On 1st August this year, the Parliament finally gave a go-ahead for the 2019 Motor Vehicle Amendment Bill that changes the provisions that were put into effect by the Motor Vehicle Act 1988. The Lok Sabha had cleared the bill in July and now, the average road user is susceptible to hefty traffic offence fines. The new Motor Vehicle Amendment Bill 2019 has a long list of revised traffic rule penalties and these see an upward revision by up to 20 times.
While some hail the amendment bill as a tool that will force perpetual traffic offenders to fall into a straight line, some question whether this will actually help improve the situation with the roads and traffic in India. What can a set of new rules do to bring down the number of road accidents in the country?
For example, speeding fine in India used to be Rs 500 but has now been increased to Rs 5000. Compare these to international standards and we find that the figure is actually more than Germany EUR 15-35 (Rs 1200-2760 approximately) and about similar to Singapore's 130 Singaporean dollars (Rs 6700 approximately). Point being that a developed country like Germany fines its citizens with minimal amounts for speeding and they have a strong road infrastructure and a well-functioning traffic system. Similarly, Singapore has a well-developed traffic system as well.
On the other hand, road infrastructure in India has a lot to catch up with in terms of road quality, traffic signals functioning well, road signage being well laid out, road signs not being obstructed by a billboard or a tree shrub, and most importantly the road users understanding the importance of traffic rules in the first place.
Speeding fines must be in graduation, based on how much higher was a road user speeding at compared to the limit. Having a uniform fine of Rs 5,000 for speeding means a user who was driving at 65 km/h on a 60 km/h road will pay the same amount of fine as the one who doing 135 km/h.
The point is that there are people who can afford to pay Rs 5000 or even Rs 15000 for a speeding ticket, but there are more people in India who find a Rs 500 fine as an expensive one. The problem is not that of the amount of fine, but of the enforcement of the law. Take Noida of Uttar Pradesh for example, law enforcement is next to zero here.
A steep increase in traffic offence fines will only urge road users to extend a bribe to the traffic policemen in case they get caught to strike up a better deal than to pay the challan in full.
There are scores of people who don't understand the concept of lane driving, the importance of wearing a seat belt or a helmet, the importance of slowing down to stop when it goes orange, of not driving on the wrong side even for a hundred metres. How does one ensure that they'll begin adhering to all rules if the value of the fines is increased?
No doubt, the amendment bill will have a positive effect on some road users. People who are aware of the changes that have been brought about and consciously make a decision to slow down or to wear a seat belt to avoid a heftier fine. But all in all, the problem remains of educating road users the importance of following traffic laws, instilling a feeling of self-preserving for their own benefit, and law enforcement.