The Telangana government recently announced that traffic rule violators with pending unpaid challans will get discounts ranging between 40% and 90%. This was part of the 30 pre-poll promises made by the Congress in its manifesto. The scheme has been extended till January 31. This is being called a discount scheme but in reality it provides immunity for those violating traffic rules.
The discount scheme comes on the back of a similar decision by the earlier government to delay implementation of the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act, 2019. The penal fee for not wearing a helmet in Telangana is still ₹100. The ₹100 penalty, which came into force in 1988, when factored for inflation, is just under ₹9 in today’s terms of purchasing power. Under the amended Motor Vehicles Act, this penalty is ₹1,000 and the violator is disqualified from holding a licence for three months. However, even this amount is not high enough if we take inflation into account.
In 2022, 1,68,491 people were killed on Indian roads and 4,43,366 persons were injured in 4,61,312 accidents. Of these, 7,559 deaths were on Telangana’s roads. Just a decade earlier, in 2012, the number of people killed on Indian roads was 1,38,252. That is a 21.87% increase in the number of deaths in 10 years.
Road accidents are avoidable tragedies. Traffic rule violations have been a major reason for the high rates of accidents and fatalities on Indian roads. Rule violations contribute to a high number of accidents and also lead to more chaos, which has become the norm in urban areas. Traffic gridlocks are often caused by motorists who try to break laws to get ahead. According to the Union Ministry of Roads Transport and Highways data for 2022, over-speeding accounted for 71.2% of the people killed, followed by driving on the wrong side of the road (5.4%). Road rules are sometimes tweaked to ease traffic, but they instead encourage driving on the wrong side of the road. For instance, a few years ago, the Telangana police introduced more U-turns to reduce waiting time at signals. Motorists had to drive until they reached a U-turn on the road. However, where there were no barricades or dividers on the road, motorists frequently cut across the road and drove on the wrong side.
The horror of traffic accidents is no longer limited to words in newspapers. CCTV images regularly become viral on social media. One of the most viral images from recent times showed a red Polo car plunged from the Biodiversity Flyover in Hyderabad and fell on a woman, killing her on the spot. The car was being driven at 104 kmph on a flyover which had a speed limit of 40 kmph. The driver of the vehicle did not face any punitive action despite the accident becoming a viral sensation. Despite such horrific incidents, traffic rule violations are not treated as criminal offences.
Indian roads and highways are becoming wider and smoother and the number of vehicles have increased sharply. This is a dangerous combination in the absence of a firm regulatory system for motorists. Rules exist, but they are not enforced. Enforcing rules more stringently would be the first step towards ensuring road safety. Once the rule violators realise that they are unlikely to get away with it, they are likely to fall in line.
It is not as though finding violators is a challenge as Telangana has one of the highest numbers of CCTV cameras. Hyderabad alone has over a million cameras scanning the city and streets. The video feed is monitored from the Integrated Control and Command Centre on a continuous basis. The State has all the tools to bring order on the roads and ensure the safety of motorists and pedestrians.
The recent truckers’ strike against the stringent punishment for hit-and-run cases should be seen in the light of the fact that 18.1% of the road accidents were of this nature. About 30,490 persons were killed in hit-and-run cases and 54,726 were injured in 2022. The new Bharat Nyay Sanhita provides for a 10-year sentence and a fine of up to ₹7 lakh for drivers who flee the accident spot. The Union government has promised consultation with truckers before the law is enforced.
The nature and utility of populist policies are often debated in a democracy but there is little debate required when the lives of citizens are endangered. There can be no space for criminal impunity on Indian roads where there is one death every three and half minutes.