The good, the bad and the ugly in the Motor Vehicles Bill (2019)

    Image by xenostral from Pixabay 

The evolution of the new Motor Vehicles Bill (2019),         
its key provisions and possible problems

Written by Pravin J P Arapurakal on August 4, 2019

The Indian legislature has been very busy passing legislation which in some cases failed to pass muster in the previous legislature. In other cases, Bills like the Motor Vehicles Amendment Act (2019) have been passed in the Lok Sabha, then rethought and improved by the Rajya Sabha on July 31. Three new amendments to the bill which previously passed the Lok Sabha aim to strengthen rural and public transport and last mile connectivity through automation, computerization and online services.

Sadly there are still some troubling provisions that give authorities many discretionary powers that could be misused. In some cases the law punishes people for offenses that result from poverty such as overloading the number of people travelling in a vehicle.

Current Bill improves over 2014 Draft Road Transport Bill but has flaws:      

When Nitin Gadkari, India’s Minister for Surface Transport and Shipping circulated his initial Draft Road Transport and Safety Bill in 2014*1, he caused an absolute furor among State Governments, NGOs and the public at large. The Draft Bill 2014 attempted to create a new Federal Highway Authority that would impose its will on the States which had hitherto been free to license drivers, collect road taxes and draft their own rules and regulations. It was a power grab of immense proportions that looked as if it had been drafted by foreign lobbyists and insurance agents. 

It even went so far as to propose ludicrous requirements such as bicycle helmets for unsuspecting village bicyclists. There remain unrealistic provisions in the current bill (such as penalizing contractors for accidents caused by road conditions).

The Transport Ministry, this time around took the trouble to consult the states and has come up with a series of modifications of the original 1988 Road Transport Act without attempting to reinvent the wheel. The Ministry has also made provision for a National Road Safety Board that will be required to advise central and state governments on all aspects of road safety and traffic management including registration and licensing of vehicles, standards of motor vehicles,  standards for road safety and  promotion of new vehicle technology. While all this sounds good on paper some provisions in the Road Safety Act (2019)*2 below may be impractical.

1.      The Motor Vehicles Amendment Bill of 2019 makes an Aadhar card compulsory for all drivers

      Since the Supreme Court has already taken a dim view of imposing Aadhar on citizens (who are not applying for a subsidy or filing taxes), this provision could be struck down by the courts.

2.      The government has raised its payments to the victims of Hit and Run drivers           from Rs 25,000 to Rs 2, 00,000 or more. Payments to the grievously injured have risen from Rs 12, 500 to Rs 50,000.  (A recent study on road traffic fatalities in Kerala determined that 40 percent of some 11 fatalities/day were pedestrians.) Owners of vehicle in an accident are liable for Rs 5 lakhs in accident fatalities and Rs 2 lakhs for serious injuries.

Annual fatalities: 

According to official data cited by an article in India Today, around 1.5 lakh people die in Indian road accidents annually. India is regrettably the world leader in traffic fatalities. A World Bank report in 2018 says traffic crashes in developing nations impede GNP growth.

The Act also protects “good Samaritans” who bring injured people to hospitals. They are not required to reveal their identities. Several states like Kerala already have laws on their books that are designed to help passers-by to be more forthcoming with assistance in the case of a traffic accident.

3.      A Motor Vehicle Accident Fund to provide compulsory insurance cover for Indian road users for certain types of accidents has been included in the bill.

4.      Contractors are liable for accidents from bad roads (up to one lakh/event).

5.      There is an effort to regulate taxi aggregators like OLA and Uber.

6.      Higher penalties for traffic offenses as follows: However, in some cases offenders may be eligible to perform community service instead of just paying the fine.
            Offense                    Old       New fine

Another key issue is the protection of children on two wheeler vehicles. Those who carry children on the front of scooters or seated on luggage racks are likely to be cited for carrying passengers over capacity. Also children four years and older will be requited to wear a helmet of face a Rs 1,000 fine.

There are provisions under which manufacturers can be fined up to Rs 500 crores for substandard components or engine. It will be mandatory to offer modified vehicles to handicapped individuals.

There is no longer a cap of Rs 10 lakhs on third party insurance awards.
It now becomes possible to renew a driving license one year before or after its expiry.

In conclusion a careful reading of the Act suggests that the framers did not really take into consideration, India’s driving culture, its infrastructural limitations and the slowness of its court system. One sometimes gets the impression that parts of the Act were borrowed from other countries without forethought. 

How successful the government is in implementing the Act remains to be seen.


*1: The full text of the draft bill as drafted is available here:

*2: The full text of the bill as it was passed in the Lok Sabha is here:

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