In average 16 people lose their lives every hour and 382 every day in road
accidents besides large number of people sustaining various kinds of injuries,
including loss of limbs etc. According to a report by WHO more than 2 lakhs
people die every year in road accidents in India. As per the statistics provided
by National Crime Records Bureau of India there were 2,72,100 road accidents in
the year 1996.
Within a decade, i.e in the year 2006 the number of road accidents shoot-up to
3,94,432 and 4,50,898 road accidents in the year 2014. Corresponding to the
number of accidents the casualty figure was 69,800 in the year 1996 which went
up to 1,05,725 in the year 2006 and 1,69,107 in the year 2014. Besides, loss of
human lives 4,52,900 persons sustained bodily injuries in the year 2006, which
increased to 4,81,739 in the year 2014.
The incidence of accidental deaths has shown an increasing trend during the
period 2004 -2014 with an increase of 62.9% in the year 2014 as compared to
2004. The population growth during the period 2004-2014 was 14.6% whereas the
increase in the rate of accidental deaths during the same period was 42.4%.
Despite various penal provisions in the Indian Penal Code, 1860 and adequate (?)
stipulations in the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 road accidents are still unabated.
The first question that hits my mind is as to whether the traffic offenders need
to be punished under the Penal Code or to be dealt with under MV Act. Apparently
use of Penal Code to punish the traffic law offenders has proved futile. In a
catena of judgments the Hon'ble Supreme Court of India has held that provisions
of special law will prevail over the general law.
Admittedly, Motor Vehicles Act is a new legislation qua Indian Penal Code. This
special law has taken care of all the eventualities and situations, whereas the
Penal Code lacks effective mechanism to control road accidents.
The police agency mostly invokes Sections 279, 304 A, 337, 338 and 427 of the
Indian Penal Code to book an offender of road accident. Except Sec. 279 the
remaining penal provisions under IPC are essentially not related to vehicular
offences. On the other hand MV Act is a super special and comprehensive law. It
provides stringent punishments like disqualifying an offender to drive any kind
of motor vehicle to suspension and cancellation of driving licence and also
making endorsements on the licence under Sections 19 to 24.
Besides this, Ss. 183 and 184 provides prison sentence for driving a vehicle at
excessive speed and dangerously on public place. In my opinion the punishments
provided under MV Act are more effective than prison sentence provided under IPC.
Punishments like disqualification and suspension of driving licenses have long
term effect than jail sentences. In this factual reality how far is the
justification to book the offenders of road traffic offences under IPC
provisions overlooking the penal provisions of MV Act?
The Hon'ble Supreme Court of India has time and again warned against colourable
exercise of powers or going against the legislative intent. In the case of Chief
Justice of A.P. -Vs- L.V.A. Dixitulu, reported in (1979) 2 SCC 34 the Apex Court
observed like this:
"The primary principle of interpretation (of law) is that a constitutional or
statutory provision should be construed according to the intent of they that
made it. Normally, such intent is gathered from the language of the provision.
If the language or the phraseology employed by the legislation is precise and
plain and thus by itself, proclaims the legislative intent in unequivocal terms,
the same must be given effect to, regardless of the consequences that may
Again in the case of Prithi Pal Singh -V- Union of India
(AIR 1982 SC
1413) the Hon'ble Supreme Court made these thought provoking observations:
"The dominant purpose in construing a statute is to ascertain the intention of
Parliament. One of the well recognized canons of construction is that the
legislature intention speaks its mind by use of correct expression and unless
there is ambiguity in the language of the provision the court should adopt
literal construction if it does not lead to absurdity."
Once Lord Denning also, while dealing with a question as to when the
judiciary should supplement the law, said that:
"���..a Judge should ask himself the question how, if the makers of the Act had
themselves come across this ruck in this texture of it, they would have
straightened it out? He must then do so as they would have done. A Judge must
not alter the material of which the Act is woven, but he can and should iron out
The sanctity of the legislations has been recognized globally through a long
list of judicial pronouncements, both in its contents and applications. Hence,
in normal vehicular it can be said that permitting the use of penal provisions
of any other law in the matter of motor vehicle accidents by the judiciary not
only amounts to overriding the self contained M.V. Act, but it also sounds to
indict the legislature for not comprehending all the situations and lacking
foresightedness to declare death of persons accidents as 'culpable homicides' or
death due to 'negligent act'.
In my opinion, invoking provisions of Indian Penal Code for the offence of
vehicular accidents is nothing but distortion of the basic character and
structure of the Motor Vehicles Act and by adopting this method we will not be
able to curb the rising rate of vehicular accidents.
As is evident, Motor Vehicles Act is a new legislation and later in point of
time in comparison to the Indian Penal Code. Hence, it can be safely inferred
that the legislatures were well posted and cognizant about various provisions of
the Indian Penal Code and having realized that IPC provisions did not adequately
take care of the road traffic offences, the special law was enacted.
It is true that at the time of enactment of MV Act it would have been proper to
delete Sec.279 in the same manner as Ss. 161 to 165 A of the Indian Penal Code
have been deleted after enactment of Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. Even
then, I am of the view that if the road traffic offences, which can be regulated
and adequately dealt with under the provisions of MV Act, resort to the
provisions of the general law i.e IPC should be avoided.
If we look at the M. V. Act from a different angle we find that the law already
suggests effective remedial measures to control the menace of vehicular
accidents and resultant loss of property and human lives. Ss. 20 to 24
prescribes power of disqualification, suspension and cancellation of driving
licenses and endorsement of such disqualification in the driving license. S.20
authorizes the court to disqualify a person from driving motor vehicles for a
reasonable period upon his conviction in a traffic offence. If the person is
convicted for driving a vehicle in drunken condition (Sec.185), such
disqualification should be for a minimum period of six months.
S.21 authorises freezing of the driving license if a person repeats an offence
of dangerous driving and this action can be taken immediately on the
registration of the second case. S.22 empowers the court to finally cancel the
driving license if a person is convicted for dangerous driving causing death of,
or grievous hurt, to one or more persons for that class or description of motor
vehicle. The cancellation is mandatory if the license holder is convicted for
the second offence of driving a motor vehicle in drunken condition.
From a conjoint reading of Ss. 20 to 24 of MV Act, which supplement other penal
provisions in the same law, it is crystal clear that the legislatures were well
aware that there may be loss of human lives in vehicular accidents and despite
that the offence was not treated as culpable homicide. I am also of the opinion
that if the supporting penal provisions enumerated under Ss.20 to 24, i.e.
powers of suspending and canceling the licenses and making the endorsements of
such disqualifications in the licenses are effectively and comprehensively used
it will certainly bring down the rate of vehicular accidents.
On the contrary, penal provisions of M. V. Act and equivalent provisions of
Indian Penal Code confer discretionary power upon the courts to let-off the
offenders by handing down maximum prison sentence of six months or after
imposing fine only. This mode of punishment has little impact to discipline the
errant drivers. Hence, effective and extensive use of Ss.20 to 24 of the Act
will change the entire scenario with regard to vehicular accidents.
On the contrary, the penal provisions of the Indian Penal Code do not have
subsidiary line of punishments by way of suspension or cancellation of driving
licences or disqualifying a traffic offender. Besides this, unlike penal
provisions in MV Act there is no provision for inflicting higher sentence for
subsequent and repeated traffic offences under IPC. From this angle also, it can
be said that the penal provisions of IPC are inadequate to encounter the menace
of road traffic accidents.
In the light of foregoing discussions made herein above, I am of the view that
the prosecution of road traffic offenders under various penal provisions of
Motor Vehicles Act is the Rule and the prosecution of such guilty persons under
various provisions of Indian Penal Code is violative of the settled principles
of law as well as contrary to the legislative intent.
The next issue that is directly related with the topic under reference is 'road
rage' offences. Apparently, neither this category of offence is covered under
IPC nor under M V Act. Road rage offence broadly includes physical assault upon
the drivers and occupants of another vehicle that is involved in minor or major
accidents. Incidents of killing and murdering drivers of one vehicle by the
occupants of other vehicle in the recent past have shocked the conscience of law
abiding people of the country. In such incidents normally the physically weak
persons are manhandled and assaulted on the spot by the aggressive party.
Even the vehicle of weak and docile driver is also damaged. The offence of road
rage is further extended to demand of ransom by the powerful group on the spot,
instead of realizing compensation from their insurance companies directly or
through tribunals and courts. Besides physically assaulting the driver on
certain occasions the vehicles are also burned down by the public on the road
and sometime in presence of police personnel. Except resorting to few penal
provisions of IPC against such offenders police and executive authorities appear
to have no long term solution to this growing menace.
It is understood that the Government of India is in the process of re-writing
the Motor Vehicles Act. Would it not be proper for the parliament to acknowledge
'road rage' as a traffic offence and prescribe stringent punishments for this
offence. I recommend punishments like suspension and cancellation of driving
licenses, as provided in Ss. 19 to 24 of the existing law, along with prison
sentence to those offenders who are already possessing driving licenses and
disqualify the remaining offenders from obtaining driving licenses for certain
years along with prison sentence involved in 'road rage' offences.
Written By: Justice (R) B D Agarwal
, VIP Road, Radhanagar, uwahati,
Email: [email protected]