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Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act 2019: A fruitful step towards road safety

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Dr. Gaurav SanjayDr Gaurav Sanjay

Road safety week in India 2021 was observed from January 11 to 17. During road safety week every year, thousands of government, non-government and private organisations take part in activities to highlight the consequences of road traffic accidents and spread the awareness to make our roads safer. Safety from road accidents focuses on the goal that people should safely drive their vehicles on the road, while also keeping in mind the safety of co – drivers and pedestrians. Road safety continues to be a major public health concern and a leading cause of death across the world, killing more than 1.35 million people annually in the world as reported in the Global Status report on Road Safety 2018. About 90 per cent of these casualties are taking place in the developing countries with 11 per cent being accounted for by India.

As per the report on road accidents in India 2019, the accident related deaths in India in 2019 were 1,51,113 in number. National highways which comprise two per cent of total road network, continued to account for a disproportionate share- 35 per cent of the deaths in 2019. The state highways which account for three per cent of the road length accounted for 25 per cent of these deaths. It seems the numbers of accidents are inversely proportional to the vehicular congestion on the roads and are attributed to factors like over speeding, drunken driving and using mobile phone on the national highways. According to the government of India data, under the category of Traffic Rule Violations, over speeding continued to be a major killer in 2019, accounting for 67 per cent of the persons killed followed by driving on the wrong side of the road which accounted for six per cent of the accident related deaths.

Road traffic accidents are a global problem resulting in deaths, physical injuries, psychological problems and financial losses. These financial damages have immediate and long term consequences on the victims and their families. Road traffic accidents are forcing the people into poverty and disability. Many times we see in our society that poor individuals cannot pay for better treatment, sometimes this also leads to permanent disability. Many victims of road traffic accidents are the only bread earners of the family. Hence the family gets financially weak as well as mentally weak and they get helpless and sell their house, land, jewellery etc. It should be the duty not only of the government but the public, NGO and the other social organisations to spread the awareness that our society and nation is losing a lot in terms of human and financial resources. Our country is economically losing the worth of one to three per cent of the GDP on financial losses incurred due to road traffic accidents. The current GDP of our country is almost Rs 200 lakh crore.

Some of the reports which appeared in segments of the media in September 2019 showed to general public that the amended Motor Vehicle Act was against the general public because they have to pay more penalties if they violate the rules. It seems that the interpretation of most of the state governments of our country and of that of the public in general was that the sole purpose of government, to amend the law was to earn money from traffic rule violators. But contrary to that, the current Union Road Transport minister Nitin Gadkari had reiterated many times that the idea of increasing the penalty against the violators was not to earn the money but to save the life of many stakeholders who could be involved in road traffic accidents.

The number of accidents from April to June in 2020 (50,336) was 55 per cent less than the corresponding number in the previous year (1, 12,215). In terms of fatalities in road accidents, 56,288 people died in the first six months of 2020 compared to 79,678 in the same period the year before that, a drop of about 30 per cent. During April to June 2020, the number of fatalities in road accidents dropped by nearly 51 per cent compared to the same period in 2019, which is about 20,000 less fatalities. The above data has shown that the number of accidents had decreased significantly after the implementation of Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act. The contribution of the Covid- 19 lockdown cannot be ruled out too.

If we go according to the concept of penalty then penalty is imposed only on those who break the law and the idea of penalty is to deter the offender from breaking the law in the future and to send a message to the society that if anybody breaks the law, then he will be penalised. Punishment is defined in legal language as the infliction of some kind of pain or loss upon a person by an authority for a misdeed. The pain must be essential and not accidental to the infliction of punishment, according to the criteria of punishment principle. If punishment is not painful then how can it be punishment? Where is the question of punishment if we follow the law? The financial penalty works as a deterrent to an individual that the violator will not commit similar crime in future because of fear of similar or worse punishment in future. It also sends a message to the general public that they may get a similar punishment if they violate the law.

Almost 11 per cent of world fatalities are occurring in our country while India is having only one per cent of the vehicles of the world. A research reported by the author found that 90 per cent of these accidents occurred due to the driver’s negligence. The main cause of accidents is the violation of the traffic rules. All of us should spread awareness to prevent these accidents because they have taken the form of an epidemic. The public should learn these traffic rules and should follow them; the government should teach the traffic rules and should enforce them to prevent the road traffic tragedies.

(The writer is an orthopaedic surgeon based in Dehradun)

Monday, 18 January 2021 | Dr Gaurav Sanjay | Dehradun

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