Quick answer first: No government will take a drastic step like license suspensions for all
They are not even considering it. There are very good reasons why the government will not do it.
It is well-known that India has a huge number of bad drivers. We can even say that most drivers are bad drivers, lacking in knowledge of traffic rules, driving skills, road manners and so on. In that situation, many have wondered – what if the government suspends all licenses, and then demand that everyone gets a new license after going through extensive training and then appearing for a stringent re-test? Could that solve the problem of road safety in India?
On the face of it, that looks like a good solution. But when you dig deeper, you will find that it is not practical at all.
First, the positives of demanding suspension and re-testing
There will be some clear advantages to such a step. Let’s list them out.
Improved Road Safety
One of the primary benefits would be improved road safety. With stricter testing and reevaluation of all drivers, there is a likelihood of better adherence to traffic rules and regulations.
Reducing the number of bad drivers could lead to a decrease in the number of accidents, injuries, and fatalities on Indian roads.
Reduction in Traffic Congestion
Better drivers are likely to lead to improved traffic flow, as they would have a better understanding of traffic rules and etiquette. Reduced accidents and traffic jams can save time and fuel for commuters and businesses.
Decreased Insurance Costs
As the risk of accidents and claims decreases, insurance premiums could also decrease, benefiting vehicle owners.
Long term Positive Economic Impact
The increased adherence to traffic rules and decreased accidents could lead to cost savings for businesses in terms of vehicle maintenance and healthcare expenses for employees involved in accidents.
However, in the long term, having better-trained drivers could lead to increased efficiency and safety in the transportation sector.
Okay, so the benefits of such a policy of suspending all driving licenses and then mandating a stringent re-test are clear. But the problems are in the short term and medium term. The scale at which this has to be implemented – we are talking of re-testing crores of drivers – is a logistical nightmare. It may take years to complete it as the RTO departments would not have the manpower or systems to handle so many drivers in a short period. And that is only the beginning.
Negatives of driving license suspension across the country
The immediate impact of suspending all licenses and initiating a massive retesting campaign would be a significant disruption to economic activities. Businesses, particularly those reliant on transportation and logistics, could face substantial setbacks.
Daily wage laborers, delivery personnel, and countless others who rely on driving for their livelihoods could suffer financial hardships. The informal sector, which constitutes a substantial portion of India’s economy, might be particularly vulnerable. A lot of people will instantly become poor. A lot of people will lose their jobs. Imagine all the Zomato and Swiggy delivery people, and truck and bus drivers not being able to drive. This is the biggest reason why no government will consider this measure.
Strain on Transportation Sector
Long-distance container truck drivers, taxi operators, and logistics companies may find no qualified drivers at all. This would lead to delays in all shipping, and shipping companies will have to invest in retraining existing drivers or hire new ones – both will cost a lot.
Impact on Vehicle Sales
India’s automobile industry, a crucial contributor to the nation’s GDP, will witness a slump in vehicle sales. After all, why will people buy vehicles if they are not sure of passing a re-test? No one will buy vehicles for a while, till they are sure they are going to pass the test. Car manufacturers will object, and the government will listen. And this will lead to massive job losses in the auto industry, from factories to dealerships.
Social and Livelihood Implications
The proposal’s social implications are significant. Millions of individuals who rely on driving for their income could find their livelihoods in jeopardy. Social unrest and protests could ensue, potentially affecting the fabric of society. Those who temporarily lose their licenses may face economic hardship, increasing the risk of indebtedness and mental health issues. Big steps such as these have very dangerous consequences for the poor.
Lessons from the Past
Demonetization in 2016, aimed at curbing black money, provides a valuable lesson. It disrupted economic activities, particularly in the informal sector, and had mixed results in achieving its objectives. The impact of such sweeping policies should not be underestimated.
Is there a middle path? Re-test, but no suspension, perhaps?
Finding a middle path that balances the need for improved road safety with minimum disruption is crucial. Some slow, cautious, careful solutions are what will be needed. You can find that the government is already moving on these lines – though very slowly.
Here are some alternative approaches that a government can consider
Gradual Implementation of Stricter Testing
Instead of suspending all licenses at once, the government can gradually implement stricter testing requirements during the license renewal process. New applicants could be subject to stricter tests from the outset, while existing drivers could be phased into the new requirements over time. This means no massive changes required at the RTO level all of a sudden.
Targeted Retesting for High-Risk Groups
Identify high-risk groups, such as commercial drivers or those with a history of traffic violations, for mandatory retesting. This approach focuses resources on improving the skills and behavior of drivers who pose the greatest risks.
Improved Training and Education Programs
Invest in enhanced driver training and education programs to ensure that new drivers are better prepared for the road. This can include both theoretical and practical training components. Yes, your driving tests are going to get tighter and tougher slowly. Though this may take several years to actually happen across the nation.
Incentives for Safe Driving
Introduce a system of rewards or incentives for drivers who maintain a clean driving record, such as reduced insurance premiums or other benefits. This encourages safe driving behavior.
Leverage Technology for Monitoring
Implement technology-based solutions like AI cameras, telematics and dashcams to monitor and assess driving behavior. This can be used for targeted interventions and feedback to drivers.
Stricter Enforcement of Traffic Rules
Strengthen law enforcement to ensure that existing traffic rules are rigorously enforced. This can act as a deterrent and encourage compliance without the need for mass retesting.
Promote Public Awareness and Education
Launch public awareness campaigns to educate drivers about road safety and responsible driving behavior. An informed and aware citizenry can contribute to safer roads.
Regular Vehicle Inspections
Introduce regular vehicle inspections to ensure that vehicles are in safe and roadworthy conditions. This complements driver testing efforts by addressing vehicle-related safety issues.
Collaboration with Industry Stakeholders
Collaborate with the transportation industry, including commercial vehicle operators, to develop and implement industry-specific safety standards and training programs.
Data-Driven Decision Making
Use data analytics to identify areas with high accident rates and focus resources on improving road infrastructure and safety measures in these regions.
So no need to panic. No one is going to lose their licenses, and we are not going to take such a step – even in the interest of road safety – and drive people into poverty. We already know of automated driving tests in Delhi and some other places. The knowledge component of driving tests is still not important enough, but give it a few years, and even that will begin to get tighter.