My take on hefty traffic fines

Whole nation is talking about it- hefty traffic fines effective from September- which are 10-20 fold increase from earlier nominal values. Within first one week, reports are coming in from various parts of the country that vehicle owners are being fined to the tune of 23000-30000 or 47500 INR (USD 300-600) etc under new rules for violation of traffic rules.

The reaction to this rule has been mixed- lots of people believe it is good- to enforce discipline and reduce traffic accidents. While others criticize this move as one sided, as there’s no promise of better roads and infrastructure.
 Cartoon by Satish Acharya for Sify.com

Here’s my take on it.
Some of the fines are unnecessary. Police should use technology instead.
For example, why should vehicle owners always carry vehicle documents in original- what if they are lost or damaged? Why can’t police use technology- have an app, connect to RTO data base, check if vehicle has proper registration, any dues, any complaints. If nothing is found and owner is the driver or a passenger, then there’s no need to penalize them for not carrying original documents. If still in doubt, vehicle owner can be given one week’s time to furnish documents. Assuming them as criminals and charging 20000-30000 fine is unjustified. Police abroad run the number through control room and get its entire history before even going close to it. At the minimum digilocker/soft copy should be considered adequate on the spot and demand to show original only if absolutely necessary, that too within a time frame.

Related news: BLR police expect people to carry original insurance all the time. If original documents are also lost when a vehicle is stolen, then more trouble for the owner-now to get documents sorted first before claiming insurance etc.

Some of the fines are ambiguous:
Like not giving way to ambulance-how to prove this? May be car owner is trying to give way but there’s no space? Unless a foolproof evidence is available (like video footage) that confirms someone is deliberately blocking ambulance, benefit of doubt should be given to vehicle owner.

Nowhere it says it is legal to break a rule to let an ambulance through. Like if my car is waiting for red signal light to turn green and an ambulance comes behind me in siren, should I jump red signal to give way to ambulance or should I wait till signal turns green even if it means patient may die? What will you do in this tricky situation? If police are not empathetic, I could be fined either way. Shouldn't the lawmakers issue clear instructions for all possible scenarios before announcing a rule?

Allowing unauthorized person to drive: Like you drop your car at a garage, a mechanic takes it out to test, gets caught and now you've to sell out Rs 5000? What is the protocol to follow in these cases? Should I check driving license and criminal history of every mechanic in a garage? Unless the handover is deliberate and could have been avoided, shouldn't the owner be spared?

Update:some examples of unauthorized driving- fine here goes to vehicle owner and not the person driving?
l. Driver using vehicle without holding driving license.
2. Driver using transport vehicle without holding Transport Authorization
3. Driver using vehicle who is in under age. 
4. Driver using vehicle in contravention of the conditions I of learning license

Penalizing and jailing parents if minors drive/ride:
Parents are not responsible if minor kids commit offense like murder or rape. But if they ride a vehicle parents go to jail. Now parents need to safe guard the vehicle and its keys from their own wards. Smart children can still manage to steal it. Parents are also not supposed to beat kids or exercise any kind of authority over their children but be responsible for their actions. Imagine the impact on a family when its breadwinner is jailed for 3 years- he will lose his job, reputation and entire family will collapse. I would suggest reduce this to say 1 day nominal imprisonment for now. If after an year still required we can increase the jail term.

Some aspects, govt should leave it to public.
Despite all the awareness if someone doesn't want to wear helmet, so be it- let them risk their head and die. Less people, better for the country. Why try to enforce so many rules? People put on helmet but don't strap it up, buy cheap poor quality helmets and all sort of things to circumvent rules and risk their own life- there's only so much govt can do- leave it to the individuals how much they care about themselves.

Some fines are really justified:
Like drunken driving, driving without license are real risks. These are offenses committed by someone fully aware it is wrong and the act has serious implications on safety of others. So a higher fine should deter people into being more law obedient. Let them drink at home or hire a cab instead


Potential fallout of these massive fines:
Hopefully people will start taking the traffic rules seriously and road accidents will come down. But there're the potential drawbacks
- More bribes: Now more n more people will be tempted to pay a bribe of few hundreds and escape, than paying several thousands in fine.
- Less money in people's hands- Already country is in recession. People don't have jobs, don't have money to spend. If all the money is taken away like this in fines, recession will take even longer to recover. Excessive fine means people will have to dip into their life savings- leaving little for future. Hopefully people learn from their mistakes after being caught once or twice and this shouldn't become a regular affair, but we never know. Police are also equally greedy- they can frame you into some offence at their discretion without any evidence in the hope of getting some bribe or meeting their fine targets. So we need to strengthen evidence collection mechanism (CCTV. body cam etc) to avoid abuse and harassment.
- More loan defaults: Already several reports are surfacing wherein fine amount is more than value of the vehicle- makes more sense for owners to abandon the vehicle than pay the fine- if these vehicles were taken on loan, loans will default, more problem for banks and economy.

Why all responsibilities are on public? 
Above photo from internet, source unknown, a scooter rider falls in rain most probably due to invisible pothole or speed-breaker

Why is that public disobeying rules is assumed as sole reason for every problem in this country?
  • What about unscientific, unauthorized speed breakers that are a big menace?
  • What about Potholes and not working street lights?
  • What about roads dug/blocked for never ending construction projects?
  • What about lack of coordination between corporation, telecom companies, sewage/water board and other stake holders who dug up a road as soon as it is fixed?
  • How will this traffic fines be spent? Will we see better infrastructure or it will fund someone else?
  • Every other road in the country is being turned into toll road, forcing people to cough up more n more.
  • I understand speed limits are there for a reason, but speed limit should be reasonable and set considering factors like road condition, traffic, availability of divider/service road/barricade, day/night or rain/dry, safety features of the car, driver's expertise and so on. There're stretches on the highway where it is fully safe to allow atleast one lane to cruise at say 120 kmph. But even then why enforce 60-80 kmph limit and expect everyone to go too slow? 
  • Many insurance companies and agents refuse to issue pure 3rd party liability policy. They coax customers to take own damage coverage also. Only 3rd party liability insurance is mandated by law. If I don't want own damage cover, I should have that freedom. But agents get zero commission on 3rd party liability policy sale, so they are least interested in offering it.
Unfortunately no one wants to take these questions and provide an answer.

Way forward:
Now that we've introduced hefty fines, let us see what happens over next 3-6 months- do traffic offences drop significantly?

Meanwhile governments should promise to spend fine amount towards better roads, put some accountability on those responsible for a city's infrastructure.

How about spending a small % of fine amount to reward those who honored all the laws- identify those vehicle owners who were never fined for any violation over years, send them a gift coupon, when a biker is pulled over and document is checked, if everything is in order give him a small gift coupon.

Also focus on eliminating corruption (send dummy offenders and check if any officer is ready to accept bribe- fire them, mandate body camera/CCTV/other evidence before imposing a penalty etc)

We are just too many to be educated in a well mannered way and to be made to respect law and show empathy. So probably harsh and hefty penalties is the only way to fix people. But responsibilities should be shared by government and officials as well for overall safety and development, not just injecting fear in common man in the name of fine.

What are your thoughts?

Update: 1 week since this post, generic sentiment seem to be aligned with my point of view. Many states have decided to reduce the fine, few have decided to delay its implementation till roads are fixed. Extreme fear seem to have gripped people, who are avoiding taking out vehicles if they can. 

3 comments:

  1. So many reasons to find to just not do the right thing -follow traffic rules.If it is really so difficult to follow such simple rules then one must think about alternate modes of transport to avoid this big headache of following simple traffic rules!

    Is it really so difficult to have your vehicle papers which is a one time job inside your vehicle ,it cant get more bizarre than this.

    Every rule is there due to a reason ,twisting and turning it to suit ones purpose is not going to make any sense ,forget about corner case rules like blocking ambulances -there are always bound to be such corner cases in any system and to be honest they are rarely implemented.

    But to follow simple traffic rules which you sign up to when you pass a traffic test for a driving test legally(i know in excess of 90% in India have for a reason paid bribes and passed the driving test) it should be a cakewalk ,and i you dont want to follow the traffic rules or pay fines ,its time to give up your driving license.

    The way people drive these days they start questioning and abusing people who follow traffic rules since they have no clue ,it is time justice is served and the people who dont follow traffic rules deserve every bit of it .and yes you dont pay bribes if you follow traffic rules .

    ReplyDelete
  2. very valid comments... especially to run a background check rather than insisting on paper documents.

    ReplyDelete

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