The emphasis of the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill 2019 passed by both Houses of Parliament in the just concluded session, is on road safety, and rightly so. Officially, India sees more than five lakh road accidents a year leading to 1.5 lakh deaths. According to the Union Transport Minister, this could come down by half if the provisions of this Bill are implemented. The stiff hike in penalties for traffic violations is an important aspect of this law. This apart, the Bill provides a fighting chance to accident victims by making them eligible for cashless treatment during the ‘golden hour’ immediately following the accident.
The minimum compensation for death or grievous injury due to hit and run has been moved up substantially to ₹2 lakh and ₹50,000, respectively. A Motor Vehicle Accident Fund is being created to bankroll these moves. Protection from harassment to those who help accident victims is also envisaged. Third-party insurance terms are friendlier with no cap on liability of insurers and quicker claims processing. To reduce scope for manipulation and corruption in transport departments, vehicle fitness tests will be automated and driving tests, computerised. Also, the driver training process for commercial driving will be strengthened and more training schools set up. These should go a long way in ensuring that only fit vehicles and qualified drivers hit the roads.
However, implementation may not be a smooth ride. Road transport being a subject on the Concurrent List, State governments are also free to make their own laws and rules. The fact that this Bill was drafted based on the recommendations of the Group of Transport Ministers (GoM) from 18 States and different political parties should aid in all-India implementation. Through repositories such as ‘Vahan’ and ‘Sarathy’, mandatory information on vehicles and ownership as well as road transport related services are gradually being moved online. State governments should ensure transparency and provide a hassle-free experience for citizens at the Regional Transport Offices.
For effective monitoring of traffic violations and accidents and ensuring that the perpetrators don’t go scot-free, electronic surveillance is essential. The Bill mandates State governments to ensure electronic monitoring and enforcement of road safety on national highways, state highways and urban roads using CCTV cameras, speed guns and other such equipment, as per rules framed by the Centre. This could involve substantial investment, and it is not clear who will bear the cost. The Centre and States should not delay working out the modalities. Road safety also goes hand in hand with vehicle safety. The Bill allows the Centre to order for recall of motor vehicles if a defect can cause damage to the environment, the driver, or other road users. Vehicle makers who have been lax in implementing safety features in India vis-à-vis other countries must pull up their socks.