Challenging Indian Roads : Driving on Indian roads can be challenging. Not many drivers care to follow traffic discipline. Lane driving is an alien concept and jumping traffic signal is a norm. Juveniles drive with impunity. Drunk drivers often brazen their way out. Even an extra careful driver, may not have any clue of another vehicle being on the wrong side. A driver’s licence can be procured easily, even when impounded. Vehicle owners do not bother to get pollution under check certificate, many do not purchase an insurance. Those who do, may not bother to pay premium after one year. Overloaded, unfit vehicles, can be seen plying on roads. According to estimates as many as one hundred thousand plus people die of road accidents in India every year and as many four hundred thousand get injured.
Motor Vehicles Act : In this grim scenario, many of us who had to drive extensively heaved a sigh of relief when the Government of India recently implemented the newly-introduced Motor Vehicle (Amendment) Act, 2019, which came into effect from September 1. Hope was that the law would improve road behaviour and promote road safety as a discipline. A list of traffic rule violations and penalties that would accompany them from 1stof September is given in Table below. For comparison penalties that were in vogue prior to September 2019, have also been included.
|Penalty (Rs)||Prison / Licence DQL|
Modifiable By State Governments
|General First Time Offence||100||500|
|General Second Time Offence||300||1500|
|Disobeying Order of Authority||500||2000|
|Aggregators (Violation of licencing conditions||–||25000 – 100000|
|Violation of Road Rules||–||500 – 1000|
|Driving without licence||500||5000|
|Driving Unauthorised Vehicle without Licence||1000||5000|
|Driving despite disqualification||500||10000|
|Speed Violation LMV||400||2000|
|Speed Violation HPV||400||4000|
|Racing (First Offence)||500||5000||3 mos|
|Racing (Second Offence)||500||10000||12 mos|
|No Registration||5000||10000||6 mos|
|No seat belt||100||1000|
|No Helmet||100||1000||3 mos|
|No insurance First Time||1000||2000||3 mos|
|No Insurance Second Time||1000||4000||3 mos|
|No Pollution Under Check Certificate||–||10000|
|Overloading of 2 Wheelers||100||2000||3 mos|
|Emergency vehicle passage||NA||10000||6 mos|
|Seizing vehicle by force or unlawfully||500||5000|
|Mentally / Physically Unfit Driver Ist Time||200||1000|
|Mentally / Physically Unfit Driver IInd Time||500||2000|
|Accident Related||Nil||5000 – 10000|
States Governments Cannot Alter
|Drunk Driving – First Offence||2000||10000||6 mos|
|Drunk Driving – Second Offence||15000||24 mos|
|Juvenile Driver||NA||25000||36 mos|
|Dangerous Driving Signal jumping / Rash Driving – First Offence||1000||1000 – 5000||6 to 12 mos|
|Dangerous Driving Signal jumping / Rash Driving – Second Offence||1000||10000||24 mos|
For details look here
Visible Benefits : Since the law came into force, it has been reported that in many cities, driving has become more disciplined. Many car owners have queued up to obtain pollution under check certificate, there has been as much as 20% increase in application for renewal of driving licences, and a 500% increase in renewal of vehicle insurance policies. Police have in different states have collected hefty fines from violators. From Rs. 7.2 million in Bangalore to 14 million rupees in Haryana and Odisha since enforcement drive has started.
Well Deliberated Act : Many had argued that the new motor vehicles amendment was introduced unilaterally without much discussion and deliberation. It is important to note that this new act was first introduced in 2017. But it did not get cleared in the Rajya Sabha where government did not have majority. Subsequently, the act was studied by the select committee of parliament, it has been discussed with transport secretaries and transport ministers of different states, and in 2019 the act was passed by both houses of parliament to become a law.
Political Push Back : Despite perceived positive benefits of new traffic vehicle amendment act of the BJP lead NDA government at the centre, the first push back came from state governments. While opposition by some state governments namely that of West Bengal, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chattisgarh was not surprising, as these states are ruled by Trina Mool Congress and Congress, respectively. Similarly, Odissa, Telengana, Andhra Pradesh, and Kerala are also ruled by non BJP governments. But one cannot but be surprised by stance taken by chief ministers of BJP ruled states like Gujarat, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka. Mr. Rupani, the chief minister of Gujarat, was the first to reduce provisions of penalties, that were under control of states, drastically. BJP chief ministers can no longer take moral high ground of belonging to a party with a difference that valued discipline over populism. Like politicians and parties they often criticise, BJP ministers would much rather cling to their seats, throw a few lacs of rupees when a life is lost, and hope to be re-elected. It is a reflection on us voters that we vote into power such leaders who value power over life of citizens.
Efforts to Alter Behaviour Alone has been Ineffective : Many, mostly politicians, have argued that instead of penalising drivers, government should try to bring about a change in behaviour of drivers. India is not a police state, they have argued. There is no denying fear of penalty will only go so far. But it is worth noting that for the past so many years Indian government has treated all kind of offences mildly with the hope of a change in behaviour. As a result, the power of Indian state has decimated to such an extent that there is not much respect for the rule of law anymore. Anyone with money and muscle power can defy a law officer and even beat him up. Anyone could get away by paying a negligible fine and / or bribe. Cases that reach the court drag on for decades. Even a licence impounded in one state can be renewed in a different state.
Corrupt Enforcement : Many have argued that stiff traffic penalties will be exploited by traffic police. It will be a source of easy bribe money. There is no denying that law enforcers in India often work in an arbitrary and brutal manner, when they are sure that there is no media glare. A driver can be pulled down and implicated under a false charge to extract money. This is a real possibility and authorities must think of arriving at a proper procedure to penalise a driver. The whole process should be recorded on a body camera and monitored by a control room. Driver should be able to get a copy of the proceedings on demand.
Need to Educate Voters : While looking at stiff penalty introduced by government of India, I looked for penalty charged by other countries for traffic violations. Although, financial situation of India cannot be compared with those of many developed foreign nations, also the level of traffic infrastructure in these places are also qualitatively much superior, and there is preponderance of corruption among Indian traffic police men. Still, as shown in the table, Indian traffic violation penalty is still much lower compared to US, UK and European nations.
Comparative Traffic Fines (Rs.)
|Country||Signal Violation||Over Speeding||Drunk Driving||No Parking Violation||Driving w/o Licence||Driving w/o Insurance|
|Ref : For details look here.|
Many Indians, including politicians, when they visit foreign shores, they pay up the penalty charged. Politicians those who argue against implementation of stiff penalty for traffic violation, on the ground that such a high penalty is not affordable, never try to convince errant drivers that :
- wearing a helmet or putting on seat belt are not herculean tasks;
- no penalty should be affordable;
- If a person cannot pay penalty, he should not break the law;
Non Modifiable Components of the Act : We must thank god that penalty accrued due to (i) driving under influence, (ii) dangerous driving and (iii) offence committed by juvenile drivers cannot be changed by states governments. As it stands today, if police arrives on time and collects the right evidence, a drunk driver or a juvenile driver or a dangerous driver may still have to face the music of the law.
Summary : I think the current motor vehicle amendment act is long over due step to streamline chaotic Indian roads. There is no doubt that a lot has to improve in control and management of traffic in India. On one hand, drivers have to be made aware serious consequences of traffic violations and consequent loss of life. On the other hand, quality of infrastructure has to improve, traffic managers have to be sensitised and the process of traffic violation and the process of penalty collection must be transparent. Now that drivers are making an attempt to renew licences, obtain pollution under control certificate and purchasing insurance, and law enforcers are collecting fines from defaulters, it is time to plough back the money into the system to strengthen traffic infrastructure. Let us hope better sense prevails. Though there is a lot of opposition, I think the law is for greater common good.
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This post is written in response to Indispire prompt. More posts on the topic may be found here.