side. And on the left, the road has been dug up and overtaking the bicycle rider, who is in the middle of his lane, is impossible. Suddenly he falters and falls, then somehow separates himself from the cycle and punches the driver of the vehicle behind. He alleges that hornbazi (the constant honking) by this driver diverted his attention.

Scene 2: Delhi-Dehradun National Highway-58. Right in the middle of the road is an overturned tractor-trolley. The items which were on the trolley are scattered around. There is a terrible traffic jam. Along with many other vehicles, an ambulance is also stuck. The people around are cursing the police. The truck driver and his companions are lamenting the pitiable condition of the roads. The people are not even asking the truck driver if his tractor-trolley is allowed to carry such a load on the national highway.

Scene 3: On April 26, I slip down in a TV channel in Noida. Two bones on my feet get fractured. An ambulance is called, but it takes more than 30 minutes to cover the four-km to the hospital. The reason: uncontrolled traffic, vehicles coming from the wrong direction, irrational speed-breakers, and insensitive commuters. I can’t express how this aggravated my discomfort.

Indian roads have become synonymous with chaos, anarchy and accidents. According to a study, more than 150,000 people lose their lives, and many more are seriously injured, every year due to road accidents. The injured include some of those who can’t be treated. They live in agony all their lives. I cannot understand the opposition from many quarters to the traffic laws being made stricter. By doing so, aren’t we promoting accidents? I support these reforms aimed at making our roads safer.

The laws in our country are shoddy, and, moreover, complying with them is almost impossible. The previous Motor Vehicle Act, which was in force till last month, was implemented in 1989. Traffic conditions have changed greatly since 1991 — the total number of cars then was 19 lakh; it is now 25 crores. If you remember the Ambassador and Fiat cars of those times, you will realise that there is a huge change in the quality and speed of the vehicles we have now. Not only this, but the number of national highways has also increased, and, for the first time, expressways are being developed. In such a scenario, people who are fond of speed often become the cause of accidents. It is not that the speed limit in the new law does not conform to international standards. The speed limits of 50 to 120 kilometres per hour has been set on various roads. Earlier it was 30 to 65 kilometres. But people addicted to speed are hardly likely to conform.

Incidentally, it will be appropriate to mention here that, since 1989, there has been a severe devaluation of the rupee.

Thirty years ago, a dollar used to be around 16-17 rupees. It has increased by about four times now. It is clear that year after year, we were paying smaller fines than in 1989. If we increase the price of our products, aspire for higher wages, pay more for the things due to inflation, then why does this rule not apply to crime and punishment?

Those who know are aware of the fact that violations of traffic violations are fined far less in India than in all the western countries. For example, a violation of the speed limit in Virginia, United States, can lead to a penalty of 12 months imprisonment along with a fine of ~1.8 lakh, whereas there is a provision of a maximum fine of ₹4,000 for the same violation under the new rule in India. In Britain, three penalty points are filed along with a fine of ₹9,000 for violating the same rule. There are plenty of such examples, and they work in reducing road accidents. These laws are meant to explain this to those who do not understand the need for hefty fines. Instead of opposing the new rules, we should welcome them.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan
The views expressed are personal