"The Best Drivers are Aware that they must Beware" Road Safety is important. That much is abundantly clear, but how justified is the new MV Amendment Act? It is worth it at all? Should we accept the new rules?
Accidents on roads and -as such- related to motor vehicles account on behalf of the number 1 cause of death for children and young adults up to the age of 29. It is the 8th leading cause of death for people of all ages preceded only by problems like cardio-vascular diseases, chronic pulmonary illnesses and strokes. Unavoidable, unforeseeable problems that lie understandably high on the list.
However road accidents? Perpetrated by negligence. Foreseeable. Avoidable. Yet still number 8. Horrifying.
The above is to highlight just how ignorant the world as a large has been to the rising problem that is road accidents. India, being pretty high on the list for road fatalities, may have taken an enormous step forward with the Rajya Sabha passing the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act, 2019. Before we get to select views upon the implementation of this Act, it is pertinent to first understand what exactly it implies. The Act seeks to amend the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 and has increased penalties for the breaking of traffic laws manifold.
Among key proposals lies the one to fine cab aggregators like Ola and Uber up to a hefty payment of 1 lakh for the violation of licensing norms. Drunk driving will be inviting a fine of Rs. 10,000 (up from 2,000 earlier) while the penalty for speeding has been amplified nearly 10 times to a current Rs. 5, 000. Hit and Run cases, it is proposed will come with a recompense of Rs. 25, 000 to Rs. 2 lakh in the case of subsequent death.
It is obvious to see why steps this drastic are necessary. Even if you do not have official statistics or even approximate ones, one would have to truly be living under a rock to not realise that our roads are getting progressively more unsafe with every passing minute. Nevertheless, if to substantiate an argument statistics are needed then take them directly from the words of the Minister of Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari. According to the Minster, more than 5,00,000 road accidents take place every year. These lead to 1,50,000 consequent deaths. He also approximates that these figures could reduce by more than 50% should the Amendment Act be enforced.
Such benefits cannot and should not be ignored. We have all seen (and possibly rolled our eyes at) the multitude of generic road safety and accident prevention slogans like: “Alert today – Alive tomorrow.” Or, “Fast Drive could be your Last drive.” Yes, they are scrawled everywhere, aren’t they? This is not just by accident (no joke intended), well used, popular, catchy slogans are designed to catch our eyes and warn us of potential dangers but it is specifically because of our ignorance of such slogans; because of our tendency to treat them like children’s rhymes- to be given a fleeting smile but ultimately forgotten and unheeded, that I believe such penalties are not only necessary but obligatory.
I am, quite obviously, a school going girl. Like many others, the seniors in my school arrive on flashy two-wheelers. They talk, laugh, cheer and generally make merry as they see each other off and say their goodbyes at the end of every school day. Two years ago however, something to ghastly happened that it struck our school to the core and lead to larger reforms within the institution. A senior. A well-liked, talented girl in 12th class met with an accident while on the road. She was hospitalized and was severely hurt. Fortunately, there was no loss of a young life on that day. Our school thereafter got serious, no more were children allowed to bring their motor vehicles to school unless they arrived with a helmet as well as other necessary safety measures and could provide a driving license certifying them of being capable of driving.
Here is the thing though, that was just our school and powerful or no, it could only reach so far. Rallies are held annually by the institute warning people of the demerits of unsafe driving, but who is to say that people will listen? That is why I believe that such harsh penalties are needed. We should not just leave it out of our hands a thing we can control to a large extent. Accidents will always happen, that much is inescapable, but the numbers of casualties could be brought down significantly if we just follow traffic norms. Ultimately, I do understand that the fines seem exorbitant but the measures taken earlier were not leading to any change. More Indians acquired cars, more Indians ignored basic safety, more Indians got injured, and more Indians were lost. Good citizens died. Some who were not even driving the vehicle that led to the accident.
Our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) takes a massive hit every year because of the deaths due to unsafe roads. India has a massive young population. The majority of casualties in road accidents also happen to be young people, as seen at the start of this essay. These deaths are both pedestrian and drivers. Prevention of road accidents will literally grow our country. It is germane not just because of moral reasons but also because of economic reasons.
Something had to be done. It is as simple as that.
The argument to the contrary point out the high fines and deems them unnecessary and another burden on the people. To that, I want to ask a question asked by the aforementioned Minister of Road Transport and Highways, “What is more important people’s lives or money?”
In all seriousness, though. Yes, the fines are heavy. To also be considered here is that many, many people will never have to face such punishment. It is not sadism on the government’s part, it is practicality. It is only with pragmatic intentions that these rules are enforced. Beyond being morally upright, why do any of us follow any rule out there? Because there are high punishments in case of the violation of law. The same is meant here. The new Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act, 2019 does not seek to make our lives difficult but instead to make the lives of literally lakhs of people free of needless accidents. The more people that follow traffic laws, the more pedestrians are safe, the more our country improves.
Thomas Jefferson once famously said, “The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only object of a good government.” In so far as this particular Act, I believe it full enshrines and represents this quote and the values that lie behind it.
Sources for the statistical data:-
· Economic Times
· Times of India
· Indian Express
World Health Organization Official Site
Global Status Report on Road Safety 2018, WHO and Bloomberg Philanthropies