In the last one week, a lot of things have changed for motorists plying on Indian roads. With the Motor Vehicles Act 2019 coming into effect from September 1, the going has gotten difficult for those breaking traffic rules. From higher penalties for driving errors to imprisonment up to one month for racing and speeding; and up to six months for offences relating to accidents, the new Act is bringing back things in order by instilling fear.

What is it?

The Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill, 2019 is based on the recommendations of the Group of Transport Ministers of States. Given that the Act wanted to deter individuals from violating traffic rules, it has introduced heavy fines for drunken driving, driving without licence, dangerous driving, over-speeding, etc. These penalties will be increasing by 10 per cent every year on April 1, as notified by the Central government. The new Act has also extended the period for renewal of driving licences from one month to one year after the date of expiry. Only if the renewal delayed more than a year, will the driver have to undergo a test of competence. The Act also promises to protect those people who render emergency medical or non-medical assistance to a victim of an accident, from any civil or criminal liability. The minimum compensation for death or grievous injury due to hit and run has been moved up substantially.

Why is it important?

In 2017, as per data by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, there had occured 4.64 lakh accidents that claimed lives of 1.47 lakh people. Two-wheelers accounted for over a third of all road accidents. Slowly, as all States begin implementing the provisions of the Act with heftier fines and imprisonment for drunken driving, driving without licence and insurance and juvenile offences, people may start to follow rules and road accidents may actually reduce. In the last one week itself, there has been a rush among motorists to renew their lapsed insurance policies, according to data from the largest online insurance aggregator.

A valid motor insurance is important so that the aggrieved parties in a road accident get compensation.

However, note that given that it is only a model Act, State governments are free to make their own laws and rules. Success depends on how far states enforce the provisions of the Act.

Why should I care?

Not following the traffic and road safety rules as per the Act will burn a hole in your pocket. For not wearing a helmet, the fine has increased from ₹100 to ₹1,000, plus a three-month disqualification of licence. For not wearing a seatbelt, the penalty is now ₹1,000. For speeding or racing, the fine has increased from ₹500 to ₹5,000 and for drunken driving from ₹2,000 to ₹10,000. The fine for driving without a valid licence is now ₹5,000.

Besides higher penalty, the new Act also includes imprisonment for severe crimes. Speed racing can attract imprisonment for three months (with or without a fine); this will extend to a period of one year if caught for the second time. For offences by juveniles, the guardian or owner of the vehicle shall be deemed to be guilty and punished with a ₹25,000-fine and three years’ imprisonment. The juvenile would be tried under Juvenile Justice Act, 2000 and the registration of motor vehicle will be cancelled for a period of 12 months. The owner of a motor vehicle who alters it by way of retrofitting of motor vehicle parts in a manner not permitted under the Act shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months (and/or with fine of ₹5,000 per such alteration).

The bottom line

‘Alert today, alive tomorrow’ – goes the popular saying. With the new Act, it is: ‘Be alert to rules, to save your pocket’.

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