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Zero Tolerance

Zero Tolerance

The recently amended Motor Vehicles Act that seeks to tighten road traffic regulations besides imposing stricter penalties for violations has been grabbing headlines ever since it was enforced from September 1 this year.

So far the highest fine imposed under the new rules is a whopping Rs 2 lakh to the driver and owner of a truck who was challaned in Delhi for overloading and various other traffic offences. In Gurugram, a two wheeler rider who was fined Rs 23,000/- for various violations had left his vehicle with the traffic police as the penalty exceeded the value of his scooter.

The Motor Vehicles Act falls in the concurrent list. Therefore the states as well as the Centre can revise and frame rules under the amended act. But as the new legislation has increased the fines manifold, the same has not gone well with the people and many state governments. While some states are proceeding with utmost caution, Delhi government has implemented the new rules without any changes. Gujarat and Uttarakhand have announced a cut in the penalties and also put a stay on the implementation of new rules. Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Telangana are yet to implement the new rules. Karnataka and Kerala are said to toying with the idea to make the provisions less stringent. Amidst such mixed reactions to the new rules, Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari’s response that the government does not intend to garner revenue by increasing fines but the idea is to make roads safer and reduce the number of accidents is apt.

People buy personal vehicles for a number of reasons. But studies have shown that lack of an effective public transport system has led to increase in vehicular population. Increase in vehicular population in our metros is forcing its road network to burst at the seams. Even in Delhi which is well connected by Metro rail, last mile connectivity is not available at many places. The so called feeder buses do not operate regularly. As a result the road gets clogged during peak hours and traffic jams on account of unruly vehicles compounds the situation.

Interestingly, the time spent by Delhiites on city roads has doubled in the last six years and the speed of traffic during peak hours has been cut by half. People then try every trick possible to beat the rules and get ahead.

Violation of traffic rules is the major cause of road accidents. Nonetheless, scant respect for traffic rules have been claiming human lives besides causing debility and injury. Road accidents also impose unacceptable costs in terms of personal suffering caused to individuals and families as well as in terms of deprivation caused to society of its productive social capital. Some of our roads are deadly in the true sense that over 1.4 lakh people died in road accidents during 2017.

It’s because many people always seem to be in a hurry. If some find it thrilling to break traffic rules, others are so self-absorbed that they constantly disobey traffic rules, jump red lights, overtake from the wrong side and seldom care for other road users which also results in road rage. A number of people try to get away after violating the rules and even causing accidents citing “connections”.

The cause for concern is the poor traffic sense amongst many despite observing Road Safety Week every year besides a plethora of activities undertaken by the government and non-governmental agencies to educate the road users. While regulatory authorities seem to point out at non-compliance of traffic rules for accidents, according to law abiding public, absence of will to enforce traffic rules in the right earnest is the cause for such accidents. It is not uncommon for the errant road users violating rules with impunity at dead traffic signals near important intersections or where the traffic policeman is missing. So there is no purpose in educating the public without infusing the road sense in compliance of the Rules and Regulations of the statute in the minds of those who are using the vehicles. The good news is that several cities have reported an improvement in adherence to traffic rules by the public. These are mainly “zero tolerance” road junctions where violation any traffic rule is dealt with strictly by deployment of a dedicated team of police and volunteers.

One should not be worried about steep fines as it would be slapped only if rules are violated. It needs to be realized that traffic rules are for the safety of citizens and not for the policeman. If observed effectively it can avoid accidents and protect precious human lives.

Steep fines can serve as a deterrent against indiscipline and for better traffic etiquette when enforced with care and in a proper manner. The recent Ghaziabad incident is a glaring example of how not to implement the rules. The local policemen on duty allegedly stopped a motorist by hitting his car with the lathi. Their brazen style reportedly led to arguments and the motorist suffered a heart attack and died. The matter is being investigated but a human life has been lost.

Zero tolerance to violation of traffic rules can bring about an attitudinal change amongst road users, slowly but surely. Since the new rules have enhanced the fines, it should not lead to corruption among the lower rungs of the regulatory authorities who can compromise for an agreed amount to let off the offenders scot-free.

(Published on 16th September 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 38)