Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Snippet: Increasing Penalties for Traffic-Rule Violations Makes Roads Safer?

The short answer to the titular question here is, no. The Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill, 2016 is soon going to become law and is being largely hailed across platforms as a gamechanger. It brings in a lot of new things which are necessary - revamping definitions, including aggregator services, reworking the insurance and compensation provisions. But, sadly, it simply treads the all-too-familiar path of hiking penal tariffs in a bid to curb bad road behaviour. 

I have argued on this blog (a long time ago here) that this routine understanding of deterrence is fraught with problems. A rational decision-maker will consider costs posed by breaking the law, and the likelihood of being caught at that moment. The lesser the likelihood of being caught, the lesser any possible sanction will impact my behaviour. Duh, right? The fact that nobody seems to be stating the obvious at this moment is pretty infuriating, forcing me to say it all over again. To assume that adding another zero to the quantum of fines is going to deter people from driving rashly, or taking the wheel when drunk, is daft. Anybody who travels by road can tell you that the problem isn't just the existence of sanctions, but it is their enforcement. 

How often do traffic cops cut challans (fines) after stopping vehicles suspected of violating traffic rules? A simple attempt to map the disparity between these two events (the stopping of a vehicle vs. issuing a fine) and then reducing the arrears would probably achieve far more towards making our roads safer than another increase in penalties. And it is simple - just add recorders on the motorcycles that the traffic police use. That technology is inexpensive and easily accessible, and would deter the corruption that is rife in this field. Maybe this solution is also too naive. In fact, I'm sure it is. But it is surely better than simply raising the sceptre of more stringent punishment, ignoring how this will also proportionately increase the corruption plaguing the system at present. 

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