The Winter Session of Parliament beginning next week has its task cut out. Among the key bills pending before the Upper House is The Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill, 2016. Given the sheer number of deaths in road accidents—over 1.4 lakh people die annually on our roads—nothing could be more important than passing the Bill, a long overdue amendment to the Act enacted nearly three decades ago. Last week, the Supreme Court issued a slew of guidelines to ensure road safety and it is now up to the lawmakers to follow up on the same.
While the Bill aims at overhauling the existing law, mandating a National Transportation Policy, drastically hiking the penalty for drunk driving, holding guardians responsible for traffic violations by juveniles, and making contractors and civic bodies accountable for faulty design or poor maintenance of roads among other things, the Centre and states would be well advised to take the apex court’s guidelines seriously.
It has called for the framing of a road safety policy, constitution of road safety councils and a lead agency too to coordinate with the various departments to resolve licensing and road safety equipment issues. In a significant earlier judgment, the top court said the “future prospects” of a person killed in a road accident should be taken into account while deciding on the compensation. The Bill already has many of these provisions but if the aim, as the government claims, is to curb accidents by 50 per cent by 2020, it should do much more by conducting safety audits and using technology.
Countries such as Japan, Switzerland, Singapore and Sweden have the lowest accident rates in the world. Almost all of them have pedestrian zones and segregated vehicular traffic. Singapore has a system to warn drivers of upcoming traffic lights while Norway has made it mandatory for drivers to keep headlights on whether it is day or night. Similarly, these countries have laid special emphasis on safer infrastructure and designs. We could borrow a leaf or two from such countries.