Almost a month after hefty penalties for flouting traffic norms were enforced in parts of India, though there was a lot of grumbling, it appears to have coaxed many people to fall in line.
Take helmetless riding. Where the fear of Lord Yama did not work, the fear of the law has. Bihar, where the new fines have been in force since September 1 — mirroring the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act, 2019 enacted in Parliament — is seeing a boost in helmet sales and insurance policies.
Sanjay Aggarwal, a secretary in the transport department, said there has been a 10-fold increase in sales since the beginning of this month after the penalty for helmetless travel shot up from Rs 100 to Rs 1,000. Ramesh Kumar (55), who sells helmets in Patna, concurred. And insurance agent Rajiv Kumar Singh said the number of people approaching him for policies has gone up 15 times.
There has been a humongous increase in the number of people applying for driving licences and those seeking to renew their existing ones in most states, suggesting many of them could have been illegally driving vehicles without licences.
A similar jump has been seen in the number of those seeking to buy helmets, get insurance policies and pollution under control certificates — from the plains of Assam to the hills of Uttarakhand to God’s own country, Kerala.
Jharkhand has even witnessed a 20% drop in fuel sales from the beginning of September as people want to update the documents before taking their vehicles out. More are now opting for public transport and autos.
“As there is a drop in the number of vehicles plying on roads, a remarkable 20-25% decrease in the sale of fuel, especially petrol, has been observed in city outlets,” said Neeraj Bhattacharya, general secretary of Petroleum Diesel Association (South Chotanagpur). Even people having updated documents are afraid of taking out their two-wheelers because of the “havoc” created by traffic police, he claimed.
Bhubaneswar’s RTO-I, which used to receive about 130 learner’s licence applications a day, now gets over 2,000 as the fine for driving without a licence has risen from Rs 500 to Rs 5,000. To tackle the rush, there will be special camps.
“Four camps will open in Bhubaneswar,” Transport Commissioner Sanjeeb Panda said.
In Karnataka, where hundreds have been fined under the new rules for driving without a licence, a senior transport official said, “There has definitely been an increase in people applying for new driving licences, and also for those applying for renewals by 15-20% since the revised fines were implemented.”
Over 9,190 helmetless pillion riders too have been booked in the state in this period.
In Kerala, 44,404 people applied for new licences in the first 9 days of September, compared to just 97,634 in the whole of August. There was a bigger jump in renewals too.
“Earlier, people took their own sweet time. With the new Act, they are now rushing to renew their licences,” said M Anwar, Joint RTO, Tirur.
Under the new Act, high-frequency horns are barred on four-wheelers, SUVs and luxury vehicles. Many owners are rushing to get them removed from their vehicles.
In Andhra, where the penalties have not been increased till now, there has been a 30% rise in the number of people trying to get learner’s licence. More are approaching insurance agents over lapsed policies.
Insurance companies have set up stalls along the roads and petrol stations in cities like Vijayawada, Visakhapatnam and Tirupati. Some firms are also waiving documentation charges for policy renewal.
Similarly in Telangana, where the Act is yet to be implemented, the fear of hefty fines has resulted in a 100% rise in the number of applicants for learner’s licence at the RTO offices in Khairtabad and Secunderabad.
“A substantial number of those seeking new licences were youngsters between 25 and 28 years,” officials said.
(Reported by Rajesh Kumar Thakur, Mukesh Ranjan, Ashish Mehta, Unnikrishnan S, Anil Kumar T, Donita Jose, Murthi Sistla, Prasanta Mazumdar, Namita Bajpai, Anuraag Sigh and Ejaz Kaiser)