Truck overloading: what is being done?

Overloaded trucks are a very common and unfortunately dangerous sight on Indian roads. Not surprisingly, overloaded trucks have impacted on the statistics of fatal accidents on Indian roads in recent years. Nearly 70% of all traffic on national highways comprises of cargo vehicles while 22% of cargo vehicles are involved in road accidents. Although the issue of truck overloading is being widely debated and discussed in newspapers, websites and other media, overloaded trucks continue to ply on Indian roads to the detriment of lives and the environment.    

Recently the Government of India issued a directive to all states to take strict action to curb the problem of overloaded trucks plying on highways. Stating the example of the state of Bihar, all states were asked to make better use of the provisions mentioned in the Motor Vehicles Act and implement stricter rules. In Bihar, overloaded trucks are impounded by the authorities and the drivers booked under criminal offence for damaging public property, in this case, roads. The Government further observed that the punitive action taken by the states does not entail offloading the excess load as mandated by the law.

While the damage and risks of overloading trucks has been acknowledged by all, the practice persists in almost all parts of India. While the states of Gujarat and Bihar have been applauded for taking strong measures to curb overloading, some states such as Rajasthan have gone to the extent of twisting the Motor Vehicles Act to allow such practice. Karnataka, on the other hand, wrote to the Centre bringing its attention to the damage and accidents caused by overloaded iron ore trucks plying on the national highways running through the state. What therefore lacks is the implementation of a uniform policy to stop overloading trucks.     

Trucks in India with an open carrier back are cheaper than container cargo trucks more commonly used in western countries. Container trucks are safer, prevent damage to goods and do not leave much room for overloading. On the downside, they are more expensive than the more popular open carrier trucks. There is a clear need to encourage the use of container trucks to transport cargo. Subsidies to obtain container vehicles for the transportation of goods should be provided to companies to encourage their uptake and curb overloading as a result.

Higher fines and offloading of excess cargo can prove effective in reducing overloading trucks. Apart from the drivers, transport companies should also be penalised if found guilty of overloading. However, rampant corruption at all levels impairs the implementation of stricter laws. It is a known fact that thousands of crores are paid towards bribes annually to let overloaded trucks and vehicles pass through.

The laws, no matter how strict, can reduce the problem to a certain extent. It, therefore, becomes the responsibility of the people to understand the perils and problems caused by overloading trucks. Workshops need to be held to educate transport agencies and truck drivers to discourage them from indulging into the practice of overloading. People, including law enforcement personnel, trucking companies and truck drivers have to understand the far reaching effects of overloading trucks and effectively stop the malpractice.