Faltering on speed limits

Topics Motor Vehicles Act | NHAI

As one turned left onto National Highway 8 near Subroto Park in Delhi while driving towards Gurugram, one noticed vehicles had started slowing down. It is an accident prone, under construction stretch. In the darkness of the evening, the blinding light from a flashlight forced a three-wheeler driver to a halt. A Delhi Transport Department enforcement wing official jumped in front and tried grabbing the driver by his collar. 

The flashlight is a tool to stop vehicles that violate traffic rules. This happens every evening and highlights the crude ways often employed by law enforcing agencies that can endanger the lives of people they are trying to protect.

On the other side of the capital, the Delhi Traffic Police has decided to suspend 150,000 challans, or penalty notices, issued to those found to over-speed on National Highway 24 in September. That is because the cameras installed on that route were configured to issue challans to vehicles travelling over 60 kilometre per hour (kmph) though the signage put up by the Public Works Department said the permissible speed limit on the Delhi-Meerut Expressway was 70 kmph. So now the cameras will be reconfigured to give the citizens taking that route an unambiguous rule to follow. Meanwhile, those who have already paid up are feeling cheated.

One newspaper report quoted a National Highways Authority of India official as saying that roads designed for speed of 120 kmph shouldn’t have speed limit of 50 kmph, the official speed limit on most Delhi roads. This leads to the question as to why spend money on building expressways when travelling on them does not ensure speed or reduced journey time. Perhaps for this reason, the Delhi-Gurgaon Expressway has capped vehicle speed at 80 kmph.

Nevertheless, there can’t be any quibbling over the fact that Indian drivers need to be reined in through stringent provisions of the Motor Vehicles Act. According to the dashboard of the ministry of road transport and highways, some 147,913 people died in road accidents across the country in 2017, with a national average of 11 deaths for every 100,000 population that year. In Delhi, this figure is lower at 7 deaths, while for Tamil Nadu, the red zone of dangerous driving, it is as high as 23.

Despite the compelling argument of putting the fear of law in citizens, it is also a fact that systems are not designed to handle the consequences. The two instances cited here expose the inadequacies of law enforcing agencies. It is not that they lag in technology. E-challans, for instance, are generated without human intervention. Images — either caught on cameras installed along the road or through speed guns stationed in police vehicles — are generated through a SIM card and then challans are issued. 

These challans can be checked online, either on the website of city traffic police or on echallan.parivahan.gov.in, which has a cheeky tagline of One Nation One Challan — as if a challan is not a penalty but an award. 

Once issued, these challans can be paid online but on September 30, for instance, about a kilometre long queue was seen at the Delhi Traffic Police headquarters at Todapur since its computer network had collapsed across the city and violators had lined up to pay their penalty manually. The State Bank of India’s payment gateway could not take the sudden increase in traffic, so to speak. 

Elsewhere in the country, the enforcement might not be so stringent but speeding within city limits can be an issue given the state of the roads. Jumping signals or not wearing helmets or talking on mobile phones are rampant in those regions. Overloading and driving of defective vehicles could be more prominent violations on highways.

The amended and more stringent Motor Vehicles Act came into effect on September 1. Some states decided not to notify it but a majority of the states have implemented it. However, as the Delhi experience brings out, a mere change of law cannot ensure seamless implementation. The size of the country’s population ensures that violation, penalty and enforcement are of a scale that renders implementation difficult. This only means that all the systems and processes need strengthening — not as an afterthought but even before the rules are put down — for voluntary and effective enforcement. 

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