MY OPINION – Law must enhance road safety, not revenue

No one can dispute the good intent behind the new Road Transport and Safety Bill, 2014 in place of the Motor Vehicle Act, 1988. There is a lot of emphasis on improving road-user behaviour through enhanced penalties and strict licensing. Among other provisions, the bill envisages to increase penalties by 10-50 times. Such changes are triggered by the fact that India has become the world leader in road accident-related deaths and injuries. Last year, our roads left 1,40,000 people dead and a million injured.Rise in fatalities is partially attributed to “improvement“ of highways. Better roads are not necessarily safer roads. Absence of road safety infrastructure coupled with the fact that our road-user behaviour does not improve commensurate with the quality of roads is the reason for this.

Current traffic violation fines may be low and hardly a deterrent, but increasing them to ridiculous levels could have pitfalls. A large number of people and cops are ready to do 50:50 and settle without reporting offences now. The temptation to negotiate ridiculously high fines is going to be irresistible for both sides.

Half-baked policies made without putting in place an objective and transparent implementation system take decades to be rectified and achieve its goals. Take the case for enhanced penalties for repeat offenders. In a few cities like Bangalore, a large amount of automation has taken place. Elsewhere, one can see traffic cops still carrying notice books, scribbling details of offenders and offences which nobody can decipher. How does one detect and prosecute a repeat offender on the spot in the absence of centralized database and its accessibility?
Moreover, 90% of our traffic enforcement is focused on major cities which account for only 10% of the road fatalities.We need to make traffic enforcement more broad-based and certain by increasing the chances of getting caught anywhere and anytime.

Also, if the police want the violator to pay such hefty fine, the offender has a right to demand evidence. In London, one could end up paying 100 pounds for jumping signal, but only after being given a photograph as evidence. We need to migrate to technology-driven evidence-based enforcement bereft of any discretion with the traffic cop.

Besides enhancing fines to reasonable levels, the emphasis should be on certainty and evidence by use of technology and better training for police personnel. It will be a pity if a bill drafted with good intention of enhancing road safety degenerates into merely a revenue collection instrument.

(The writer is additional director general of police. The views expressed are personal)

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