By imposing hefty traffic fines, authorities are barking up the wrong tree

Such crazy fines are not only illogical and cruel but also an attempt by authorities to hide their own decades-old failures. Why should common people be punished for the shortcomings of the system?

To expect overnight behavioural change in drivers by imposing hefty penalties is way off the mark. (Representational image, PTI)
To expect overnight behavioural change in drivers by imposing hefty penalties is way off the mark. (Representational image, PTI)

Asim Khan

TV news reporters are having a field day by reporting on the crazy fines being imposed on the commuters for violating traffic rules.

A motorbike owner was slapped a fine of ₹25,000 in Gurugram on Wednesday as he was not carrying any documents, had two pillion riders and none of them was wearing a helmet. A tractor driver was handed out a slip of ₹59,000. On Tuesday, again in Gurugram, a scooty borne man was fined ₹25,000 for various offences. The man, a resident of east Delhi, said his scooty’s cost was not more than ₹15,000. So he chose to dump his two-wheeler in police custody instead of paying ₹10,000 more than its cost.

On Sep 5, a man set his motorcycle on fire in Chirag Delhi after he was caught by traffic police and issued a challan for driving in an inebriated state.

I find these news items both ludicrous and worrying in equal measures. Ludicrous because yet again the quirks of some of our laws is out there. Speaking of quirky rules, there is a fine of ₹250 for travelling on the rooftop of Delhi Metro! Well, one will be more than happy to pay ₹250 as fine if he survives the 11,000 volts shock on the Metro train rooftop!

Back to our Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act, 2019, which has hiked the penalties for violation of traffic rules manifold. Now what is worrying about the new rules? Whoever drafted these rules did not consider the average purchasing power of a common Indian.

A person earning around ₹20,000-25,000 usually commutes on a two-wheeler to work and back. The food delivery boys, courier men, our DTH technician, AC mechanic, plumber et al are some of the examples of people who usually commute by two-wheelers because it is the cheapest and most practical mode of transport for them to reach inside narrow lanes and far off areas of the city as well.

They cannot rely on public transport, neither can they afford the fare of auto rickshaws or taxis. Perhaps all of them in the range of ₹20,000-₹30,000 per month.

Those who drive regularly will vouch for the fact that sometimes you end up violating some or the other traffic rule, though inadvertently such as stopping your vehicle beyond the ‘stop’ line. Now, can we expect any of the above-mentioned persons, or an average auto rickshaw wallah to cough up ₹ 2,000 for inadvertently breaking a minor law? Is it justified?

Suppose, one fine morning you find that the number plate of your car parked in an open (authorised) roadside parking has been damaged by some careless driver. You will have to get it repaired. And to get it repaired you will have to go to a garage. But suppose as soon as you take your car out of the colony, a policeman stops you and tells you that you will have to pay ₹2,000 for your damaged number plate.

It is highly unlikely that you would be able to reason with and convince the policeman to let go of you because you were precisely going to get your number plate repaired. Policemen used to let drivers go earlier for this or would give a ticket for ₹100 at most (I have personally faced this situation and the policemen were convinced with my argument).

Not anymore. I seriously doubt that the policeman would now let you go no matter how kind-hearted or generous he could be. ₹2,000 is something, boy. So you would end up paying the amount (for some car drivers it could their entire day’s earning as not all car owners are rich) even if the fault was not yours.

To expect an auto driver to pay ₹10,000-20,000 fine is too much. In a country where abiding by the rules is not always possible no matter how sincere or law abiding you are, the hefty fines are surely unreasonable and heartless. I am not doubting the intentions behind bringing this bill, just questioning its logic. I know Union Road Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari is a well-meaning and reasonable person.

But the fact that the Bill amending traffic rules remained pending in Parliament for around two years and could not be cleared until the government had a clear majority in both Houses is sufficient to tell that not all lawmakers were convinced of its logic.

Now, if not hefty fines, then what is the solution to make people go by the traffic rules and avoid accidents and fatalities, one may ask.

Of course, the ultimate aim of the legislation is to make the commuting safe and check an unusually high number of road accidents in India which result in thousands of deaths and leave thousands maimed every year.

However, to overnight impose crazy fines on people who have been used to their ways is not the solution. Old habits die hard, they say. Sudden hefty fines will only create greater inconvenience, especially to lower middle class and middle class people who are already burdened beyond their capacity thanks to the prevailing economic conditions in the country.

The solution, in my opinion, lies in creating awareness of the traffic rules and training the drivers for safe commute.

It’s an open secret that driver’s licence is the easiest document to procure in our country. In the US, Europe, middle east particularly Dubai and China and Taiwan, the driver’s license norms are strict and also strictly adhered to by the authorities.

For example, to get a driver’s license in Dubai, one has to go through a training which includes theory classes as well as practical driving. An applicant is made aware of traffic rules and regulations and rules of safe driving before he is allowed to sit behind the steering wheel. The applicant has to pay a fee for the training classes.

After the training, one has to face a stringent test of driving skills and theoretical knowledge. Those who flunk the test have to again undergo the training, which incurs a considerable sum of money. In short, you won’t get a driver’s license until the authorities are satisfied that you are fit to drive and won’t endanger your or others’ life on the road.

Hence, the solution lies in making the process of procuring a driver’s license more rigorous in India. There must be a minimum education threshold (say class 8th pass) to ensure that the applicant can read sign boards etc. A minimum training of 15 days followed by a rigorous test of both practical and theory must be made mandatory.

Those already holding driver’s license should also be called for a mandatory review. If they fail, their present licenses should be cancelled and they be asked to apply afresh.

Of course, this will take some time, but it will definitely yield better results in the long run provided that the authorities are sincere and not inclined to “sell” the licenses.

Till then, the present law could be a means of extorting money from the common people but not a behaviour changer. You cannot punish the people for the shortcomings of the system over the decades.

Yes, driving without a license or a minor driving a vehicle must attract hefty fine and/or a jail term. This we can implement right away.

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