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Road Rage Offences: A Legal Remedy

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 follow."

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 creases."

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, Assam
Email: [email protected]

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