Road and Highway Safety – National Road Safety Policy, Good Samaritans, etc.

[op-ed snap] Putting accident victims at the centre of vehicles law


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Issues addressed by new Motor vehicle amendment act


An act for penalties

  • It is well known that India is one of the most accident-prone countries in the world.
  • India accounts for nearly 1,50,000 deaths — 10% of all motor vehicles-related fatalities worldwide.
  • The discourse concerning the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act 2019 has only followed this trend, as disproportionate press coverage is given to the enhanced penalties to be levied on offenders.
  • However, the debate often revolves around how to minimize road accidents by incorporating deterrents into laws and ignores the interests of the victims.
  • This lack of victim-centricity in the discourse, though deplorable, is unsurprising.

For victims of road accidents

  • The amended Act gives the victims some respite as it provides for an enhanced insurance compensation of ₹5 lakh in case of death of a person in a traffic accident and ₹2.5 lakh where there is “grievous hurt”.
  • The compensation to be awarded following hit-and-run accidents has also been raised to ₹2 lakh when a victim dies and ₹50,000 when he/she suffers a grievous injury.
  • The fact that the NCRB does not collate data pertaining to the socio-economic and demographic profile of victims of traffic accidents is a testament to the relative apathy shown by the state machinery.

Cashless treatment

  • Additionally, the Act now requires insurance companies and the government to notify schemes relating to cashless treatment during the ‘Golden Hour’.
  • It is the crucial period of first 60 minutes from the occurrence of an accident when the risk of fatality can be minimized to the greatest extent.
  • Further, it mandates compulsory insurance of all road users, including pedestrians, who will be covered through a ‘Motor Vehicle Accident Fund’.
  • Lastly, it also provides for interim relief to be provided to the claimants.

Delays in settlement

  • Another problem highlighted by the apex court for which the new Act does not provided any remedy is that of procedural delays on the part of tribunals in claims settlement.
  • The provision for interim compensation is bound to bring some respite to the victims but another unaddressed concern makes this stipulation susceptible to criticism.
  • An absence of in-built safeguards in the compensation mechanism allows for the money to be frittered away by unscrupulous relatives, touts and agents, especially in cases where the victim or his nearest kin are poor and illiterate.
  • It is to address this concern that the Supreme Court in Jai Prakash suggested payment in the form of monthly disbursements of smaller amounts over a longer period of time to victims or their kin.
  • This has been overlooked by the new Act.

Road infrastructure: One stop solution

  • Many of the problems with the Motor Vehicles Act remain unaddressed or are inadequately addressed by the amended version.
  • For instance, though vehicle users who don’t give passage to emergency ambulance vehicle are liable to be punished with fines.
  • Such punitive measures are likely to remain ineffective in the absence of an effective implementation mechanism.
  • Further, other factors that lead to a poor response time, including lack of road infrastructure, also need to be taken into account.

Way Forward

  • Understandably, many of the points raised above cannot be specified statutorily.
  • These provisions, well-intentioned, are no doubt steps in the right direction.
  • However, much more needs to be done if the accident victims are to be provided complete justice.
  • Hence, the government needs to notify an institutional framework which encourages advocacy for victims and facilitates access to the various services.
  • Hence, the government needs to notify an institutional framework which encourages advocacy for victims and facilitates access to the various services.
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