When roads become killing fields, shouldn’t we act?
Dr. Justice A. R. Lakshmanan IN THE HINDU
India has one of the largest road networks in the world — 3,314 million km — consisting of national highways, expressways, State highways, major district roads, other district roads and village roads. About 65 per cent of freight and 86.7 per cent passenger traffic is carried by the roads. The motor vehicle population has recorded a significant growth over the years. Two-wheelers and cars (personalised mode of transport) constitute more than three-fourths of the motor vehicles.
According to a Maruti Suzuki weblog, more than 1,00,000 Indians are dying every year in road accidents. More than a million are injured or maimed. Many years ago, a study found that road accidents cost the country some Rs.550 billion every year.
A recent survey by the Central Road Research Institute shows that more than 90% pedestrians feel unsafe while crossing the roads, while they comprise more than 50% of road victims.
Is it due to a lack of apt provisions in our law that travel through Indian roads is a tryst with death?
All the more so, because despite the Supreme Court’s directions to the police and all other authorities entrusted with the administration and enforcement of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 and generally with the control of traffic in regard to traffic safety, reckless driving by government buses has not diminished.
In view of the above, I, as Chairman of the Law Commission of India, prepared a Consultation Paper on this important subject and suo motu made a recommendation to the Government of India through the Law Ministry and the Report No.234 is pending with the Ministry. In this article, I have dealt with the present Law of India IPC 1860, viz., Sec.279, 304A, 336, 337 and 338, the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, the Road Traffic Act, 1988 and the Road Regulations 1989.
The then Law Commission also submitted its report (42nd Report) in June 1981 and examined the provisions of the IPC.
Any State government may, after previous publication, by notification make rules for the purpose of carrying into effect the provisions/rules, etc., in different areas of the State. Such rules may provide for
- the removal and the safe custody of the vehicles including their loads which have broken down or which have been left standing or have been abandoned on a highway;
- the determination, maintenance and management of parking places for the use of vehicles and animals and the fees, if any, which may be charged for their use;
- prohibiting the use of footpaths or pavements by vehicles or animals;
- prohibiting or restricting the use of audible signals at certain times or in certain places;
- regulating the loading of vehicles and in particular, limiting the loads carried in relation to the size and nature of the tyres fitted;
- a right of way for ambulances and fire brigade vehicles;
- the control of animals likely to frighten other animals or pedestrians;
- the control of children on highways;
- prohibiting the riding by more than two persons at the same time on cycles other than cycles designed for the purpose;
- prohibiting the riding of more than two cycles abreast;
- limiting the age of drivers of vehicles;
- regulating the driving of vehicles and animals at night; and
- regulating the use of highways by pedestrians. The State government may, after previous publication, by notification make rules regulating the construction, equipment and maintenance of vehicles used on highways and public places. Different rules may be made for different areas of the State.
The rules may be made under this Section governing any of the following matters either generally or in respect of public vehicles of a particular class or description or in particular circumstances, namely:
- the width, height and length of vehicles;
- the size, nature and condition of wheels and tyres;
- lamps and reflectors;
- warning devices;
- the inspection of vehicles by prescribed authorities;
- regulating the particulars exhibited on vehicles and the manner in which such particulars shall be exhibited.
The State government may also make rules for regulation of the use of public vehicles, viz., the issue, renewal or cancellation of driving licences, issue of permits etc.
- the documents, plates and marks to be carried by public vehicles, the manner in which they are to be carried and the language in which such documents is to be expressed;
- the badges and uniforms to be worn by drivers;
- the fees to be paid for permits, driving licences, duplicate copies of permits or driving licences, plates, badges, and appeals preferred before statutory authorities;
- the limiting of the number of public vehicles or public vehicles of any specified class or description, for which permits may be granted in any specified area, or on any specified route or routes;
- the fixing of maximum or minimum fares or freights;
- the maximum number of passengers or the maximum quantity of goods that may be carried in a public vehicle;
- the conditions subject to which passengers, luggage or goods may be carried in a public vehicle;
- the construction and fittings of and the equipment to be carried by public vehicles, whether generally or in specified areas or on specified routes; and
- the safe custody and disposal of property left behind in pubic vehicles;
Traffic personnel are not controlling traffic and discharging their duties effectively. People, whether educated or illiterate, have scant respect for traffic rules and regulations. The traffic personnel should give immediate attention to the following and take effective steps to enforce discipline in regard to:
- Non-observance of traffic rules;
- Jumping the red light;
- Crossing the speed limit;
- Driving without valid licence;
- Driving under the influence of liquor/drugs;
- Driving while talking on the mobile;
- Driving without helmet;
- Overloading of passengers in autos/share autos;
- The driver’s seat is occupied by a minimum of three persons in share autos/other autorikshaws and vehicles are parked haphazardly. Over-speed of scooter/motorcycle, crossing the yellow line or violating traffic rules;
- An entire family (minimum four persons) riding a scooter/motorcycle without realising that this is a traffic offence and such travel is at the risk of their lives;
- Government buses, no rule or regulation. Parking them at any place;
- One-way traffic signal/total violation;
- Suffocating jam-packing of stage carriages;
- Confiscation of vehicles fitted with LPG cylinders which are meant for home kitchen, arresting and prosecuting the owners/drivers of such vehicles;
- Weigh bridges should be installed at all entry and exit points to and from a city as well as toll collection centres to keep in check overloading of vehicles;
- Driving schools to impart training at a nominal fee by the government;
- Excess collection of fares by omnibuses during festival seasons. Stringent measures to be taken forthwith to cancel the licence of such offenders;
- There should be no exemption to Government vehicles from insurance against third party risk. Sec. 146 of the Motor Vehicles Act should be amended for the purpose;
- Enormous increase and growth in the population of vehicles in big cities;
- Easy availability of driving licence (reason is obvious);
- Increasing tendency of consumption of liquor while driving;
- There is pride/ego involved in fast driving of costly cars, with a sense of false status, by the children of rich people. (Refer BMW cases);
- Checking/setting and enforcing blood alcohol concentration limit for drivers with random breath testing at sobriety checkpoints;
- Speedbreakers affect traffic flow and are safety hazards, if not properly constructed;
- Speed control
- Entry restrictions
- Separate lane for bus and cycle, etc.
- The situation in respect of State roads is still worse. The private sector also needs to be involved in the maintenance of national highways/State highways.
- Octroi and sales tax barriers are to be done away with now that the VAT system has come into force in many States.
- Mobile court/mobile policing should be introduced round the clock and it should not be limited to peak hours.
- Digging of roads by various agencies like telephones/electricity/corporation causing inconvenience to roadusers.
- Driving in the wrong direction, breaching speed limits, jumping traffic lights are common violations.
- Need for recognised driving training schools
- Auto drivers/share auto drivers fleecing passengers at railway stations.
- Misbehaviour by auto/share auto drivers with poor passengers. Periodical training must be given to them by the police.
- Introduction of mini-buses.
- Steps to prohibit the use of pathways on either side of the road for running tea stalls, petty shops, vending fruits and vegetables, etc., should be implemented.
Measures to prevent road accidents may be preventive, precautionary and punitive. There is no denying that there is a need for improved road-watch, surveillance and detection, effective and holistic regulation of all kinds of traffic on the roads and proper deterrence. Roads are used not only by motorised transport but also by non-motorised transport as well as pedestrians. There is no comprehensive Central legislation to effectively and holistically regulate all kinds of traffic. The Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 is relatable to Entry 35 of the Concurrent List and the National Highways Act, 1956 is relatable to Entry 23 of the Union List. The subject matter of roads, traffic thereon, and vehicles other than mechanically propelled vehicles falls under Entry 13 of the State List and therefore, outside the purview of Parliament. The Seventh Schedule of the Constitution will be required to be amended for such comprehensive Central legislation. The Law Commission feels that there is a need for a comprehensive Central road traffic law.
As an important part of the enforcement measures, there should be compulsorily installed CCTV cameras at all vulnerable points to be determined by an expert committee to curb traffic violations.
There should be a vigorous campaign on the electronic media, including Doordarshan, All India Radio and private TV channels through regular programmes and debates, so as to create awareness among the general public of the imperative necessity to strictly follow traffic rules as well as highlight the consequences of rash and negligent driving.
As an important part of the enforcement measures, there should be established, through public-private partnership, recognised driving training schools in different parts of the country, equipped with simulators and obliged to follow properly devised driving training modules and impart training at a nominal fee.
As an important part of the enforcement measure, Rule 118 of the Motor Vehicles Rules, 1989, making it mandatory for the notified transport vehicles to be fitted with an irremovable or tamper-proof speed governor sealed with an official seal of the Transport Authority, should be enforced more vigorously. Government vehicles should not be exempted from insurance against third-party risk and Section 146 of the Motor Vehicles Act should be amended for the purpose.
(The writer is a former Judge of the Supreme Court of India, and former Chairman of the Law Commission of India. His email is: jusarlakshmanan@ gmail.com)