Pakistan’s current vehicle registration mechanism leaves much to be desired. Provincial governments have roughly similar methods for vehicular registration, and all of them are fallible. Car thefts and subsequent smuggling to tribal agencies and beyond, the use of stolen vehicles for terrorist attacks, and having to physically stop cars to check if taxes have been paid are all problems that rise directly out of the failure of the registration system.

The Punjab government is one step ahead of its provincial counterparts in this issue, as its move to amend the Punjab Motor Vehicle Law was introduced in the provincial assembly on Wednesday. According to the new bill, the current system of vehicle registration books – the most obsolete form of registration in the world – is to be scrapped, and an Automotive Registration Card (ARC) will be put in its place. Apart from the owner’s details, an important new feature on these cards is that any infractions made by the owner will be recorded in the government’s data bank and will be accessible to other law enforcement officials for investigation and background research, as will  the tax returns paid on all vehicles.

The most significant difference however, is that the registration number will now be linked to the owner and not the vehicle, which is international practice. Whenever a vehicle changes hands, the licence number will change as well. This move will help identify owners for the government, where in the past, the vehicle was what mattered, and the owner was nothing but an NIC number. Smugglers and criminals will have a harder time committing crime on stolen vehicles if the owner has already reported it to be stolen.

Effective legislation can go a long way in deterring crime before it takes place, and can enable law enforcement agencies to possess the tools to investigate and bring culprits to justice once a crime has been committed. We will have to wait and see before we really know whether this law will be effective in making vehicle registration a simpler, and more efficient process. But, simultaneously, the government should not treat this as some sort of milestone achieved, for merely issuing ARCs to the public is only one step in the long journey to curtail vehicular crime and terrorist acts committed through stolen vehicles. On that last issue, it will be impossible to utterly clamp down on terrorists using stolen vehicles, because let’s face it, stolen vehicles are always available for those that demand them. But any move to move vehicular registration to mainstream practices is more than welcome.