More than 1 million people in India have lost their lives to road accidents in the last decade 1. India suffers the highest number of road accident deaths in the world and in 2012 alone, almost 1,40,000 people were killed and close to 5,00,000 were seriously injured or permanently disabled2 in road accidents. Road accidents are the single biggest killer of young people, aged 15-453, in India. More than 4 lakh people have died in the last 10 years on National Highways alone due to Road Accidents. Not only do they exact severe emotional trauma on lakhs of families each year, but they also cause an annual economic loss of at least 2.7% of the country’s GDP4. Vulnerable Road Users are the most affected by this travesty – 20 children (aged 0-14) die every day in Accidents on road in India. An alarming number of families fall into poverty after losing their primary breadwinners to such accidents—almost 81% of households reduced their income and 56% had to take to loan to deal with the consequent impoverishment. In August 2013, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India has called the problem of road accident deaths a National Emergency.
Experts agree that these deaths could be significantly reduced through more comprehensive laws and their strict enforcement.
CURRENT POLICY SCENARIO: THE MOTOR VEHICLES ACT, 1988
The causes of road accidents include bad road user behavior, flawed road design and engineering and weak enforcement of traffic laws. The sole statute governing Road Safety in India, the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 (MVA) has proved ineffec tive in addressing any of the aforementioned issues decisively. The Act has seen no amendments in the past 10 years and is a deficient legislation with respect to tackling the massive damage caused by Road Accidents. It has gone through the following procedures in the last few years,
- 2001: Proposal for amendment to the Act initiated
- 2007: Cabinet approves proposal for Amendment
- 28 Apr ’08: Parliamentary Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture submits its report
- 14 Sep ’09: Expert group constituted under Shri S Sunder to review the Act in its entirety
- Jan ’11: Sunder Committee recommends significant and wide ranging amendments to the Act
- 1 Mar ’12: Cabinet approves minimal amendments to the Act; the Bill does not take into account majority of recommendations of the Sunder Committee
- 8 May ’12: Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill, 2012 introduced in Rajya Sabha; subsequently passed
- 21 Feb ’14: The Bill lapses as 15th Lok Sabha is adjourned sine-die without passing the bill
2National Crime Records Bureau – Accidental Deaths & Suicides in India, 2012
3National Crime Records Bureau – Accidental Deaths & Suicides in India, 2011
4Forbes India – http://forbesindia.com/printcontent/2572
IMPACT OF DELAYS IN AMENDING ROAD SAFETY LAWS
Delays in strengthening road safety laws have produced horrific results.
52001 – 2013: In the 12 years since the last major amendment to the Motor Vehicles Act, fatal accidents increased by 5.8% year on year. Furthermore, every year, the severity of road accidents, measured in terms of persons killed per 100 accidents, has also increased from 20.8 in 2001 to 28.6 in 2012 . The number of people who died in these Accidents in 2002 was 73,650 which increased to 1,39,091 in 2012. More than 1 million people have lost their lives in road accidents in the past decade. Mortality and morbidity as a result of road accidents push thousands into poverty each year and affect their current and future livelihoods. These are entirely preventable, predictable deaths for which the solution lies in ensuring a stronger, more comprehensive Road Safety law in India and its effective enforcement through a statutory body.
COMPREHENSIVE ROAD SAFETY LAW
The Motor Vehicles Act (Amendment) Bill, 2012 currently in Lok Sabha fails to address any of the aforementioned issues causing Road Accidents. An Expert Group formed by the Government of India in September 2009, under the Chairmanship of Mr. S Sunder, Former Union Transport Secretary, recommended a complete overhaul of the Motor Vehicles Act, and presented a draft law to the Government of India in January 2011. Unfortunately the draft law, considered significantly stronger, has still not been introduced in the Parliament.
The delay in strengthening road safety laws has turned the problem into an epidemic with 15 deaths on road recorded every hour on average. Furthermore, the ease with which traffic laws can be broken in India and the inability of our existing laws to adequately punish defaulters emboldens them further to violate even other laws and adds to the law and order problems in our country.
The need of the hour, therefore, is a comprehensive National Road Safety Law that addresses, in addition to the Sunder Committee recommendations, the following aspects:
- Transparent, centralized and efficient driver’s licensing system
- Mandatory safe driving training for all
- Statutes for protection of children during commute
- Statutes for safety of cyclists, pedestrians and other Vulnerable Road Users (VRUs)
- Strict regulation of Heavy Motor Vehicles (HMV’s) such as trucks, buses and lorries
- Stringent punishment for drunk-driving and over-speeding
- Stringent punishment for violation of helmet and seat-belt laws
- Stringent punishment for faulty road design and engineering
- Robust and Scientific Accident Investigation
- Establishment of a national lead agency for cohesive, multilateral coordination