Insights into Editorial: Putting accident victims at the centre of vehicles law
It is well known that India is one of the most accident-prone countries in the world, accounting for nearly 1,50,000 deaths, 10% of all motor vehicles-related fatalities worldwide.
According to the 2018 report of the World Health Organization, the highest number of road accidents occur in India worldwide. Even China, the most populous country, is behind us in this regard.
As per the report of the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, 2017; there are about 5 lakh road accidents occurred in India every year in which around 1.5 lakh people are killed.
There are around 1.49 lakh people died in 2018 in the road accidents with Uttar Pradesh registering the maximum spike in fatalities.
So in order to prevent the menace of road accidents; the central government has amended the Motor Vehicle 1988 by the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill 2019.
Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act 2019 has been implemented throughout the country since September 1, 2019. Now the penalty has been increased 10 times on various violations.
Features of the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act, 2019:
The debate often revolves around how to minimise road accidents by incorporating deterrents into laws and ignores the interests of the victims.
The discourse concerning the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act 2019 has only followed this trend, as is evidenced by the disproportionate press coverage given to the enhanced penalties to be levied on offenders.
- Compensation for road accident victims: The Bill increases the minimum compensation for hit and run cases as follows: (i) in case of death, from Rs 25,000 to two lakh rupees, and (ii) in case of grievous injury, from Rs 12,500 to Rs 50,000.
- Recall of vehicles: The New Bill allows the central government to order for recall of defected motor vehicles which may harm the environment, or the driver, or other road users.
- Road Safety Board:The National Road Safety Board, will be created by the central government to advise the central and state governments on all aspects of road safety and traffic management.
- Offence and Fines:The new Bill has increases fines for several offence under the Act.
- Fine for Drink and Driving: Now the fine is increased from Rs 2,000 to Rs 10,000 along with imprisonment of 6 months. On the repetition of this act fine would be Rs. 15,000.
- Rash driving will cost fine of Rs. 5000 earlier it was Rs.1000.
- Driving without driving lisence will be fined Rs 5000 instead of 500 earlier.
- Offence by Juveniles is a new category introduced. Now Guardian of the Juvenile / owner of the vehicle shall be fined Rs. 25,000 with 3 yrs imprisonment. For Juvenile to be tried under Juveniles Justice Act. Registration of Motor Vehicle shall be cancelled.
- If a vehicle manufacturer fails to comply with motor vehicle standards, the penalty will be a fine of up to Rs 100 crore, or imprisonment of up to one year, or both.
- If a contractor fails to comply with road design standards, the penalty will be up to Rs.1 lac.
- Under section 196 of the Motor Vehicle Act, 2019 driving without Insurance will be fined Rs 2000.
- Under the section 194 D of the act; riding without Helmets will be fined to Rs 1000 and disqualification for 3 months for licence.
- Under section 194B of the Act; driving without seat belt will cost Rs. 1000.
- Speeding / Racing will be fined Rs 5,000 instead of Rs 500 earlier.
- Under section 194 E of the Act; not providing way for emergency vehicles will cost Rs 10,000.
This lack of victim-centricity in the discourse, though deplorable, is unsurprising.
The fact that the National Crime Records Bureau does not collate data pertaining to the socio-economic and demographic profile of victims of traffic accidents is a testament to the relative apathy shown by the state machinery.
Enouraging the role of Good Samaritans:
The Bill defines a Good Samaritan as a person, who renders emergency medical or non-medical assistance to a victim at the scene of an accident.
The assistance must have been In good faith or by Voluntary or Without the expectation of any reward.
Such a person will not be liable for any civil or criminal action for any injury to or death of an accident victim, caused due to their negligence in providing assistance to the victim.
It will be optional for the Good Samaritans to disclose their identity to the Police or the medical personnel.
Cashless treatment: Motor Vehicle Accident Fund:
Additionally, the Act now requires insurance companies and the government to notify schemes relating to cashless treatment during the ‘Golden Hour’ — the period of first 60 minutes from the occurrence of an accident when the risk of fatality can be minimised to the greatest extent.
Further, it mandates compulsory insurance of all road users, including pedestrians, who will be covered through a ‘Motor Vehicle Accident Fund’. Lastly, it also provides for interim relief to be provided to the claimants.
These provisions, well-intentioned, are no doubt steps in the right direction.
Delays in settlement need to be addressed:
- Another problem highlighted by the apex court for which the new Act does not provided any remedy is that of procedural delays on the part of tribunals in claims settlement.
- The provision for interim compensation is bound to bring some respite to the victims but another unaddressed concern makes this stipulation susceptible to criticism.
- An absence of in-built safeguards in the compensation mechanism allows for the money to be frittered away by unscrupulous relatives, touts and agents, especially in cases where the victim or his nearest kin are poor and illiterate.
- It is to address this concern that the Supreme Court in Jai Prakash case suggested payment in the form of monthly disbursements of smaller amounts over a longer period of time to victims or their kin, as against a lump-sum award. This has been overlooked by the new Act.
- The question still remains how effectively the provisions will be implemented by state authorities. Concerns have been raised regarding dilution of power of the states in terms of granting licences and other procedures, as the matter is in the Concurrent List.
- Understandably, many of the points raised above cannot be specified statutorily.
- Hence, the government needs to notify an institutional framework which encourages advocacy for victims and facilitates access to the various services.
As far as road safety is concerned, discipline is imperative.
If implemented in right spirit, the law can change road habits of all by not only imposing stiffer penalties, but also trying to inculcate a sense of responsibility among the citizens.
After the passing of this bill Road and transport Minister says that the Bill will provide an Efficient, Safe and Corruption Free Transport System in the Country.