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Monday, Oct 14, 2019

Fix basics while imposing new rules for road safety

Hopefully, the fine amounts will not be drastically slashed for offences that are linked directly to road safety. Last year, as many as four persons were killed in road fatalities every day in Delhi.

delhi Updated: Sep 16, 2019 11:25 IST
Shivani Singh
Shivani Singh
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Traffic police personnel issue challans to traffic rules violators at Maharana Pratap Chowk, in Gurugram.
Traffic police personnel issue challans to traffic rules violators at Maharana Pratap Chowk, in Gurugram.(Yogesh Kumar/Hindustan Times)
         

While social media is flooded with memes and jokes on the large fines motorists have been charged for traffic violations under the new rules that came into effect on September 1, what is more worrying is the kind of multiple infractions these drivers have been found guilty of.

In Gurugram, for instance, an auto-rickshaw driver was fined Rs 32,500 for driving without a licence, registration, insurance, pollution certificate, jumping the stop line, and driving dangerously.

In Delhi, a motorcyclist -- fined Rs 16,000 for drunk driving, not carrying registration documents, and riding without a helmet -- set his vehicle on fire, leading to speculation that the ticket amount was more than the value of his vehicle.

A truck driver who owned the vehicle was fined over Rs 2 lakh for as many as nine offences, making it the highest traffic penalty imposed in Delhi under the amended law.

In many of these cases, the violators did not carry a single legal document and perhaps were not even trained to drive. One wonders if they had ever been caught in the past. Even if they were, the nominal fines — as low as R 400 for speeding and R 100 for jumping a signal – they must have paid would not have made them mend their ways.

The fines were hiked, said Nitin Gadkari, the Union minister for road transport and highways, not to augment revenue but to save lives. But with protests and complaints over the quantum of fines, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal and Rajasthan have refused to implement the new rules. Gujarat, Uttarakhand and Karnataka have proposed to lower the fine amounts. The Delhi government has said it will review the 34 clauses of the new law where it has the powers to make changes.

Hopefully, the fine amounts will not be drastically slashed for offences that are linked directly to road safety. Last year, as many as four persons were killed in road fatalities every day in Delhi. In the maximum number of traffic cases, people were punished for life-threatening offences, such as riding without helmets, driving without seat belts, and rash driving.

But even as Delhi awaits notification of the new law, and traffic police refer all tickets to the courts, mere enforcement may not be enough to make the amended rules the new normal. While offenders will always grudge heavy penalties, the governments must reach out and convince people that the new rules are in their interest and, more importantly, will be enforced judiciously.

They must also augment the essential road infrastructure. Traffic signals, road markings and signage, for instance, are important tools that the enforcement agencies use to inform, warn and regulate drivers. A study conducted by the Institute of Road Traffic Education (IRTE) in 2017 found that 75% of 1,514 signs examined on Delhi roads did not meet the requirements of the standardised codes recommended by the Indian Road Congress.

Even the parliamentary standing committee on the Motor Vehicle (Amendment) Bill recommended that “before applying the law, technical things like signals, signages, stop-signs, divider etc. may be placed correctly and proper training to police officials is also essential”.

The amended law has stipulated a fine of R 1 lakh on designated authority, contractor, consultant or concessionaire if the design, construction and maintenance of the safety standards of roads were compromised resulting in death or disability. But fixing a broken signal, getting the signage and the markings right should anyway be a matter of routine maintenance.

There is also room for capacity building and training of all the stakeholders on legislative and enforcement matters. “If police use the discretion of applying the provisions of higher penalties they must also be trained to interpret the law in rational and correct manner,” said Rohit Baluja, president of IRTE.

For this, suggested another expert, the government should hold workshops for traffic police and transport officials to sensitise them and also address their concerns.

Since the objective is to ensure road safety rather than penalise drivers, we also need facilities for re-training serial violators including those who simply do not know better. Driving is a livelihood for many and the untrained of the lot must be re-skilled. Let us also admit that driving is rarely associated with the responsibility it involves. It may not be too late to apply the brakes yet.

First Published: Sep 16, 2019 03:06 IST

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