Let road users have their say on infrastructure

Kamal Baruah
DL (Driving Licence) is the most popular happening for any teenagers. My quest of owning a vehicle happened only in early 30s. I was on cloud nine for my Yahama days. But my first driving test at RTO Bangalore North was a real buzz. Those were mandatory signs, cautionary symbols and hand signals while on riding u-turn before the finish line. Also drums placed to manoeuvre the vehicle without putting legs down. “Better luck next time” the Inspector rudely passed a remark at my test. Well, I kept my spirits up! There is always next season. And I could clear it after third attempts. Such was the strictness which is hardly seen nowadays. And I come across the Motor Vehicle Act over the written exam.
To control the unprecedented growth of motor vehicles, the Imperial Act 1914 on Motor Vehicles later known as the Motor Vehicles Act 1988 came into force from 1st July 1989, The Amendment came into force w.e.f. March 31, 2017. It has provisions for traffic regulations, vehicle insurance/ registration, controlling permits and penalties. To make road safer, the Amendment Act 2019 has come w.e.f. 1st Sep this year. For layman, Traffic checking is all about challan for defaulters. But this time social media platforms are flooded with hilarious jokes and reactions. And people probably enjoyed with acceptance.
It’s mandatory for a driver to have a valid DL registered under the act. That is valid for next 15 years. Road signs are renewal of hostilities at DTO, where netizens face at renewal every 5 years.  The amendments propose a huge increase in various penalties and making vehicle owners criminally liable for violations committed by juvenile. There are various other penalties for related offenses.
The most significant of the Bill is to provide for a scheme for cashless treatment of road accident victims during golden hour. The Bill defines a Good Samaritan as a person who renders emergency assistance to a victim, and provides rules to prevent harassment.  Besides, the Act empowers the government to ask vehicle manufacturers to recall motor vehicles that could cause harm to the environment.
Apart from Users and Vehicles, it revolves around another important category - Infrastructure. The Act focuses on road infrastructure design to road safety. New Act has provisions of fine on contractors in case of potholes and penalty is higher in case of offences committed by implementing authorities.
Will this help to regulate road safety measures more effective?  The amendments place the safety of a person on the road. The new legislation emphasizes to reduce the human fatalities and injuries. Will India’s roads become safer like abroad where people strictly abide by traffic norms? People take traffic laws very lightly and there is neither fear nor respect for law. There have been instances where VVIPs break the laws. Intelligent traffic system is required to catch violators.
Is only paying heavy tolls enough? Don’t we need road? Incidentally, traversing on North East road is a real life experience as disaster will take anytime with ones lives at stake by paying expensive toll. Apex Court ruled that NHAI cannot collect toll from commuters if the road is in bad shape. However, there is a need for penalizing heavy vehicles guilty of overloading. It results in loss to the exchequer as they not only evade tax but cause huge damage to roads.
Vehicles made our days real easy. Speed is exciting! Most accidents take place due to reckless driving. Traffic rules and regulations are to assure the smooth flowing of vehicles.  There are unscientific speed breakers. Western countries don’t have speed breakers to control speeds rather a STOP sign. Our city suffers from transportation handicap and grows with tangled plans. Infrastructure hasn’t kept pace with time. The roads are taken away by parking and encroachments. People don’t follow lane discipline as police do not crackdown.
But the rules are never implemented with good spirit. They are forcing fines for defaulters.  It adopts simplistic methods to determine ‘driver fault’, while fixing responsibility. There are other merged factors including bad road design and failure of civic agencies to maintain infrastructure. In spite of fast­ paced motorisation, we don’t have a scientific accident investigation agency. Unaware of road markings make it most vulnerable. The traffic lights at intersections are important for pedestrians.
Public transports are the most disobeyer. The road users are unaware of basic knowledge of road markings and traffic signals. Are we aware of prohibition of high beams within city limits? Prohibition of blow horn and judicious use of siren by ambulance are necessary. Traffic management should understand the flow of traffic during peak hours.  Parking crisis emerge as vehicles flood in city. Should the traffic lights go haywire and a traffic officer takes over directing vehicles? It was real hazard in the dark.
The challenge now is to catch our transport infrastructure up to the demand. Construction of flyovers, subways, highway engineering is those immediate steps to be taken into consideration. Technology can play a key role to smooth flow of traffic. 
We need to treat roads as we treat airways. The Smart City Mission is a new initiative to drive economic growth and improve the quality of life. Let’s hope early implementation. Hope this Amendment Bill will address all these issues.
The writer is based in Kolkata