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Report No. 234

Legal Reforms to Combat Road Accidents

1. Perspective

1.1 India has one of the largest road networks in the world, of 3.314 million kilometers, consisting of National Highways, Expressways, State Highways, Major District Roads, Other District Roads and Village Roads. About 65 per cent of freight and 86.7 per cent passenger traffic is carried by the roads.1

Motor vehicle population has recorded significant growth over the years. India had 72.718 million registered motor vehicles at the end of the fiscal year 2003-04. Compound annual growth rate of the vehicle population between 1951 and 2004 was close to 11 per cent. Two-wheelers and cars (personalized mode of transport) constitute more than four-fifth of the motor vehicles in the country.2 Roads are used not only by the motorized transport, but also by the non-motorized transport as well as pedestrians.

1. Department of Road Transport and Highway's Annual Report 2007-08.

2. National Road Transport Policy recommended by Thangaraj Committee.

1.2 According to Maruti Suzuki weblog, more than 100,000 Indians are dying every year in road accidents. More than a million are injured or maimed. Many years ago, a study found that road accidents cost the country some Rs. 550 billion every year.1

1., visited 07.04.2008.

1.3 According to 'Down To Earth' (Science and Environment Online), ill-planned motorization kills one person every six minutes on India's roads. Road accidents in 1999-2000 cost India about 3 per cent of its GDP. During 1970-2005, registered motor vehicles increased 50 times, but road networks grew less than three times. Accidents increased fourfold; injuries and fatalities also shot up more than six times. Severity of accident.- persons killed per 100 accident.- increased due to lack of footpaths, cycle tracks and traffic measures to check speed where motorized merges with non-motorized.

In 2005, there were 439,255 road accident.- 1,205 accidents dail.- which killed about 95,000 people; injuring more than 465,282. National and State Highways account for 5.8 per cent of the total road length, but account for 50 per cent of the total accidents. Other roads, with 94.2 per cent of the total road length, witnessed 46.8 per cent of the total accidents. Bulk transport vehicles (buses, trucks) make up 7.5 per cent of all registered vehicles, but caused 30 per cent of the accidents; about 38 per cent of deaths.1

1., visited 23.05.2008.

1.4 The Pioneer has reported that the number of fatalities on Indian roads in 2006-07 increased to 1,05,749. India's share in world fatalities is increasing. So far, China topped the list of most number of fatal road accidents and India finished a close second. However, the latest statistics show that while China has managed to decrease its fatalities, India has not learnt much. The total road length of India is about 12 per cent of the total world road network, but India's percentage in road injury is 5.4 per cent of the world total.1

1. The Pioneer, New Delhi, 24.03.2008.

1.5 According to the Indian Express, road accidents increased in the country by 4.9 per cent from 2005 to 2006 and 20 per cent of the road accidents were fata.- there was one fatality per 4.4 road accidents.1

1. The Indian Express, New Delhi, 24.04.2008.

1.6 A recent survey by the Central Road Research Institute reveals that more than 90% pedestrians feel unsafe while crossing roads, while they comprise more than 50% of road victims.1

1. The Times of India, New Delhi, 27.06.2008.

1.7 Is it due to lack of apt provisions in our law that travel through Indian roads is a tryst with Death? This crucial question has been engaging the attention of the Law Commission of India for quite some time.

1.8 All the more so because despite the directions of the Supreme Court given to the Police and all other authorities entrusted with the administration and enforcement of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 and generally with the control of the traffic1 and the Delhi High Court's Order dated 10.07.07 in WP (Crl) 878/2007 (to be numbered by the Registry) in regard to traffic safety, reckless driving by the blue line buses on Delhi roads has not diminished.

1. M.C. Mehta v. Union of India AIR 1998 SC 190.

1.9 The Navbharat Times has reported that in the Annual Press Conference of Delhi Police, it was revealed that 8,270 road accidents were recorded in 2007, in which 2,050 persons died. There were 376 road accidents involving blue line buses in which 118 persons died. The notable feature was that 38 per cent were hit and run cases wherein the vehicles involved could not be traced. Another notable feature was that 53 per cent of the persons who died in road accidents were pedestrians and 28 per cent were two-wheeler drivers. 3.98 million challans were issued for various traffic violations, for which Rs. 980 million were recovered.

1. Navbharat Times, New Delhi, 03.01.2008.

1.10 Driving recklessly/dangerously, non-observance of traffic rules, like crossing speed limit, jumping red light, driving without driving licence, driving by untrained/disqualified driver, driving by minor, driving under the influence of liquor, driving while talking on mobile, 11driving without helmet, ill-health of vehicle and bad road infrastructure are amongst the causes of road accidents. We may also note the following description of the chaotic conditions prevailing on Indian roads, in the words of Hon'ble Mr. Justice V. R. Krishna Iyer:

"More people die of road accidents than by most diseases, so much so the Indian highways are among the top killers of the country.

"Parking of heavy vehicles on the wrong side, hurrying past traffic signals on the sly, neglecting to keep to the left of the road, driving vehicles criss-cross, riding scooters without helmets and with whole families on pillions, thoughtless cycling and pedestrian gay walking with lawless ease, suffocating jam-packing of stage carriages and hell-driving of mini-buses, overloading of trucks with perilous projections and, above all, policemen, if any, proving by helpless presence that law is dead in this milieu charged with mele.- such is the daily, hourly scene of summons by Death to innocent persons who take to the roads, believing in the bona fides of the traffic laws."1

1. Rattan Singh v. State of Punjab (1979) 4 SCC 719.

1.11 In view of the above, the Law Commission prepared a Consultation Paper on this important subject taken up suo motu, with a view to elicit views/suggestions/comments from all those concerned. The recommendations in this Report have been made after taking into consideration the responses received.

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