BJP’s MVA Amendment Bill Goes Soft on Road Safety After Eager Start

The document doesn’t punish people who lay bad roads, doesn’t seem keen on protecting pedestrians and just doesn’t address how road accidents must be investigated.

Two-wheeler riders have the last safety on Indian roads. Credit: jafsegal/Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Two-wheeler riders have the last safety on Indian roads. Credit: jafsegal/Flickr, CC BY 2.0

The introduction of the Motor Vehicles Act Amendment, 2016 Bill by Nitin Gadkari, the union minister for road transport, highways and shipping, in the Lok Sabha last week left some questions unanswered even as road accidents and fatalities due to them continue to rise in India. Principal among them is the fate of the parallel Road Transport & Safety Bill.

Let’s recap: India originally had the Motor Vehicles Act that was last amended in 2001. Following BJP leader Gopinath Munde’s death in a road accident in June 2014, the Modi government went into an aggressive drive to replace the MVA with a Road Transport & Safety Bill, a draft of which was released in September 2014 for review. A few amendments later, the latest version, released in June 2015, diluted the road safety elements, reducing the relevant sections from 37 sections to almost two, according to Saji Cherian, director of operations at the Delhi-based NGO Save Life Foundation. With several state governments opposing sections on road transport in the proposed Road Transport & Safety Bill, the government appears to have gone back to the MVA to at least address changes that are commonly agreed to by all.

“We still need clarity on what happens to the road transport bill,” says Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director of research and advocacy at the Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi.

“It appears to have been put on the back burner,” Cherian told The Wire.

The amendments to MVA, tabled in the Lok Sabha by Gadkari, mainly focus on issues relating to improving road safety, including safety of children during commutes; protection of vulnerable road users (VRUs); use of electronic enforcement; vehicle recall policy; and unified driver licensing and vehicle registration systems, says the Save Life Foundation. Other reforms include citizens’ facilitation while dealing with the transport department; strengthening rural transportation; improving last mile connectivity and public transport; automation and computerisation; and enabling online transactions.

In the amendment, the chapter on liability without fault in certain cases has been deleted and another chapter on insurance of motor vehicles against third party risks has been amended for simplification of third party claims. “All in all, 68 sections have been amended and 28 new sections have been added,” says Cherian.

He welcomes the amendments that address issues of child safety, offences by juveniles, and revamping of the licensing system to create a unified licensing system across the country and thinks they are progressive. But the amended MVA fails to address two crucial elements – scientific investigations into road accidents in India and fixing the accountability for poor design of roads. “Very often, in cases involving the death of a pillion rider on a motor-bike that hit a pot-holed road in the dark, either the driver of the vehicle behind the pillion rider or the driver of the motor bike are arrested. The civic agency responsible for the pot-holed roads goes scot-free,” Cherian points out.

The MVA in general deals with segments such as safety, emissions from vehicles and accountability of the automobile industry, observes Roychowdhury. “But one cannot simply look at safety issues from the narrow perspective of safety gadgets in vehicles. There are people at risk on roads. Safety also includes road safety design features, ensuring minimum risk to people while designing interventions, and minimum exposure of people to moving vehicles.”

Roychowdhury says that a more comprehensive road safety bill that went beyond vehicles to consider road safety design and people’s risk is needed in view of this. Currently, road designs are linked to speed and focus on increasing the speed of vehicles by ensuring a smooth run, without traffic signals and crossings, through a network of flyovers, she says.

The CSE’s analysis shows that 40% of Delhi’s accidents take place at the foot of flyovers and on the eight arterial roads. Whereas in central Delhi, which has roundabouts and no flyovers, there are no accident hotspots.

“We need to make road design agencies accountable,” says Roychowdhury. “We need people-friendly designs which should be made mandatory, not optional as they are now.”

Data shows the way

According to data from the Save Life Foundation, 146,133 people were killed in road accidents in India in 2015 – this translates to 11 deaths per 100,000 people, or one fatality every four minutes. Another 500,279 were injured in road accidents in the same year. This number is not only the highest that India has ever recorded in history but it also represents a 53.9% increase over the last decade, and nearly a tenfold increase since 1970. This also means that in 2015, India nearly lost the equivalent to the entire population of Shimla.

According to Save Life’s 2015 data, a two-wheeler rider is the most at risk of being killed in a road accident. The number of people killed in accidents involving two wheelers was 36,803 in 144,391 incidents. The age group of 15 to 41 years was most at risk of being killed, with 72% of all fatalities occurring among this productive demographic. Finally, men constituted over 82% of all fatalities, with 120,559 being killed.

The 21.9% of the people killed in road accidents were between the ages of 25 and 34. Some 84% of these were males. Vulnerable road-users (two-wheelers, bicycles, pedestrians, etc.) made up 46.3% of the total fatalities. Tamil Nadu leads the list of road accidents in India by a long margin, as does Uttar Pradesh for the number of fatalities.

The number of people killed in the top 10 states for road fatalities in India is approximately 8% of the total fatalities from road accidents worldwide. The number of people killed due to road accidents in Uttar Pradesh itself is almost a 100 times the number of people killed in Meghalaya. Most accidents take place between 3:00 pm and 4:00 pm. Overall, the data reflected that a major portion of road accidents take place during the day.

The number of road accidents nationwide registered its first decline in 2011, a decline of 1,942 road accidents. The number continued to fall till 2013, by which time the drop in road accidents was 13,152.  The number began to rise again after 2013, and subsequently rose to the highest ever recorded in 2015.

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