In a country which holds the ignominious record of registering the largest number of deaths on account of road accidents globally, the government seems increasingly in favour of technological interventions passing the onus on to manufacturers and fleet operators instead of enforcing civic laws to check the menace of over-speeding and over-loading of trucks and buses.
This issue of enforcement as opposed to self-regulation lies at the heart of the debate between roads ministry officials and fleet operators and had precipitated into the transporters’ strike, which was called off on Monday night. Officially the apex truckers association All India Motor Transport Congress (AIMTC) has demanded removal of the planned electronic-toll collection mechanism claiming it is “not practical” and “a tool of harassment” and sought annualised payment of taxes , simplification of TDS procedure. A detailed probe into the issue by government and transport sector sources, however, has suggested that fleet operators seem to be more against checks through weigh-in-motion bridges being installed at toll plazas than the toll collection system itself.
“It is the scrutiny (against overloading) which they (transporters) are against,” said a transport sector source privy to the developments. But even as the government has made it adequately evident it will not concede to the demand for scrapping of the electronic-toll collection mechanism, it has simultaneously commenced discussions on whether load governors (like speed limiters) can be fitted on to vehicles and thereby it can delegate the responsibility to the manufacturers and fleet owners to check overloading.
A senior executive related to the transport sector, who did not wish to be identified, said, “While we recognise that there is a need to limit speed of commercial vehicles and prevent overloading of trucks, why are existing laws not being enforced. In other countries, a driver is handed a speeding ticket for violating speed limits, but in India a speed governor is being opted for and load governors are being talked about which can at any time be disabled or be tampered with in absence of adequate audit trail.” The road transport ministry mandated automobile manufacturers to equip new trucks and buses with speed governing devices to restrict their speed to less than 80 km per hour from October 1, 2015.
Globally, all heavy vehicles in developing economies in South America, Latin America and Africa have speed limiters in heavy vehicles. A transport sector source in know of developments at the meetings between senior roads ministry officials and truckers association said, “Transporters have said that they are willing to pay toll, even more toll if required. They demanded that toll plazas be scrapped to check illegal collection by states at these centres. While initially we bought into this argument, it is now emerging that the problem seems to be centred around the weigh-in-motion bridges being installed at toll centres to check overloading.” At present, most truckers carry 20-30 per cent extra load. When weigh-in-motion bridges detect overloading at toll plazas, concessionaires can charge 10 times the toll amount as penalty. A technological intervention through installation of load governors would perhaps make water-tight the mechanism to check over-loading trucks in India. A senior official in the ministry said, “We are evaluating if load governors can be installed in commercial vehicles. The cost aspect has to be assessed and also checks put in place so that the device in not tampered with.” But it is this aspect of manhandling of such technological devices (speed limiters and load governors) that has raised concerns from the private sector.
“Manufacturers can install load governors and speed limiters in vehicles once mandated by the government. But if the operator thereafter disables these devices or even tampers with it, who will be held responsible? Why are we admitting to lapses in our enforcement agencies, instead of making some effort to plug these gaps,” said the transport sector executive quoted above.
Abdul Majeed, partner and auto expert at PricewaterhouseCoopers argued, “Technological interventions are built-in to bring about behavioural changes in the driver, to make him more compliant. Of course, there needs to checks so that an alert is triggered off if the device is disabled. In developing economies where administration is an issue, these devices are a good way to govern errant behavior and make travel safer.”
Suraksha Foundation, an NGO which works on issues related to increasing cases of road accidents on account of non-compliance with requisite safety norms, however, is already raising questions over the manner in which the regulation regarding speed limiters is being implemented currently. There are lapses in the implementation process as no guidelines have been put in place to monitor the fitment process in older vehicles. General secretary of Suraksha Foundation, Rajesh Ravi, said, “Type approval of speed limiters for every variant of every model is not specified under the current norms. Given that different variants have different weight, speed and seating capacity it renders useless the fitment of speed governors which are not compatible to that variant of vehicle. Besides, there is no database currently to check if speed limiters are being removed after fitment, if the approved speed limiter is being removed and recycled in other vehicles or if genuine devices are being used by operators.”
Suraksha Foundation has proposed a two-fold solution to the problems and asked the Centre to come out with a notification directing states to take out tenders to fix the price of speed limiters with 3-4 approved vendors. Alternately, states can take out a technical bid to define vendors (who would be manufacturers, not traders, engaged in the business for a substantial period of time with specified production capacity) to ensure that both quality and price of the devices are in check.
There are 30-40 million commercial vehicles operating today which need to be retro-fitted with speed limiters. If load governors too are mandated for installation in new trucks and buses and retro-fitment in old commercial vehicles, proper regulations have to be put in place to make efficient the implementation process.
As per statistics available with the Ministry of Road, Transport & Highways (MoRTH) 2,22,883 road accidents were recorded in urban areas in 2013.
As much as 37 per cent of accidents are caused due to over speeding. Of the 5,00,000 deaths recorded due to road accidents globally, 1,50,000 are registered in India. Technological interventions may help address to an extent safety issues on Indian roads, but without proper implementation of laid-down norms and enforcement of existent laws pushing through any initiative to its desired end would always remain a challenge.