In today's Finshots, we talk about traffic violations and the impact of the recently amended Motor Vehicles Act.

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The Story

When you set out on your scooter and head to the nearest Kirana store, you are faced with a momentous decision — To wear the helmet or not. And your answer here depends on how you calculate the expected payout if and when you get caught.

Think of expected payout as the price you’d be forced to pay in case you were fined. This is obtained by multiplying the probability of punishment i.e. the likelihood of attracting a fine, and the cost of punishment, which in the old days was a fine amounting to a measly ₹100 (for a helmet violation).

At this point, you’re probably thinking — Who on earth does this calculation anyway?

And you’re right. Most people don’t. At least, they don’t pull out a notepad to do the math. However, they are still making an intuitive assessment of sorts. Maybe even at a deep subconscious level. And if you’re simply riding through the corner street facing your apartment block, you probably won’t wear that helmet. After all, the expected penalty, in this case, drops to ~0. Who’s going to catch you there? Right?

However, in the off chance that you are forced to take a right turn outside the 4-way intersection, your expected payout changes. What if there’s a traffic cop lurking in the area? What if he spots you? There is a dilemma.

But even if you pegged that there was a 90% chance of finding a cop and being fined, then you’re still thinking you only have to pay ₹90 (0.9 x 100) And if you could bargain with the cop, maybe you could get away with ₹50 even. Who knows? Is that really something that would scare the crap out of you? Probably not.

So you go out without the helmet anyway.

Bottom lineThe two fundamental things driving your decision here is enforcement, which is primarily dependent on the number of traffic cops patrolling the streets and the total quantum of the fine.

And since the government couldn’t increase the number of traffic cops patrolling the streets overnight, the only way they could force you to put on that helmet was by making traffic violations very very expensive. So in September 2019, the central government decided to amend the Motor Vehicles Act and hike penalties in a bid to increase compliance and  reduce traffic violations. In fact, we made this same exact case a year ago when the new rules were notified. Unfortunately, the results of the new amendments have been a little… mixed.

Part of the reason could be attributed to implementation problems.

As an article in LiveMint notes —

Gaps in implementation varied by state. Some of the most accident-prone cities and states reported a more sustained decline September onwards, but others did not. Due to public anger and political concerns, some states — even those ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party — decided to delay or reduce the fines. For instance, Gujarat’s penalties are lower than the centrally mandated ones, and Odisha implemented them only in March 2020.

In fact, 37% of India’s cities saw road accidents rise in the last four months of 2019 after the rules were notified. But there is an even more pressing problem here.

At the time, the hope was that enforcement wouldn’t be a problem even if people resorted to bribing traffic officials. After all, traffic cops change their expectations when they know you’ll be forced to shell out thousands of rupees if you were officially fined with a “challan”. So even if you were to offer a bribe, the expectation was that they would seek a higher sum putting an added financial burden on you. So there was good reason to believe you’d be compliant with traffic rules in most cases. However, a good portion of the accidents happens on state and national highways and traffic cops don’t usually patrol these areas to see if anyone’s speeding.

Now although the new regulations mandate states to enforce electronic compliance by way of cameras, speed guns or other technologies, they haven’t really taken off in a massive way and people continue to flout rules. It’s such a shame really because ~17 people die in road accidents every hour. And while you could attribute some of these deaths to the poor state of road infrastructure in this country, some of it seems to be our own doing.

So terrible!!!

Until next time…

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Also don't forget to check our daily brief. In today's issue we talk about whether China has issued a ban on imports of Australian coal, how Google is impeding traffic for travel websites some insights from a recent survey on media habits. Do read the full draft here.