The Motor Vehicles (Amendments) Act 2016
Aug 15, 2016
The Motor Vehicles (Amendments) Act 2016
Act passed in Lok Sabha
The Motor Vehicles (Amendments) Act 2016 was passed in the Lok Sabha on April 10.
- The commitment to reduce road traffic deaths by 50% is certainly a laudable objective. In fact, road traffic accidents have been recognised as a serious problem at the national level and Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) has been issuing policy statements and announcing programmes to address the rapidly growing safety problem since the revision of the Motor Vehicle Act (MVA) in 1988.
- Since then, a common theme in all policies and government initiatives has been the emphasis on improving driver education, driver training, driver licensing system and the need for higher penalties. The number of deaths have continued to increase at a rate of 8-9% per year over the past 20 years.
- About 75% of the victims are pedestrians, motorised two wheeler-riders and bicyclists (vulnerable road users or VRUs) both on intercity roads and intracity roads.
- National data available with MoRTH and NCRB (National Crime Records Bureau) does not report the involvement of pedestrians, motorcyclists and bicyclists in fatal crashes correctly. The rate of traffic fatalities has increased 3-4 times in cities where highways have been upgraded.
- The important amendments emphasise driver education, stricter licensing systems and higher penalties for various traffic offences.
- The Bill defines taxi aggregators, guidelines for which will be determined by the central government.
- Penalties for all offences have been increased through insertions and few new penalties have been introduced like faulty registration details, the concessionaire or the contractor who is responsible for faulty road design or has not followed standards, the guardians of juvenile offenders to be penalised, and states to have power to increase penalties.
- The current MVA includes provisions for recalling defective vehicles and holding the contractor or the concessionaire responsible for faulty road design.
- However, if there are no systems to continuously monitor the performance of road designs and evaluate performance of vehicles’ effectiveness, good intentions will remain weak.
- The amendment on safety devices, like use of safety belts, helmets (by all those riding motorised two wheeler) etc., is a welcome addition.
- The bill requires all those above four years of age to wear a helmet. While the importance of helmets for two-wheeler riders cannot be ignored, the question arises as to why most states have not implemented this when helmets were made compulsory in the 1988 Act itself.
- The bill proposes increased computerisation of various services - issue or grant of licences or permits, filing of forms or applications (such as for licences and registration), receipt of money (such as fines) and change of address. This will perhaps improve our data base for registered vehicles and drivers.
- Good Samaritan clause is intended to protect civilians who step up to help victims of road accidents (rather than victimising them in turn). The guidelines recommended by the apex court urge medical establishments, the police and the judiciary to treat good Samaritans with respect, dignity, sensitivity and compassion.
- Effectiveness of provision for the protection of Good Samaritans, cashless payment for accident victims may look useful, but a careful evaluation of these systems in the coming year will be required to prove it.
- Clause 91 which states that the Centre may constitute a National Safety Board to look into various aspects of traffic safety. If because of this amendment we end up with a permanent agency with safety experts, we can hope to see a decline in traffic fatalities in the coming years.
Other issues of concern
1.Stricter and higher penalties
While the penalties have to be there for offenders, there seems to be no correlation between stricter and higher penalties with reduction in road traffic crashes in countries where road traffic deaths have reduced over the years. Higher fines as a deterrent to traffic crashes are based on the assumption that the driver is careless, and that the fear of higher penalty will encourage “careful” behaviour on the road.
Private operators focus on maximising profits and externalities like accidents, pollution and service to the needy are ignored. Private operators have to be carefully regulated. Without effective regulatory mechanisms, private operators will come into the market, existing state transport corporations will suffer and all negative externalities will increase. In short, the overall impact will be exactly the opposite of what this amendment is intended for.
In the current system where often drivers’ addresses are not updated and passenger vehicles do not require annual registration, electronic surveillance for speeding, red light jumping and violation of other offences remain meaningless since the correct address of the driver is not known. If the address change requirement is implemented in all earnest, the e-challan system will become more effective.
4.Hit and run
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.
Every state should be encouraged to propose a time-bound roadmap for adopting this system.