India is among the leading countries as far as the number of road accidents and deaths are concerned. About 1.50 lakh lives are lost every year in the country in road accidents. In other words one road accident takes place every minute and one person gets killed every four minutes in the country.
Punjab and Haryana figure in the list of states which record very high number of accidents and deaths in roads. Haryana tops in the number of road accidents while Punjab is ahead of it in the number of those killed and maimed in such accidents. During 2016, a total of 5,077 people were killed on roads in Punjab while the toll in Haryana was 5,026 during the same period. The large state of Uttar Pradesh, however, recorded the maximum accident deaths with 19,320 persons dying in road accidents during the same period.
While the figures are mind boggling and very alarming, the extent of human tragedy behind such accidents is hard to fathom. How many families lose their bread earners or children lose their fathers or wives become widows. The sufferings for those who are left behind is gigantic.
Traffic experts say the three main causes of accidents are drink driving, over speeding and talking on mobile phones while driving.
Therefore the steep hike in penalties for various traffic offences approved by the central government is a right step to act as a deterrent against the growing tendency of violating rules and rash driving. The provision for imposing fines earlier was too low and the violators could get away by dishing out a few hundred rupees.
While the penalty for not wearing seat belt has been increased to Rs 1000, those driving without license can be fined Rs 5000 or spend 3 months in jail. Crossing speed limits can lead to a fine of Rs 5000 or 3 months in jail. Similarly jumping red lights is punishable by Rs 1000 to Rs 5000 or two to six months of jail. The stiffest fines are justifiably for drunk driving, which causes major accidents, with a fine of Re 10,000 or 6 months’ jail or both. Use of mobile phones can lead to a fine ranging from Rs 1000 to Rs 5000 and punishment of 6-12 months or both.
A section of people are saying that the fines are too high and that it was not the best way to force people to obey the rules. They talk of spreading awareness. The government had been doing that all along by launching awareness drives and educating students but evidently that had made little impact. Not knowing the law and not following it are inexcusable in any society.
The second criticism is that it would lead to increase in corruption. There may be some merit in that argument but governments must ensure that strictest possible punishment, including dismissal from service, be given to corrupt cops. The government should also take other steps like the ones taken by Chandigarh Police to keep a close watch on policemen through body cameras and cctv vigilance. The citizens also need to cooperate by not trying to bribe policemen as accepting as well as offering bribe is a crime.
The most important factor that we must appreciate is that saving precious lives in road accidents was much better than some cases of corruption in which both the giver and the receiver are guilty. The trauma caused by such road accidents, majority of them youth, who think they are immortal and that "nothing” would happen to them, can ruin families and lead to lifelong misery.
We have the example of the western countries where fines for traffic offences are even much higher than those in India now. It is a matter of record that traffic violations have drastically come down and even number of accidents have declined due to stiff fines. The offenders shudder to get caught as they are set to lose driving license of long periods even for minor offences.
Then there is a point of view that india does not have good road infrastructure as the western countries. This is a baseless argument as it has nothing to do with violations such as drink driving or speeding or talking on mobile while driving.
It is unfortunate that Punjab government has not adopted the draft rules prepared by the centre. A government spokesman said the government would ‘review’ the decision as the hefty fines would put a "burden on the common man”. It should instead try to save precious lives by putting the fear of god in the traffic violators.
Here’s what a Chandigarh Police ASI Bhupinder Singh, who is also a poet, has to say :
Sadaka di accident wich bade loog marde cee...
jurmana khat challan daa cee, ow kithi darde cee...
naye kanoon da dekho ellan ho gaya hai...
phir na kehna badda mehanga challan ho gaya hai...
Rasoi ghar vich ration daa nuksan ho gaya hai.