Whether the large penalties in the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act 2019 prove to be the deterrent they are intended to be or not will only be clear in the coming months. But, ever since the new penalty regime came into effect, the large fines-thanks to those fined being caught with multiple violations-have dominated the public discourse. With instances of auto-drivers, truckers and those driving two-wheelers being slapped with fines running into tens of thousands of rupees, there is a sense that the new regime is unduly harsh, especially since even the fines for seemingly less significant offences have been revised upwards to large multiples of those in the previous regime. A trucker was fined Rs 86,500 by the Odisha police, while another from Rajasthan was fined Rs 1.41 lakh by the Delhi Police. A scooterist in Gurugram was slapped with fines totalling Rs 23,000. All these instances may make the penalties seem excessive, but the fact is that, in the Odisha case, the fines were charged for allowing an unauthorised person to drive, driving without a licence, overloading, violating the dimension specifications, and a general offence, and in the Gurugram case, the scooterist couldn't produce the documents motorists are expected to carry, and was, allegedly, not wearing a helmet. The Haryana police has also said some of the fines will be "forgiven" if the required documents are produced in court. Against such a backdrop, states moving to take the bite out of the new regime-motor vehicles being in the concurrent list-by reducing some of the fines to a fraction of that prescribed under the new law, is a patent misstep.
Gujarat has notified fines that are 25-90% smaller than those prescribed under the central law. Tamil Nadu, and Karnataka have said that they will likely follow suit. Madhya Pradesh, and Telangana are forming committees to relook the fines while Odisha will give drivers a three-month breather before the new regime kicks in. There are a raft of offences for which the large penalty amounts can't be changed-drunk driving, juvenile driving, jumping red light, etc. But, for a host of others, from failure to wear seat-belt/helmet to not conforming with pollution norms, the states are free to decide how heavy the regulatory hand will be. Over 1.5 lakh people die in road accidents in the country every year, and over 5 lakh people are injured. The majority of the accidents (78.4%), PRS analysis shows, results from drivers' faults. India is a signatory to the Brasilia declaration, under which it must reduce accidents and traffic fatalities by 50% by 2022. But, if the teeth are knocked out of the new MV law, realising the goal would be hard. More so, given the Centre is also reported to be considering reducing fines for less significant offences.