Road safety issues have reached a pinnacle in Indian cities. In 2013 alone, 140,000 people died in traffic crashes, and many more were severely injured. These premature deaths and debilitating injuries put an intense burden not just on families and communities, but also on the workforce and the economy. One study even estimated the social costs of traffic crashes in the country at the equivalent of 3.2% of GDP. Improving road safety in India, then, is a pursuit that can both support economic growth and save lives.
To meet this aim, India’s Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) published last week a draft Road Transport and Safety Bill for public comments and suggestions. The Bill pulls from global best practices in mobility policy to address issues around transport, motor vehicles, and road safety. If passed by Parliament, it would replace the existing Motor Vehicle Act of 1988.
In its current form, the Bill includes ambitious and far-reaching changes to governance, public transport systems, regulations, and more. Its national impacts are expected to include saving 200,000 lives in five years, growing national GDP by 4%, and creating one million jobs through increased investment in the transport sector.
At the local level, here’s what the Bill means for everyday citizens.
New governing bodies for road safety and transport
The Bill proposes three independent authorities to serve as regulators, facilitators, and enforcers of its grand vision – to make the movement of people and freight safer, faster, cheaper, and more inclusive.
The first of these authorities is the Motor Vehicle Regulation and Road Safety Authority of India, whose principle objective would be to improve road safety and vehicle regulation.
The second regulatory body, the National Road Transport and Multi-modal Co-ordination Authority, will facilitate the government’s ‘Make in India’ vision. This body will serve as an independent authority aiding accountability and transparency in the planning and development of efficient multi-modal infrastructure in order to move goods and passengers safely, swiftly, and economically. With a special emphasis on the safety of vulnerable road users, this dedicated authority will facilitate safe, integrated systems that use innovative technologies for enforcement.
A third agency, the National Highway Traffic Regulation and Protection Force will deal exclusively with the enforcement of this act along national highways. This body will be responsible for the safety and efficiency of national highways via enforcement, investigation of crashes, maintenance of signage and equipment, and secure medical attention to victims of traffic crashes.
New standards for vehicle regulation and driver licencing
Comprehensive regulation with regard to motor vehicles’ design, manufacturing, registration, maintenance and safety standards will emphasize adopting new technologies in areas like alternative fuels and retrofitting.
A new driver licensing system will also standardize processes throughout the country. New models for driver testing facilities will open the industry to private sector participation and create more jobs. Automated testing systems will reduce corruption and bribery in the driver testing process. Education will also no longer be required in order to apply for a licence.
Centralizing the vehicle registration system will standardize the process across all states. The database records of the vehicle registration would be linked to a certificate of fitness, insurance, and past offences. Finally, integrating all stakeholders and opening they system up to private sector participation will lead to greater transparency.
Impact on passenger and freight transport
The Bill aims to make public transport more safe and sustainable. Improved infrastructure and traffic management for freight networks will reduce congestion, helping to increase efficiency and cost-effectiveness.
Enhanced regulations will also lower logistical costs, reducing inflation and enabling Indian manufacturing to become globally competitive.
Clear standards for multi-modal infrastructure in both passenger and freight transport include construction, traffic management, and inter-state transit development. These changes can increase safety and reliability while at the same time reduce the cost of transportation.
Offenses, fines, penalties, and claims
This Bill places a high emphasis on safety, and gives emergency and para-medical vehicles right of way, even over VIP vehicles.
Enforcement practices will focus on children and the most vulnerable road users. The Bill also calls for electronic enforcement – like traffic cameras – in urban clusters, especially in cities with populations over one million, and harsher penalties for speeding and drunk driving.
Third party insurance will be made mandatory, as well as detailed accident investigation reports in the event of crashes. Claims tribunals will have an improved case management system, with a time bound application process for claims and the settlement of claims. Compensation payments will follow a structured formula, and payments to accident victims made quick and easy.
Traffic offenses and penalties will follow a points-based system where the scale of the penalty would correspond to the nature of the offence, as well as the accumulation of penalties can lead to harsher penalties in future. The new system will have combination of fines, imprisonment, impounding of vehicles, cancellation of licenses or permits along with penalty points will serve as a deterrent.
What’s next for the Road Safety and Transport Bill?
MoRTH is currently seeking comments from the public and other key stakeholders, after which the Bill will be finalized. It will be presented to the Indian Parliament during its upcoming winter session.