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TOI EDIT-Enforcement Is Key Intent of Motor Vehicles Act changes is good, but Gujarat shows that it needs finessin

September 12, 2019 06:34 AM


Enforcement Is Key
Intent of Motor Vehicles Act changes is good, but Gujarat shows that it needs finessing
Into the second week of the amendments to Motor Vehicles Act kicking in, the step to sharply increase fines for violations remains controversial. Gujarat this week reduced some of the fines set by the Centre on humanitarian grounds. The overarching aim of the amendments has wide support. Given that India has a shameful record of fatalities on account of road accidents, even when compared to other developing countries, some of the measures in the amendments, particularly the one relating to encouraging good Samaritans, are welcome. The debate is over a steep hike in fines. For example, the penalty for jumping a traffic light has gone from Rs 100 to Rs 5,000. Will a harsh measure be the game changer?

The record across the world is decidedly mixed but fine remains a popular tool, with Finland going so far as to link it to a violator’s disposable income. What is unambiguous is that the problem of fatalities is more pronounced in the developing world, which WHO says accounts for 93% of fatalities with around 60% of vehicles. Richer countries have created safer roads over the last four decades. There are two solutions and both are needed. One, is to strengthen the regulatory and enforcement framework. Two, significantly improve road design in India which is also a cause of fatalities.

Will stiff fines improve driving habits? Yes, if the violator is fairly sure that it’s difficult to escape. However, enforcement has been India’s weakness. Once the current fuss dies, our record suggests it will be business as usual. It may also encourage petty corruption. Therefore, instead of fixing fines at a level where even a relatively wealthy BJP-administered state feels pressured to lower it, focus on consistent enforcement. A model where most fines escalate with repeat offences with the possibility of flying below the radar minimised is the way forward.

Technology today provides a cost effective solution to implement this model. For example, with a higher density of working CCTVs states can automate enforcement. If such solutions start in the biggest urban centres and key highways of every state, there will be an early impact and fatalities will reduce. No one condones violations. But a solution shouldn’t be so draconian that a chief minister’s compassion is triggered when the law is broken. The intent underpinning the amendments is good. But the inadequate attention to unforeseen consequences of high fines, and to enforcement, are a problem

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