Road safety cannot be achieved in the absence of political will
Life is precious. The devastation caused by the loss of a loved one in an accident cannot be fully alleviated. But a “just” financial compensation, as the Supreme Court pointed out last year, can at least support those who have lost a family member, especially in cases where he or she may have been the sole breadwinner. Taking that judgment further the court has now said that the amount of Rs 25,000 paid to victims or next of kin in hit-and-run cases is too low. The motor vehicles (amendment) bill, 2016, which proposed to raise this sum, was pending in Parliament since 2017 and is now set to lapse. This is worrying. The bill had important provisions to bolster road safety in India like electronic monitoring of highways and urban roads, fitness testing for vehicles, cashless treatment for road accident victims and higher penalties for violation of road safety rules, among others. Besides a lack of political will to make the roads safer — the fate of the proposed bill proves this — there is also a culture of disregard for road safety rules among citizens. Whether it is riding two-wheelers without helmets, drivers (let alone passengers in the rear seat) not wearing seat belts, flouting traffic lights (both drivers and pedestrians are guilty of this) or jaywalking, Indians seem to care little about their lives.
Further, hit-and-runs are just one kind of hazard; almost 4,000 people people died on the roads owing to potholes in 2017. Not only are reports of bridges collapsing alarmingly frequent, a study has also shown that significant portions of the quadrilateral national highway network are dangerous for motorists. Added to the poor road infrastructure is the rickety public transport system. Strangely, the Centre watered down the requirements in the national bus body standard codes — in spite of announcing its commitment to do otherwise to the apex court — to just self-certification by builders. Relaxing such safety measures puts the lives of citizens at risk. However, the delays in implementing safety measures and relaxation of protocols cannot by attributed to apathy alone. The tussle between the Centre and the state governments over the huge revenue generated by road transport is also a factor. This revenue has increased with the modernization of transport. App cabs that have taken over the streets come equipped with GPS and the internet. Can this advantage be expanded to include technology that prevents collisions? None of this is achievable in the absence of political will. It is time that the government accepted the fact that the safety of citizens on the roads is one of its primary responsibilities.