Context

  • The Motor Vehicle (Amendment) Bill was again not taken up by the Rajya Sabha on Monday when it passed two Bills on jurisdiction and settlement of maritime claims and the Footwear Design and Development Institute.
  • The Admiralty (Jurisdiction and Settlement of Maritime Claims), Bill, 2017, passed by the Lok Sabha in March, seeks to consolidate the laws relating to admiralty jurisdiction, legal proceedings in connection with vessels, their arrest, detention, sale and other related matters.

The Footwear Design and Development Institute Bill, 2017, it’s a bill to establish an institution of national importance. Although all members supported the Bill, some said recent developments had an adverse impact on leather industry.

The Motor Vehicle bill

  • Ninety-six per cent believe that passage of the Bill would help meet the UN mandate to reduce road accidents up to 50 per cent by 2020.
  • Ninety-seven per cent people feel the Bill should be supported by all the parties since it was important to bring down fatalities due to road accidents, currently the highest in the world at 1.46 lakh annually.
  • Motor Vehicle Act (Amendment) Bill 2017 is important due to radical changes in the law which is as old as 30 years.
  • It proposes high penalties for various traffic offences, three-year jail for parents of minors’ drivers causing fatal accidents and a tenfold increase in compensation for families of accident victims.

Background

  • India is a signatory to the Brasilia Declaration that mandates halving road accident fatalities by 2020, and the government is very serious about meeting this commitment.
  • WHO, in its Global Plan for the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020, has recommended that countries should implement road safety activities according to “five pillars” which include
  1. Road Safety Management through institutions and legislative framework
  2. Building Safer Roads through proper design, engineering and traffic calming measures;
  3. Safer Vehicles promotion;
  4. Safer Road Usage Educationand through efficient
  5. Post-crash Response.

Actions taken Based on this recommendation the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways has been making concerted efforts to promote road safety.

  • A National Road Safety Policy has been put in place that recommends adopting a multi-pronged strategy to tackle the problem based on the 4 E’s viz Education, Engineering (both of roads and vehicles) Enforcement and Emergency Care.
  • Towards overhauling the institutional and statutory framework, the Ministry constituted a Group of Ministers from across states in March 2016 to deliberate upon and propose strategies for reducing road fatalities and to suggest actionable measures for implementation.
  • On the basis of recommendations of the GoM, the Motor Vehicle (Amendment) Bill has been cleared by the Cabinet.

Highlights of the Bill

  • Under the Act, the liability of the third party insurer for motor vehicle accidents is unlimited. Tajh Boyd – Clemson Tigers The Bill caps the maximum liability for third party insurance in case of a motor accident at Rs 10 lakh in case of death and at five lakh rupees in case of grievous injury.
  • The Bill provides for a Motor Vehicle Accident Fund which would provide compulsory insurance cover to all road users in India for certain types of accidents.
  • The Bill defines taxi aggregators, guidelines for which will be determined by the central government.
  • The Bill also provides for: (i) amending the existing categories of driver licensing, (ii) recall of vehicles in case of defects, (iii) protection of Good Samaritans from any civil or criminal action, and (iv) increase of penalties for several offences
  • The state governments have also been called upon to formulate action plans for improving road safety and implementing the same by fixing time bound targets for fatality reduction and identifying and allocating adequate manpower, financial and other resources to achieve the targets.
  • In response, a large majority of the state governments have constituted State Road Safety Councils (SRSC) , notified Road Safety Policies , submitted Draft Action Plans for reducing accidents and fatalities and designated Lead Agencies for dealing with road safety issues. The rest are in the process of doing so.
  • The government will also set up a National Register for vehicles and driving licences, which will issue a unique registration number to remove duplication.
  • The Bill also enables the Centre to recall vehicles whose components or engine do not meet the required standards. Vehicle manufacturers can be penalised up to Rs 500 crore in case of non-complaince of rules in parts or engine.
  • The penalty for drunken driving is being increased by five times to Rs 10,000, and if such driving results in the death of another person, the driver can be charged with a non-bailable offence with a jail term up to 10 years.

Why needed? Road Engineering

  • Road engineering has emerged as another priority area. Road safety has been made an integral part of road designing and safety audits are being taken up for selected stretches of National Highways.
  • As short-term measures, rumble strips, reflective stickers at junctions, fixing signboard/ cautionary board, providing signage and speed restrictions are being used.
  • As long-term measures construction of vehicular under-pass, by-pass, flyover, crash barriers and slope stabilization techniques are being taken up.
  • Rectification of black spots is being accorded top priority; Rs 11,000 Crore have been set aside for rectification of black spots.

Vehicular Safety Standards.

  • Trucks are prohibited from carrying protruding rods; Antilocking Brake System (ABS) have been made mandatory for heavy vehicles;
  • Bus Body Code for safer and comfortable buses and Truck Body Code for safe cabins to drivers and other road users have been notified.
  • Mandatory Fitment of Speed Governors on Transport Vehicles to avoid over speeding.
  • In addition, all public service vehicles, (except two and three wheelers, e-rickshaws) have to be equipped with or fitted with vehicle location tracking device and one or more emergency buttons.

Road Safety Education

  • On the education front, the Ministry has roped in a large number of NGOs and also corporates to carry on public awareness campaigns on the issue of road safety.
  • The Ministry is also running campaigns through the print, electronic and social media to make people sensitive to the urgency of following traffic rules.
  • Every year, the week from 9th January to 15th January is observed as the Road Safety Week when a number of activities are organized to bring this issue into the public eye.

Issues in the Policy

  • The Bill caps the maximum liability for third party insurance, but does not cap the compensation amount that courts can award. In cases where courts award compensation higher than the maximum liability amount, it is unclear who will pay the remaining amount.
  • Under the Act, compensation for hit and run victims comes from a Solatium Fund. The Bill creates a new Motor Vehicle Accident Fund in addition.
  • With a Fund already existing to provide compensation for hit and run accidents, the purpose of the new Accident Fund is unclear.
  • State governments will issue licenses to taxi aggregators as per central government guidelines. Currently, state governments determine guidelines for plying of taxis. There could be cases where state taxi guidelines are at variance with the central guidelines on aggregators.
  • While the penalties for contravening provisions of the proposed scheme on interim relief to accident victims are specified in the Bill, the offences that would warrant such penalties have not been specified. It may be argued that imposing penalties without knowing the nature of the offences is unreasonable.

Conclusion

  • Solutions have certainly been set in motion in moving towards road safety.
  • Policies can lose all meaning if they are not implemented well.
  • Rules can only be as effective as their enforcement.
  • Ensuring road safety is a matter of collective responsibility, and good results demand cooperation from every player from policy makers to enforcement agencies, automobile makers to road users.
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