Next Steps: From Road Safety Law to Saving Lives on Roads
A system where state governments adopt practices to improve road safety in the country is the need of the hour.
July 27, 2019 was a special day for Arshpreet Kaur, a Delhi University student, as she went out to celebrate her birthday with four of her friends. But their drive after the party turned into a terrifying nightmare as the speeding sedan rammed into an electricity pole near the Dilshad Garden underpass. Ashpreet suffered critical injuries, and what will likely be the lifelong trauma of losing two of her closest friends, Prabhjot and Rubal, in the crash.
For a country which is home to more young people than any other in the world, and which considers the youth to be its “demographic dividend”, it is a disaster that the number one cause of death for young people in India is road crashes.
As per 2017 data of the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH), as many as 72 percent of people who died in road crashes were young adults and belonged to the age bracket of 18-45 years.
Freedom From Road Crash Deaths
India recently celebrated its 73rd Independence Day. But our basic freedoms like walking, using a bicycle or taking our children out to the park are curbed by the menace of road crashes. Not just that, nearly one million people each year lose their right to live with dignity after suffering life-long injuries in road crashes and losing their livelihoods.
Imagine what that number could be since the beginning of economic reforms in 1991. It is high time we take back these basic rights being snatched away by road crashes from us.
The Motor Vehicles Amendment Act (MVAA), 2019 is the first significant step towards shaping a nation-wide regulatory framework in this direction. Systemic changes such as streamlining and digitisation of the licensing system, enabling of electronic enforcement to deal with corruption and capacity constraints, protection of Good Samaritans, children and more finally stands addressed.
The law also aims to increase accountability of vehicle manufacturers, road engineers, enforcement officials and other key players in the realm of road infrastructure and its management.
However, it is important to realise that the Motor Vehicles Amendment Act, 2019 is only the first milestone. To implement the Act, a lot of other systems and resources will need to be put in place.
While behavioural challenges such as speeding, drinking or distracted driving and non-usage of safety equipment have been long-standing concerns, the contributing role of issues such as poor maintenance of road surfaces, faulty road designs, lack of safety barriers or cameras, and non-availability of immediate medical care in road crashes cannot be neglected. Even as driver conduct needs to be addressed, encouraging safer road infrastructure and applying smart technological systems and solutions are equally crucial for cutting down crashes substantially.
Therefore, as the next steps, government functionaries across states and union territories should look at leveraging various provisions of the Act to push for cutting edge technological systems and processes to facilitate superior road infrastructure development, electronic traffic enforcement, forensic investigation of crashes, and rapid emergency care.
Consistent administrative support from the central authorities in terms of funding, resources, and expertise, can enable the various state governments to successfully implement the provisions of MVAA, 2019 on their own.
State-owned Implementation the Key To Safer Roads
The Act gives various powers to State Governments for local implementation of road safety standards.
For instance, Section 136A provides for electronic enforcement. The calling out of electronic enforcement will enable State Police departments to invoke the section to seek state funding for building this capacity.
Similarly, Section 210D, calls out the need to for State Government to make rules for design, construction and maintenance for roads under their ambit. This section empowers citizens to demand better roads from their State governments. The onus is now entirely on State Governments to act to prevent the colossal loss of life and limb in their districts.
A starting step would be to make Road Safety a part of the weekly or fortnightly review help by each District Magistrate or Collector and monitor the implementation of the new law.
Just 10 days before Independence Day, on 5 August, 10 children in a village in Tehri Garhwal were killed when their school bus fell into a gorge. This is not an isolated case. Uttarakhand and many other hilly states witness mass fatality crashes where buses fall into gorges, rivers and drains.
With provisions like 210D, states like Uttarakhand can take leadership and create better and uniquely tailored standards for hilly and mountainous roads, which other states can also emulate. Similarly, Maharashtra sees the highest number of pothole related road crashes – almost 200 in a month and therefore should strive at creating better standards for construction and maintenance of state roads.
A system where different state governments can learn from each other and adopt practices to improve road safety situation in the country is the need of the hour. A coordinated effort by State Governments and the Central Government to set up and facilitate the implementation of various provisions, processes, mechanisms and frameworks under the Motor Vehicles Amendment Act will be the key to helping India achieve freedom from road crashes.
(Piyush Tewari is the Founder & CEO of SaveLIFE Foundation, a non-profit organization committed to saving lives on roads in India. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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