By P.K.Balachandran/Daily Express
Colombo, August 4: One Sri Lankan is killed in a road accident every 3 ½ hours and twice that number are critically injured, according to former DIG (Traffic), Camillus R.Abeygoonewardena. Clearly, road travel has become hazardous in the island.
Compared to road deaths in the pre 1970s the risk of road deaths faced by Sri Lankans has nearly trebled because of higher volumes and the variety of traffic moving on badly built and maintained roads, Abeygoonewardena pointed out in a recent newspaper article.
Apart from the density of traffic and bad roads, weak laws and weaker law enforcement were also responsible for the sorry state of affairs, he felt. There is, therefore, a great need for tougher laws with rigorous penalties for specific offences in addition to the adoption of modern technologies for detection and enforcement.
In this respect, Sri Lanka could consider enacting a law taking provisions from the recently amended Indian Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act. A bill related to this was passed by both Houses of parliament but it has gone back to the Lower House to debate on three amendments proposed by the Upper House.
Road accidents have been a bane in India as it has been in Sri Lanka. In 2006, India had overtaken China in road accidents. According to the Indian Minister for Roadways Nitin Gadkari, about 150,000 people are killed in road accidents in the country per year.
In 2015, for which detailed figures are available, a total of 146,133 people were killed on roads, an increase of 4.6% from 2014. In 2015, the number of road accidents in India increased 2.5% to 501,423 while injuries in road accidents rose 1.4% to 500,279.
According to available reports, road accident fatalities jumped 54% in the decade up to 2015 in tandem with a sharp increase in the number of vehicles on Indian roads and rapid urbanization and expansion of the road network, .
The amended Indian bill makes way for cashless treatment for victims in the first hour of fatal accidents, the “golden hour” when victims are most likely to be saved by medical treatment. The bill raises penalties for drunk driving and imprisonment and/or penalty for non-compliance with vehicle production and road making standards.
Minister Nitin Gadkari told parliament that a total of INR.145,000 million will be spent on safeguarding “fatal spots” – spots which are vulnerable to road accidents.
“Road engineering is responsible for road accidents and it is wrong to blame drivers. In this regard, 786 spots have been identified,” Gadkari said.
Obtaining a driving license (DL) could get tougher. The process of obtaining a license will become technology- driven, reducing human interface to curb corruption. License testing, which is manual now, gives room for untrained people to procure a license. A national register of driving licenses will be created. A nationwide license data will make transfer of vehicles across States easier and weed out fake licenses.
The government will also have the power to regulate “taxi aggregators’ such as Uber and Ola as the original Motor Vehicles Act did not recognize cab aggregators as a separate entity.
Adding the categories “aggregators” to the Act will give power to the Central government to frame guidelines for these companies and make them more compliant.
The bill allows the Union government to order the recall of motor vehicles if it thinks a defect in the vehicle may cause damage to the environment, the driver or other road users.
Protection of Good Samaritan
To help road accident victims, Good Samaritan guidelines have been incorporated in the Bill. 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, and provides rules to prevent harassment of such a person.
Motor Vehicle Accident Fund
The Bill requires the central government to constitute a Motor Vehicle Accident Fund, to provide compulsory insurance cover to all road users in India. It will be utilised for: treatment of persons injured in road accidents as per the golden hour scheme, compensation to representatives of a person who died in a hit and run accident, compensation to a person grievously hurt in a hit and run accident, and compensation to any other persons as prescribed by the central government.
This Fund will be credited through: payment of a nature notified by the central government, a grant or loan made by the central government, balance of the Solatium Fund (existing fund under the Act to provide compensation for hit and run accidents),or any other source as prescribed the central government.
Hefty Hike in Fines
Increase in the fines are follows: Unauthrorized use of vehicles: goes up from INR.1000 to INR 5000; Driving without qualifications, INR 500 to INR.10,000; Over speeding, INR.400 to INR 1000; Dangerous driving, INR 1000 to INR.5000; Drunken driving, INR 2000 to INR.10,000; Speeding/Racing, INR.500 to INR.5500; Driving vehicle without a permit, INR 5000 to INR 10,000; Violations by aggregators (taxi companies), INR 25,000 to INR 100,000; Overloading, INR 2000 plus Rs.1000 per tonne to INR 20,000 and INR 2000 per tonne; Overloading of passengers, Rs.100 to INR 1000 per passenger; traveling without seatbelt, INR 100 to INR 1000; Overloading of 3-wheelers, INR 100 to INR 2000 plus disqualification for three months; Not yielding way to emergency vehicles like ambulances, INR 10,000; Driving without insurance, INR.1000 to INR. 2000; Offences committed by juveniles, INR 25,000 to be paid by the guardian, plus three months imprisonment. The juvenile will be tried under juvenile law and the registration of the vehicle will be cancelled; If a enforcement agency person commits a violation, the penalty will be double.
The Indian Motor Vehicles Amendment bill was criticized for invading the rights of the States (provinces) because roadways and motor vehicle regulation are among subjects allocated to the States in the Indian constitution. But ultimately, giving the strength of the government in parliament, the bill was passed.