6th September – Putting accident victims at the centre of vehicles law

It is well known that India is one of the most accident-prone countries in the world, accounting for nearly 1,50,000 deaths — 10% of all motor vehicles-related fatalities worldwide.

The discourse concerning the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act 2019 revolves around how to minimise road accidents by incorporating deterrents into laws. The fact that the National Crime Records Bureau does not collate data pertaining to the socio-economic and demographic profile of victims of traffic accidents is a testament to the relative apathy shown by the state machinery.

New vehicles law

A positive change –

  • The amended Act gives the victims some respite as it provides for an enhanced insurance compensation of ₹5 lakh in case of death of a person in a traffic accident and ₹2.5 lakh where there is “grievous hurt”. The compensation to be awarded following hit-and-run accidents has also been raised to ₹2 lakh when a victim dies and ₹50,000 when he/she suffers a grievous injury.
  • The Act requires insurance companies and the government to notify schemes relating to cashless treatment during the ‘Golden Hour’ — the period of first 60 minutes from the occurrence of an accident when the risk of fatality can be minimised to the greatest extent.
  • Further, it mandates compulsory insurance of all road users, including pedestrians, who will be covered through a ‘Motor Vehicle Accident Fund’. Lastly, it also provides for interim relief to be provided to the claimants.

What else can be done?

  • First, closer attention needs to be paid to the formula used to calculate the quantum of compensation. The amended Act, however, does not account for such nuances.
  • Second, many of the problems with the Motor Vehicles Act highlighted by the apex court in the case of Jai Prakash v. M/S. National Insurance Co. & Ors (2009) either remain unaddressed or are inadequately addressed by the amended version. For instance, though vehicle users who don’t give passage to emergency ambulance vehicle are liable to be punished with fines, such punitive measures are likely to remain ineffective in the absence of an effective implementation mechanism.
  • Further, other factors that lead to poor response time, including lack of road infrastructure, also need to be taken into account.

Concerns

  • There is a problem of procedural delays on the part of tribunals in claims settlement. The provision for interim compensation is bound to bring some respite to the victims but another unaddressed concern makes this stipulation susceptible to criticism.
  • An absence of in-built safeguards in the compensation mechanism allows for the money to be frittered away by unscrupulous relatives, touts and agents, especially in cases where the victim or his nearest kin are poor and illiterate. It is to address this concern that the Supreme Court in Jai Prakash suggested payment in the form of monthly disbursements of smaller amounts over a longer period of time to victims or their kin, as against a lump-sum award. This has been overlooked by the new Act.

Conclusion –

Understandably, many of the points raised above cannot be specified statutorily. Hence, the government needs to notify an institutional framework which encourages advocacy for victims and facilitates access to the various services.

SourceThe Hindu

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