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Saturday, January 1, 2011

Landmark changes in Motor Vehicle Act

The government is all set to introduce landmark changes in Motor Vehicle Act 1988, the legislation that governs licnesing rules and offences on Indian roads. An expert committee appointed by ministry of road transport and highways (MoRTH) has recommended multiple amendments including graded punishment for drunken driving depending on alcohol content in blood, separate driving licenses for scooters and cars, annual revision of compensation for road accident victims and barring use of I-pods, music and bluetooth devices while driving.

One of the major steps recommended is definition of hit-and-run accidents under law. The committee has recommended that a solatium fund be created to award immediate compensation to the tune of Rs 1 lakh to hit-and-run accident victims. The final compensation package would be calculated on the basis of a number of factors like the age of the victim, how grievously the victim has been hurt and is there has been any permanent disability. A victim could get upto Rs 12 lakh compensation. Apart from this, all compensations for road accident victims will be revised annually in tune with inflation. Sources said that there is debate whether this revision should be annual or once in three years. So far, the compensations were as paltry as Rs 12,500.

Sources said that the committee has recommended a graded system of punishment for drunken driving. This would mean that penalty would depend on alcohol content in the driver’s blood. There is a provision for “on-the-spot” suspension of license if the driver is found drunk and uncooperative with the police. One of the major aspects being tackled is use of mobile phones, hands-free and bluetooth devices while driving. At present, the law does not define these devices. The committee has put forth exact definition of Bluetooth devices and I-pods and recommended that use of any such device be banned while driving. 

Some of the landmark changes are also in Chapter II for Licensing rules. The committee observed that at present there is no separate license for two-wheelers and four-wheelers. Representations from Tamil Nadu and Karnataka — two states which see very high fatalities on their roads — pointed out that drivers not eligible for driving four-wheelers were easily driving them absolutely unchecked by law because the electronic licenses do not specify the type of vehicles the driver is allowed to drive. The committee is recommending that separate colour-coded licenses be issued for two-wheelers and four-wheelers.

Another recommendation is to include more information on these licenses, like blood group and Rh factor. A source said that there was a representation from Delhi government which said that information like the driver’s willingness to donate his organs should also be included.

The government also plans to streamline the process of granting and renewing driving licences . Sometimes drivers are caught unawares by expiration of their driving licence. Now, a grace period of at least six months would be given for renwal. There would also be regulations for private drivers’ training schools. An expert in the committee said, “At present, there are a number of drivers’ training schools that have mushroomed without adequate infrastructure and badly maintained cars. There is a need to check these and set some minimum standards for operation.”

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