How the MV Act and lockdowns reduced road accident fatalities

A year since the MVA was passed, road accident fatalities have fallen by 50 per cent, partly due to the MVA and partly due to lockdowns. Can we sustain the low fatality rate from here?

 |  5-minute read |   06-08-2020
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In 2015, the Union Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari embarked upon an ambitious target of reducing India’s road accident fatalities by 50 per cent. Several steps were immediately initiated by the government to ensure this target is met.

One of the key decisions of the government in addressing this issue at that time was to extend the total stretch of national highways in the country from a meagre 97,000 kilometres to 2,00,000 kilometres in the next five years.

Another important step has been the conversion of vast stretches of two-lane highways into four-lane highways. Earlier highways which registered more than 15,000 passenger car units (PCU) per day qualified for conversion to four-lane highways. Now the government has brought down the qualifying criterion to 10,000 PCU per day.

The third key initiative was to involve the public in identifying the “black spots” on the highways. Black spots are the places where the maximum number of accidents occur. After an extensive study, the government identified 726 black spots across the country where repair and rectification work is on full swing. Moreover, this has now become a continuous process. Newer spots are identified and correction is initiated.

main_indian-roads-ca_080620080217.jpegTime has come to explore the futuristic idea of rationing vehicles on our roads. (Photo: Reuters)

Another key component was to involve the NGOs active in the Road Safety Movement. An annual conference of Road Safety NGOs was held every year. Grants for the NGOs were eased out significantly, leading to more and more organisations availing these grants and expediting training, workshops and other road safety efforts in their respective areas.

To add to all these, the landmark Motor Vehicle (Amendment) Act became a reality last year when it was passed by the Rajya Sabha and came into effect on September 1, 2019. Apart from increasing penalties for traffic violations steeply, the amendment carried unique provisions that made vehicle manufacturers accountable for defects impacting the safety, and the road contractors for faulty road construction, again impacting road safety.

In another unprecedented move, in the case of traffic violations by juveniles, the guardians or the owner of the vehicle would be held responsible unless they prove that the offence was committed without their knowledge or that they tried to prevent it. The registration of the vehicle in question would be cancelled. The juvenile would be tried under the Juvenile Justice Act.

Unfortunately, some state governments diluted certain provisions of the MVA in their respective states.

At the same time, starting March 22, 2020, the country saw a steep decrease in tariff on the roads due to the lockdown imposed to combat Covid-19. As such, the gains from the MVA could not be documented over a sustained longer period. However, the early results were extremely positive.

In the first two months of the implementation of the MVA, road accident fatalities had fallen significantly in almost all states and union territories. Chandigarh reported a dip in fatalities by 75 per cent, Pondicherry by 31 per cent and Uttarakhand by 22 per cent during this period.  This was stated in a written reply by Minister Nitin Gadkari in the Parliament in November 2019.  During the first four months, there was also a significant fall in the challans for traffic violations, indicating responsible road usage by the people. Starting March 22, the country has been in lockdowns of varying intensity, thus anyway reducing traffic on the road. As such the real impact of the implementation of MVA over a sustained period of one year is unknown.

Some data available from different states suggest a sharp decline in road accidents during the lockdown. According to the data provided by 24 states and UTs to the Supreme Court, there was a 62 per cent reduction in road accident fatalities between March 24 and May 31 this year, which in actual numbers meant 9,000 lesser deaths compared to the same period last year.

It can be safely said that the government’s ambitious target of reducing road accident fatalities by 50 per cent has indeed been finally achieved, partly due to the MVA and partly by default due to the lockdowns. The challenge from here is to sustain in this low fatality rate in the years to come.

There are three ways in which it can be possible.

The first is a stricter implementation of MVA by all state governments, without succumbing to political pressure. More than 80 per cent of road accidents in India are due to rash driving. Stringent fines for reckless driving is a proven deterrent worldwide.

Secondly, the time has come to explore the futuristic idea of rationing vehicles on our roads. One of the main reasons why road accidents and fatalities could not be brought down despite all efforts by the government, was because the total number of vehicles on our roads continued to rise by nine to ten per cent every year. This is the best time to incentivise public transport across the nation, besides expediting the pending metro construction work in at least a dozen cities.

 Finally, the pandemic will lead to better emergency care facilities in hospitals. In the next few months when the pandemic wears out, the improved emergency care facilities can be moulded to cater to accident emergencies. Poor emergency care is one of the reasons why lives that could have been saved were not saved. Improved emergency care — a key component of road safety — can reverse this.

Also read: Why heavy fines cannot fix India’s driving culture


Tuhin A Sinha Tuhin A Sinha @tuhins

Tuhin Sinha is a well known author and a national media panelist of BJP.

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