On September 1 the new Amended Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act, 2019 became effective. The new legislation got mixed reactions from state governments, the public, law enforcing officers and political parties. The basic purpose of the Act is to address the present systemic challenges plaguing the road transport sector and to ensure road safety for the people of India. More than 1.5 million lives are lost in road accidents in India every year. Needless to say, most of them are preventable. Also, reports suggest that about 20 lives are lost due to road accident in every hour the country. This is much higher than any developing countries in the world. The nation is paying a huge price for not having a safe traffic system.
These shocking figures forced the Supreme Court on August 2013 to call the problem a national emergency. Road traffic in India was operated in the legal framework established in the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 — 30 years before when Ambassador and PAL cars ruled Indian roads. These cars had the maximum speed of 80 km/hr. Since 1988 there was no major amendment incorporated in the Act, though the car manufacturing technology, traffic, engineering and construction of Indian roads have undergone a sea change. The Act fell short in terms of addressing the present challenges. Considering the challenges in the road safety, the S. Sunder committee appointed by the previous UPA-II Government recommended making a new legislation.
Following the implementation of the new Act, huge penalties were imposed on erring drivers. This has led to reduction in the number of offenders; two-wheel riders were seen using helmets and there was a rush to purchase insurance policy. But, unfortunately, many of state governments and agencies responsible for the implementation of the central law were against the drastic increase of the penalties up to 10 times — mainly on overloading, over-speeding and drink and drive etc. Reports suggest that 70 per cent of the total road accident deaths in 2017-18 caused due to speeding and 10 per cent of victims lost their lives due to the drink-driving or mobile phone usage while driving. Hence the steep penalty may be a small price to pay for.
Unfortunately, many state governments reduced the penalty sharply, which dilutes the effect and purpose of the Act. Section 210 A of the act providing power for the state government to increase the penalties further up to ten times. Where Section 200 is allowing the State government to change the composition of certain offences, which losing the essence of the Act. Transport industry and Infrastructure industry were mainly effecting due to the huge fines for overloading earlier paying a nominal fine act permitted to overload the heavy goods vehicles. 20% of the load-carrying is made permissible by the ministry before enforcing the new penalty system, but it is not giving relief or meet the requirement of the Industry.
Outsourcing mandatory formalities like driving and fitness tests to private agencies could improve the operational efficiency and cut down on expenses of the government. Along with these, the government could think of a unified mechanism to issue licences and fitness certificates. But it is important that the government ensure the quality, expertise and experience of private testing agencies who are given the task. Policies related to the scrapping of old vehicles and and the cost involved need to be defined. Many of the states such as Delhi and Kerala have been using advanced software for registration of vehicles. However, the proposed new software is much inferior to what these states are currently using. The pollution check systems also need to be connected with the transport department server. The Delhi Transport Department has already done this.
The Chapter X (Sections 140–144) of 1988 Act that dealt with the provisions of liability without fault in certain cases, compensation for death or permanent disablement and method of calculating such liability, is completely absent in the new Act. The absence of these Sections and lack of clarity thereof will adversely affect accident victims. Hence the penalties will be more when offences will be referred to a court. This will add to the burden of the law enforcers, as it would require to send summons and take part in hearing as witness. As the courts are burdened with cases, special courts need to be established to collect fines and settle the cases referred by the Act. These are some of the other challenges.
The introduction of a unified registration number system with easy address changing facility is a salutary step. It might encourage young professionals who are on move on account of transferable jobs or looking for new locations, to own vehicles. This will help boost the auto sector and save them from road tax hassles from different state road transport authorities.
The removal of minimum educational qualification for heavy vehicle driving licence for co-driver or additional driver gives an impression that the Act has diluted safety norms. Keeping minimum education norm at least for co-driver or additional driver for heavy vehicles with national or interstate permits would have been good as it cut down on the burden of the driver.