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Fines for traffic violations on Indian roads, how much is too much?

Charles Goldenbeld, SWOV Institute for Road Safety Research, Hague, the Netherlands in his study in 2017 has presented a relation between the increase in fines for traffic violations and its effect on driving behaviour. He refers to the deterrent theory, which states that a sufficiently high chance of detection of a violation and a sufficiently high penalty will deter road users from committing traffic violations. Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Delhi in a study, besides referring several international studies, also concluded – ‘imposing stricter penalties (in the form of higher fines or longer prison sentences) will not affect road-user behaviour significantly. 

Siddheshwar ShuklaSiddheshwar Shukla | Updated: 09-08-2019 11:16 IST | Created: 02-08-2019 16:25 IST
Fines for traffic violations on Indian roads, how much is too much?
Wrong Driving Image Credit: Flickr

Indian Ministry of Transport has recently decided to hike the fines for traffic violators in the country by 5 to 10 times, introduce an automated mechanism for issuing the driving license, and prosecute auto manufacturers for defective vehicles. The legislation to this effect, which will be added as amendments in the Motor Vehicle Act 1986, has been approved by the Rajya Sabha (Upper House) and pending with Lok Sabha (Lower House) for some modifications. The fines and penalty for some new kind of violations such as holding the owner of the vehicle/guarding for offences of juveniles are also very high – owner/ guardian will face Rs 25,000 fine with three years in jail plus cancellation of vehicle registration for one year plus no license for the accused juvenile till the age of 25 years. Besides, the new law also makes a provision of 10% automatic annual hike for fines under all the categories of violations. As per new law the personnel of enforcement agencies, if found violating traffic rules, will have to cough up double than the fines imposed on civilians.

Can such huge fines discipline the roads? Is a steep hike in fines the ultimate instrument to rein in drivers and make the roads safer? These are the questions floating around. Though a lot is on stake when the law will finally be rolled out, it's relevance could be critically analyzed in the light of previous studies and experiences.

Very high fines become counter-productive: Research

A rational fine for traffic violations is really a deterrent for rouge drivers. However, this too has a limit. Charles Goldenbeld, SWOV Institute for Road Safety Research, Hague, the Netherlands in his study in 2017 has presented a relation between the increase in fines for traffic violations and its effect on driving behaviour. He refers to the deterrent theory, which states that a sufficiently high chance of detection of a violation and a sufficiently high penalty will deter road users from committing traffic violations.

According to the study, titled - increasing traffic fines', if the fine is increased between 50% to 100% it causes a decrease of 15% in traffic violations. The findings further suggest that less than 50% increase does not influence violations while if increased more than 100% in fines, it resulted in a 4% increase in violations, thus counterproductive. "The effects of the fine increase on recidivism are mixed, but the more severe and frequent offenders do not seem to be influenced by fine increases. An increase of fines was associated with a 5-10% reduction in all crashes and a 1-12% reduction in fatal crashes. In general, studies had insufficiently controlled for confounding factors and results should be interpreted cautiously. Moreover, most studies looked at the effect immediately after a change in fines and at places with high enforcement levels. Hence, it cannot be excluded that the reported effects are limited in time and place," argues Goldenbeld.

Simon J Walter and David M Studdert in a study of traffic behaviour in Australia in 2015 titled – 'Relationship between penalties for road traffic infringements and crash risk in Queensland, Australia: A case-crossover study' concluded that penalties mark episodes of risky driving and such episodes trounce any deterrent effect penalties may produce.

Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), New Delhi in a study, besides referring several international studies, also concluded – 'imposing stricter penalties (in the form of higher fines or longer prison sentences) will not affect road-user behaviour significantly. In general, the deterrent effect of a law is determined in part by the swiftness and visibility of the penalty for disobeying the law, but a key factor is the perceived likelihood of being detected and sanctioned'.

A comparative study of fines and the number of violations in 2016 in two cities of India – Delhi and Mumbai, shows that the increase in fines is not directly proportional to the reduction in traffic violations. In 2016, fine for driving without a seat belt in Delhi and Mumbai were respectively Rs 100 and Rs 1000 while the violations for the same periods were reported as 50,841 and 2,31,813. Similarly, the fines for driving without a helmet were Rs 100 in Delhi and Rs 1000 in Mumbai in 2016 but the violations were 4,24,177 in Mumbai and 8,88,913 in Delhi. In 2016, Delhi had about 90.91 lakh out of which nearly 61.01 lakh are two-wheelers and cars/jeeps were about 29.87 lakhs while Mumbai had a total of 26 lakh vehicles out of which 17 lakh are two-wheelers and 9 lakh are private cars. Besides, the above number of vehicles for Delhi is only the number of vehicles registered with the Department of Transport, Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi. The satellite cities of Delhi – Gurgaon, Sonepat, Faridabad, Noida, Greater Noida and Ghaziabad also add a good number of vehicles every day on roads in Delhi which are registered with the respective transport departments of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. If we consider the number of vehicles and prosecution, the high fines in Mumbai had an almost insignificant impact.

High Fines Increase Corruption

The chances of corruption by traffic cops on roads are also very high in case of steep hike in fines for traffic violations. It has been seen that the violators do not argue much with the personnel of enforcement agencies if the fine is in the affordable limit but for un-affordable fines the violators try to bribe the traffic personnel and settle the case. On the other side, the prosecutors also see their personal benefits in the deal leading to an increase in corruption. In a report in 2014, the Anti-Corruption Department of Delhi has listed Delhi traffic police among one of the most corrupt departments. In addition, the violators also pressurize traffic police by calling on their relatives in traffic police and politicians to avoid the fines and penalty. In 2014, the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi has increased fines for not wearing helmets from Rs 100 to Rs 500 and the wearing of the helmet was made mandatory for pillion rider as well. Due to the increase in corruption, the government had to roll back the hike in fines for not wearing a helmet. Besides the exception was also granted to pillion Sikh women from wearing a helmet, due to protest by Sikh community

Some Peculiar Problems of India cities

There are at least two more issues related to Indian cities – even a small rain is sufficient to make traffic signals to go kaput and facility to change the address. As most of the Indian cities face moderate to heavy rains, the traffic signals are not properly functional throughout the monsoon season. In such cases, initiatives like e-challans and camera monitoring are not possible. Furthermore, as people are free to live at the place they like, frequent change of address by tenants is also very common in India cities. Therefore, the system of sending challans to the residential address mentioned in the 'driving license' is sometimes futile.

Holistic Approach is Required

With zero deaths per 1,00,000 residents Monaco, a small city/nation in France is considered to have the safest roads in the world while the United Kingdom with 2.9 is on 4th rank and Australia is at 24th rank with 5.4 death per 1,00,000 residents. In Canada 6.0 persons per 1,00,000 residents die in road accidents while this figure in the United States is 10. The countries in the list of top 25 safest roads do not rely merely on a thump rule of high penalty but follow a holistic model of fines, penalty, speed limits on roads, pedestrian facilities, decongestion plans.

If we compare in terms of flat value in rupees, the fine for not wearing a helmet in the United Kingdom is around Rs 41,966 which is presently Rs 100 in India. Similarly, India imposes a fine of Rs 2,000 and up to six months' imprisonment for drunken driving while the UK charges about Rs 2,09,685 for the same offence. However, the UK's per capita GDP is about 26 times more than India and Purchasing Power Parity per capita is about 10 times more than India. In addition, economic disparity is very wide in India in comparison to the UK.

Therefore, a rational fine for various traffic violations should be imposed keeping in mind the paying capacity of the population. As it is huge financial disparity throughout the country, a fine which could be deterrent in Delhi and Mumbai may be unaffordable in district headquarters or remote areas while that deterrent in a small city of Jharkhand may look like a pittance in Mumbai. Therefore, a single yardstick could be counterproductive for such a pluralistic society. The Central Government may fix minimum and maximum fines and leave it on the district authorities to fix the fines for various violations which they think could be properly implemented as a deterrent in a corruption-free manner because corruption-free enforcement is pre-requisite to any law.

Besides, holistic communication policy and communication campaign is also required to create awareness among the pedestrians, bikers, motorists and truckers with special focus to youths to make the roads safer and achieve the targets of Global Goal 3, the 3rd among 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set up by the United Nations for the year 2030. India and other member nations of the UN may also learn from the initiatives and experiences of other nations to improve their ranking on SDG 3.6 criteria. In this reference, the World Road Congress 2019 scheduled from 6th to 10th October 2019 in Abu Dhabi could prove a milestone as sharing the best experiences related to road and transport-related issues are one of the prime objectives of this conference.

(For more news and views on World Road Congress, please visit LIVE DISCOURSE).

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are the personal views of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of Devdiscourse and Devdiscourse does not claim any responsibility for the same.)


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