With 1.5 lakh lives lost each year, road accidents kill more people in India than terrorism or natural disasters. There’s now a new law in the making to address this problem in the form of the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill 2016, which was tabled in the Lok Sabha last week.

What is it?

The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways constituted a group of 18 Transport Ministers of the States to suggest changes to the existing Motor Vehicle Act to improve safety for commuters. The committee’s recommendations have been incorporated as amendments to 68 of the 223 sections in the Motor Vehicles Act. While the sharply higher fines for traffic rule violations have hogged the headlines, the new law actually has comprehensive rules that run the gamut on every aspect of road safety, from a National Registry for vehicles, to automated testing for driving licences, to guidelines encouraging commuters to report and help accident victims.

It also simplifies the provisions for claiming and settlement of vehicle accident insurance claims. It proposes stiff penalties for drunken driving, driving without licence, dangerous driving, over-speeding, overloading and other serious offences. The new law intends to halve the number of deaths and injury due to road accidents by 2020.

Why is it important?

Accidents kill 400 people every day on Indian roads. A government report indicates a loss to the economy of 3 per cent of GDP (1999-2000) due to road mishaps, compared to 1.5 per cent for other middle income countries. With provisions to improve the overall transport eco-system by supporting States in improving public transport and last mile connectivity, the Bill may also make travel easier for the common man. The Bill also aims to reduce the corruption and waiting time in vehicle registration and licensing through the use of automation and e-governance.

Why should I care?

This Bill can make an enormous difference to the quality of your commute, quite apart from saving lives. On the one hand, driving licences and vehicle registrations will not longer be subject to the whims and fancies of the local transport office. Learning licenses will be issued online, testing will be automated and dis-intermediated. There is proposed to be an increase in the validity period for driving licenses.

But on the other, if you’re rather lax about traffic rules, you had better read up on them. Else, you will soon shell out far heftier penalties for traffic offences. The fine for over-speeding will increase from ₹400 to ₹2,000 for medium passenger vehicles; for drunken driving, the fine will rise from ₹2,000 to a stiff ₹10,000.

For not wearing a helmet while driving, the fine will shoot up from ₹100 to ₹1,000 with your license being taken away for three months. For driving without a license, the fine will be ₹5,000, up from ₹500 now. The fine for driving without a valid insurance will be ₹2000, up from ₹1000.

The Bill has increased the compensation payable to the victims in accidents. The compensation for hit-and- run cases will increase from ₹25,000 to ₹2 lakh. However, the Bill puts a ceiling on maximum claim in case of death from a road accident at ₹10 lakh (₹5 lakh for grievous hurt) from insurance companies. Currently, an insurer’s liability is unlimited in case of third party insurance policies for injury or death.

The bottomline

The new law certainly means business, but for it to work, citizens must to realise that flouting rules is no laughing matter.

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