Accident-prone: the apathy over enforcing road safety rules

The most effective measure to keep roads safe is enforcement of rules with zero tolerance to violations. But as anyone who uses India’s roads knows only too well, that is not an administrative priority. Even the periodic directions of the Supreme Court in a public interest case, Dr. S. Rajasekaran v. Union of India, have not produced any dramatic change in the official attitude. In spite of the court setting up the Committee on Road Safety and appointing an amicus curiae to help implement its recommendations, it is mostly business as usual for the police in enforcing road rules, for engineers tasked with forming roads and pavements, and transport officials in charge of licensing. The death of 1,50,785 people in accidents in 2016, which represents a 3.2% rise over the previous year, indicates the scale of the challenge. Fortunately, the orders of the court now provide actionable points with deadlines for implementation. Governments should be called to account on these, and civil society must ensure that they act without compromise. The most important among these is the Road Safety Action Plan that each State and Union Territory must announce by March 2018, and roll out after giving due publicity. But police forces and transport bureaucracies need not wait for formalisation of the plan, and should start enforcing rules relating to lane-based driving, using CCTV cameras to penalise offenders, and conducting safety audits along with experts.

The absence of a scientific approach to accident investigation in India remains a major factor in fixing responsibility. This was pointed out by the Sundar Committee of the Ministry of Road Transport in 2007, but other than a failed attempt at creating a National Road Safety and Traffic Management Board, no real effort has been made at reform. The orders of the Supreme Court provide a road map, and the direction to States to form a District Road Safety Committee headed by the Collector before January 31, 2018 should ensure that someone is accountable when citizens file complaints on hazardous conditions. It bears pointing out that the court-appointed Committee on Road Safety has written to States on the need to prosecute every case of driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs, seeking imprisonment and fine, and to treat driving on the wrong side of the carriageway as an offence under Section 279 of the Indian Penal Code, which can lead to imprisonment, and not merely under the Motor Vehicles Act. Stringent penalties have a lower chance of being imposed, compared to fines that are proportionate to the offence. Yet, even the existing minor penalties are not being imposed, and road conditions remain hazardous due to poor engineering. This is proof of the apathy of the system. It’s time to shake the system out of its indifference.

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Printable version | Oct 19, 2021 11:38:48 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/accident-prone/article21244425.ece

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