Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Disabled and Driving - Can both exist together or at the cost of each other?

Dear Friends,

I have been perturbed at the increasing evidences coming to light where people with disabilities are discriminated and not treated fairly on equal basis with others when it comes to licenses to using roads, pedestrian infrastructure, drive and registration of adapted vehicles. The moment the subject is touched, it is looked at as if the disabled is a security threat to others and can't just drive! The RTOs often behave in most irrational ways.

I wonder at times, whether disabled and driving a vehicle has any co-relation! Can both co-exist peacefully or at the cost of each other? From a disabled person's point of view and also from a human rights angle, they can co-exist as the ability to safely drive can not be judged at the fancies of few others who merely presume and are not aware of the abilities hidden!

In my opinion, it is not only the attitude of society that disables and reduces an equal participation of a person with disability but also our laws have loopholes and limitations which perpetrate this discrimination. For example central Motor Vehicles Act 1988 which seems to be a newer law compared to many other laws in India, but has made life difficult for those persons with disabilities who can & want to drive their vehicles/adapted vehicles. This law also makes no provisions to support disability access related requirements at street crossings and intersections so that every person with disability, children, elderly, sick people, women, those carrying luggage could use the roads with safety and ease.

(a) Provisions of Access at pedestrian pavements, crossings and Traffic Signals

The Motor Vehicles Act seeks to consolidate and amend the law relating to motor vehicles in India. Section 116 of the Motor Vehicles Act provides for power to the State government to erect traffic signs in any public place for regulating speed limits, prohibitions or restrictions and for the purpose of regulating motor vehicle traffic. However, it makes no provisions for auditory signals or tactile marking at Zebra Crossings.

In order to enable blind or deaf persons to be warned about oncoming vehicles at zebra-crossings while crossing road, it is necessary that while fixing traffic signs at public places as also at zebra crossings, the Government/Public authorities also provide auditory signals and markings at zebra crossings for the benefit of persons with disabilities. Secondly, the pedestrian pavements along side the road are often absent and sometimes if present are not leveled for easy access to wheel chair users.

These lacunae in the Motor Vehicles Act can be easily plugged by adding following Proviso to Sub-section (1) (a) of section 116 of this Act.


“Provided that the State government or any local authority authorized in this behalf shall erect traffic signs, install auditory signals at red lights in the public roads, curb cuts and slopes in pavements so as to provide inclusive, un-interrupted continuous pedestrian and road infrastructure , for effective participation of persons with disabilities on an equal basis with others.”

(b) Can the Deaf legally drive in India? : Provisions Related to driving licenses to persons with hearing impairment.

The Indian Motor Vehicle Act didn’t permit the persons with hearing impairment to be issued with driving license hence despite being capable to drive personal vehicles; they remained legally ineligible to drive in India for a long time until the Delhi High Court in its judgement in Feb 2011 turned it in favor of deaf people. [blog updated on 27 June 2017]. World over, in many countries the hearing impaired people are permitted to drive and hold licenses, however this discrimination had somehow continued for  a long time in India in absence of any concerted effort from the deaf users or from the state. This is just a beginning and much needs to be done to take this awareness to the RTOs in whole of India so that there are no problems on the ground in implementing it.

(c) Driving licenses to persons with orthopedic disabilities.

The guidelines related to issuance of driving license to persons with orthopedic disabilities are also discriminatory and needs amendments to make them rights based. In my opinion the word “Invalid Carriage” is derogatory and improper and should be changed to “Motor Cycle with/without Gear (Adapted/Altered Vehicle driven by a person with disability)”. The driving license given to Persons with Orthopedic disabilities should be universal like it is for every one else rather than limited & specific to a vehicle number.

(d) Registration of adapted motor vehicles driven by persons with orthopedic disabilities.

An adapted /altered Scooters or an adapted Car with suitable modification like hand brakes and gears provides an easy mobility to a user with orthopedic disabilities.

People with orthopedic disabilities (especially those with Post Polio Residual Paralysis and those with spinal injuries) often prefer a scooter with side-wheels which is an economic mode of transport. Since almost no major company produces such scooters (called an invalid carriage!!!) in India, people with disabilities have to get the fabrication done through local mechanics and fabricators etc. However registering such vehicles and driving license to drive such (invalid carriage) is an uphill task as the rules and law do not specifically provide for this and leaves room for subjectivity and corrupt practices and it leads to exploitation of a user with disabilities at the hands of middlemen and RTOs.

Such an adapted vehicle is registered as ‘Invalid Carriage’ at the whims and fancies of the RTO. To harass the disabled applicants, the RTO often ask the user to produce a sale letter (form 21) of the Invalid Carriage. Now, since no automobile manufacturer in India supply company-fitted scooter with side wheels or produces an invalid carriage, such a sale letter can not be produced. Here starts the harassment to the user and malpractices in absence of laws due to subjectivity available with the RTOs.

Even when the carriage is registered, the user is given a driving license denoting the vehicle number on the license meaning that the user can not drive any other similar vehicle in case the vehicle goes out of order. This necessitates seeking a new driving license each time with a new vehicle (even if the vehicle is similar),

As per the Rule 126 made under Section 52 of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 (as amended in 2002) the prototypes of all vehicles including the one for the disabled should be approved by the Pune-based Automobile Research Association of India, otherwise no modifications on any vehicle can be permitted and one has to use a vehicle in the same shape and design as supplied by the manufacturing company. This puts an undue restriction on the persons with disabilities and takes away from them their right to free mobility.

Similar is the case for adapted Cars. Previously, Maruti Udyog Ltd. used to manufacture special type vehicles for handicapped persons with suitable modifications/ attachments. As the requirement of different persons with different disability varies, the modifications/attachments also have to be different. Since the prototype of each model has to undergo the test, under Rule 126 of CMV Rules, the manufacturer has stopped production of such vehicles. Hence it is desirable to allow modifications/alterations of vehicles enabling the handicapped to drive their own vehicles.

Mr. Jagdish Motwani’s Case


I have two specific instances of past. One Mr. Jagdish Motwani from Mumbai faced similar situations and wrote to the Pune-based Automobile Research Association of India, and received the following clarification in Nov 2006:

1. Currently there is no specified / notified procedure for the testing and certification of such systems in our country as a retro-fitment on existing vehicles.
2. The vehicles fitted with such systems have to be verified and certified by the Regional Transport Authorities as an “Invalid carriage”.
3. The suitability of the modified vehicle for the person with a particular disability for purposes of safe driving has to be examined by a medical practitioner and certified so, with respect to the nature and type of disability.
4. The Regional authorities would verify the report of the medical practitioner and also ensure that the physically challenged person is able to drive the vehicle safely.


Ms. Sudha Girish Tendulkar’s Case

Recently another case of Ms. Sudha Girish Tendulkar has come to light. She had been using an Activa adapted scooter for past 15 years and wanted to move on to an adapted car. She even bought the car with her hard earned money and a raised loan and got it adapted/modified to her needs in terms of law with due permission from the RTO. However, the RTO has been refusing to register the vehicle and not issuing her a licence to drive. In fact the wise(?) RTO want to see the driving licence before registering the vehicle in her name and Ms. Sudha’s case is that unless the vehicle is registered and a learner’s licence is issued to her how can she learn driving the car?

Here the detailed news report on her plight:


Mumbai: For 38 years, Kandivli resident Sudha Girish Tendulkar did not let her polio come in the way of life. She’s not about to give up the fight now, either.

Tendulkar needs crutches to walk, but she learnt to ride a scooter when she was 23. The HR executive, who works for Goregaon-based Excel Cropcare Ltd, has been travelling to work on her Activa for 15 years, but now wants to learn to drive a four-wheeler. She applied for a vehicle loan, purchased an Alto and even got it modified to make it disabled-friendly with the sanction of the Regional Transport Office (RTO).

But while Tendulkar and the car have been road-ready for six months, the physically challenged woman is still waiting for the car to be registered. Despite repeated requests and several visits to the RTO, her papers are yet to be processed, she claims.

What’s more, Tendulkar alleges that the Andheri RTO officials have now asked her to appear for a driving test before they sign the papers.

“How can I appear for a driving test when I don’t even know how to drive the car? They need to register it first, and then grant me a learner’s licence. Only then can I learn driving, and thereafter appear for the test,” she said.

For 15 years, Tendulkar travelled 12km to her workplace on the Activa, which had a side-car to provide balance. “Since it can be controlled with hands, I could ride it with ease,” Tendulkar said. But she met with an accident and dislocated her right shoulder two years ago. After she recovered, her doctor advised her to use a four-wheeler as it would be safer.

Accordingly, Tendulkar applied for a vehicle loan and bought an Alto on August 10, 2009 for Rs2,85,000. “I also spent an additional Rs34,000 to modify it. The brakes, accelerator as well as the clutch can be controlled with hands, as opposed to a normal car,” she said. “All this was done with the RTO’s permission. The officials even checked the car after the modification and submitted a report on October 14, 2009. But I am yet to get the registration done.”

“Tendulkar has been working here for 17 years and has never given us any reason to complain,” said NK Amin, vice president, HR, Excel Cropcare Ltd.

Amin said “we are a disabled-friendly company”, which employs two other physically-challenged persons in the Mumbai office.

Transport commissioner Deepak Kapoor said that he was aware of the matter and would see to it that action was taken by Monday.

“Since she is physically challenged, she wanted certain special permissions for the license and registration, which can be granted only by the government of India. We wrote to the government two months ago, and as a special case, I directed the Andheri RTO officials to assist her immediately,” said Kapoor.

However, the government raised some technical queries such as the nature of disability, her ability to drive, how the car will be driven, how the car has been modified, etc. This happened soon after the Nagpur assembly session started, said Kapoor, admitting that there had been a delay in preparing the answers.

“Nevertheless, last Saturday, I assured the lady that her case would be dealt with on a priority basis, and by Monday, all required documents will be checked and sent to the government,” said Kapoor.

Conclusions

Such lacunae can be removed by supplementing Section 52 of MV Act as below:

Present provision: “no owner of a motor vehicle shall so alter the vehicle that the particulars contained in the certificate of registration are at variance with those originally specified by the manufacturer”.

Suggested Addition: “Provided that persons with disabilities shall be allowed to alter their vehicles so as to drive themselves at authorized workshops/centres and such vehicles shall be registered by the RTO after inspection and on the basis of fitness certificate issued by such authorized workshop/centre/ manufacturer.”

Few other points should be observed in order to end the discrimination against disabled on the above issues:

a) Register the vehicle made by companies as Motor Cycle with or Without Gear and not as an Invalid Carriage.
b) Empower the concerned RTOs/authorized workshops/centres to test and approve a modified scooter owned and used solely by a physically challenged person and amend the rule 126 of Central Motor Vehicle Rules 1989 accordingly.
c) Further exempt all the private vehicles driven by persons with disability from the Road Tax. Though this provision exists, but is not commonly known among the users with disabilities.
d) Registration and issuing driving licences should be within a time bound manner and any delay on the part of RTO to be viewed seriously and strictly dealt with. Lapses would amount to deficiency in service and hence user be entitled to compensation.
 
warm regards
 
Subhash Chandra Vashishth
Advocate-Disability Rights
subhashvashishth@gmail.com
+91-11-9811125521

3 comments:

jagdish said...

Dear,
Refering to your blog post, pl. note though my issue stands resolved long back, but still I am contesting the matter with NHRC. Now, the issue is that Central Ministry has come with non viable rules for sidecar / side-wheel 2 wheelers for disabled & same can not be complied pan India.
Thanks & regards

Abhi said...

Dear Sir,

First of all, Many thanks for providing all such helpful information. I am a physically challenged person (don’t have both limbs below knee since childhood). I am a software professional and working in Mumbai. I am living an independent life, and able to perform all of my work independently (including walking without using any support/sticks). I have a query regarding the vehicle modification. I am currently using my scooter with additional side wheels. My company provides facility to avail car lease under the company policy.
As per the company guidelines, the car will be registered on company name and the employee will be eligible for driving this car, and the amount of the car will be deducted from my salary in installments. And, when the actual amount of car will be deducted from salary, employee can transfer the car on his name. I am looking forward to avail this facility and get a company leased car for me.
But, as per the current guidelines of the RTO for the modification, “the car has to be registered on my name for the modification”. My company would be ready to give any kind of approval or authorization latter for this. But, they will not be able to allow the car to be registered on my name unless the whole amount of the car will be deducted from my salary. Please could you help me, if there are any provision to provide such authorization and get the approval for the car modification.

SC Vashishth said...

@Jagdish Motwani ..... Glad to know that the issues stands resolved. Could you please send the "non-viable rules for side car/side-wheel 2-wheelers for the disabled" that Central Ministry has issued. Would be glad to have your update on NHRC matter.

@Abhi.... please speak to the Company, the car could be in your name but hyotheticated to the company until you pay off the loan. This is similar to situations where you get it financed from the Bank and the RC has your name as the owner and the vehicle is hypoteticated in the name of the bank until you clear off the loan.