Penal provisions to combat road accidents can be found in following three enactments:
(i) Indian Penal Code, 1860
(ii) Motor Vehicles Act, 1988
(iii) National Highways Act, 1956
(i) Indian Penal Code, 1860
Sections 279, 304A, 336, 337, 338, IPC are deal with cases of road accidents . These provisions are as under:
Section 279. Rash driving or riding on a public way. “Whoever drives any vehicle, or rides, on any public way in a manner so rash or negligent as to endanger human life, or to be likely to cause hurt or injury to any other person, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine which may extend to one thousand rupees, or with both.”
Section 304A. Causing death by negligence. “Whoever causes the death of any person by doing any rash or negligent act not amounting to culpable homicide, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.”
Section 336. Act endangering life or personal safety of others. “Whoever does any act so rashly or negligently as to endanger human life or the personal safety of others, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three months, or with fine which may extend to two hundred and
fifty rupees, or with both.”
Section 337. Causing hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others. “Whoever causes hurt to any person by doing any act so rashly or negligently as to endanger human life, or the personal safety of others, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine which may extend to five hundred rupees, or with both.”
Section 338. Causing grievous hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others. “Whoever causes grievous hurt to any person by doing any act so rashly or negligently as to endanger human life, or the personal safety of others, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine which may extend to one thousand rupees, or with both.”
Rash or negligent act is an ingredient in all the above sections. A rash act is primarily an overhasty act, opposed to a deliberate act, but it also includes an act which, though it may be said to be deliberate, is yet done without due deliberation and caution. In rashness, the criminality lies in running the risk of doing an act with recklessness or indifference to consequences. Negligence means breach of duty caused by omission to do something which a reasonable man guided by those considerations which ordinarily regulate conduct of human affairs would do or doing something which a prudent or reasonable man would not do. Culpable negligence is acting without consciousness that illegal or mischievous effects will follow, but in circumstances which show that the actor has not exercised the caution incumbent on him, and that if he had, he would have had the consciousness. Generally, in the case of rashness, the guilty person does an act and breaks a positive duty; in the case of negligence, he does not do an act which he was bound to do, because he adverts not to it. ‘Rashness’ conveys the idea of recklessness or the doing of an act without due consideration; ‘negligence’ connotes want of proper care or
the standard of conduct which a reasonably prudent person would exercise in a similar situation.
To be guilty of an offence under section 279, IPC the accused must drive a vehicle in such a rash or negligent manner as to endanger human life or to be likely to cause hurt or injury to any other person. Driving at a high speed or non-sounding of horn by itself does not mean that the driver is rash or negligent. Place, time, traffic and crowd are important factors to determine rashness or negligence.
Section 304A, which was inserted in the IPC by Act 25 of 1870, postulates a rash and negligent act entailing death of another. The provisions of this section apply to cases where there is no intention to cause death, and no knowledge that the act done in all probability would cause death; it should not amount to culpable homicide. Section 304A is directed at offences outside the range of sections 299 and 300, IPC.
Section 279 covers only those cases which relate to driving on public way endangering human life, while offence under section 304A extends to any rash or negligent act falling short of culpable homicide.
Rash and negligent acts which endanger human life, or the personal safety of others, are punishable under section 336 even though no harm follows, and are additionally punishable under sections 337 and 338 if they cause hurt, or grievous hurt. Element of volition or intention is foreign to the set of offences under sections 336 to 338, IPC. Offences defined by these sections as well as section 279 are minor offences in comparison with the offence under section 304A where death is caused by a rash or negligent act.
Recently, the Supreme Court has observed that if a person willfully drives a motor vehicle into the midst of a crowd and thereby causes death to some person, it will not be a case of mere rash and negligent driving and the act would amount to culpable homicide.
Dealing with sentencing of a convict for offences under sections 279 and 304A, IPC, the Supreme Court in Dalbir Singh v. State of Haryana  held:
“When automobiles have become death traps any leniency shown to drivers who are found guilty of rash driving would be at the risk of further escalation of road accidents. All those who are manning the steering of automobiles, particularly professional drivers, must be kept under constant reminders of their duty to adopt utmost care and also of the consequences befalling them in cases of dereliction. One of the most effective ways of keeping such drivers under mental vigil is to maintain a deterrent element in the sentencing sphere. Any latitude shown to them in that sphere would tempt them to make driving frivolous and a frolic.
13. Bearing in mind the galloping trend in road accidents in
Section 4 of the Probation of Offenders Act. While considering the quantum of sentence to be imposed for the offence of causing death by rash or negligent driving of automobiles, one of the prime considerations should be deterrence. A professional driver pedals the accelerator of the automobile almost throughout his working hours. He must constantly inform himself that he cannot afford to have a single moment of laxity or inattentiveness when his leg is on the pedal of a vehicle in locomotion. He cannot and should not take a chance thinking that a rash driving need not necessarily cause any accident; or even if any accident occurs it need not necessarily result in the death of any human being; or even if such death ensues he might not be convicted of the offence; and lastly, that even if he is convicted he would be dealt with leniently by the court. He must always keep in his mind the fear psyche that if he is convicted of the offence for causing death of a human being due to his callous driving of the vehicle he cannot escape from a jail sentence. This is the role which the courts can play, particularly at the level of trial courts, for lessening the high rate of motor accidents due to callous driving of automobiles.”
In Rattan Singh v. State of
“5. Nevertheless, sentencing must have a policy of correction. This driver, if he has to become a good driver, must have a better training in traffic laws and moral responsibility, with special reference to the potential injury to human life and limb. Punishment in this area must, therefore, be accompanied by these components. The State, we hope, will attach a course for better driving together with a livelier sense of responsibility, when the
punishment is for driving offences.”
Recently, the Supreme Court upheld the sentence of imprisonment awarded to the driver of a bus convicted for offences under sections 279 and 304A, IPC, following the above dicta.
(ii) Motor Vehicles Act, 1988
The Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 (MVAct) is the principal instrument for regulating motor vehicles. Chapter II relates to licensing of drivers of motor vehicles, wherein section 19 confers power on the licensing authority to disqualify any person from holding a driving licence or revoke such licence, if he -
(a) is a habitual criminal or a habitual drunkard; or
(b) is a habitual addict to any narcotic drug or psychotropic substance; or
(c) is using or has used a motor vehicle in the commission of a cognizable offence; or
(d) has, by his previous conduct as driver of a motor vehicle shown that his driving is likely to be attended with danger to the public; or
(e) has obtained any driving licence or a licence to drive a particular class or description of motor vehicle by fraud or misrepresentation; or
(f) has committed any such act which is likely to cause nuisance or danger to the public, as may be prescribed by the Central Government, having regard to the objects of this Act; or
(g) has failed to submit to, or has not passed, the tests referred to in the proviso to sub-section (3) of Section 22; or
(h) being a person under the age of eighteen years who has been granted a learner’s licence or a driving licence with the consent in writing of the person having the care of the holder of the licence and has ceased to be in such care.
Section 20. Power of Court to disqualify. “(1) Where a person is convicted of an offence under this Act or of an offence in the commission of which a motor vehicle was used, the Court by which such person is convicted may, subject to the provisions of this Act, in addition to imposing any other punishment authorized by law, declare the person so convicted to be disqualified, for such period as the Court may specify, from holding any driving licence to drive all classes or description of vehicles, or any particular class or description of such vehicles, as are specified in such licence: Provided that in respect of an offence punishable under section 183 no such order shall be made for the first or second offence.
(2) Where a person is convicted of an offence under clause (c) of sub-section (1) of section 132, section 134 or section 185, the Court convicting any person of any such offence shall order the disqualification under sub-section (1), and if the offence is relatable to clause (c) of sub-section (1) of section 132 or section 134, such disqualification shall be for a period of not less than one month, and if the offence is relatable to section 185, such disqualification shall be for a period of not less than six months.
(3) A Court shall, unless for special reasons to be recorded in writing it thinks fit to order otherwise, order the disqualification of a person,-
(a) who having been convicted of an offence punishable under section 184 is again convicted of an offence punishable under that section;
(b) who is convicted of an offence punishable under section 189; or
(c) who is convicted of an offence punishable under section 192:
Provided that the period of disqualification shall not exceed, in the case referred to in clause (a), five years, or in the case referred to in clause (b), two years or, in the case referred to in clause (c), one year.
(4) A Court ordering the disqualification of a person convicted of an offence punishable under section 184 may direct that such person shall, whether he has previously passed the test of competence to drive as referred to in sub-section (3) of section 9 or not, remain disqualified until he has subsequent to the making of the order of disqualification passed that test to the satisfaction of the licensing authority.
Section 21. Suspension of driving licence in certain cases.
“(1) Where, in relation to a person who had been previously convicted of an offence punishable under section 184, a case is registered by a police officer on the allegation that such person has, by such dangerous driving as is referred to in the said section 184, of any class or description of motor vehicle caused the death of, or grievous hurt to, one or more persons, the driving licence held by such person shall in relation to such class or description of motor vehicle become suspended,-
(a) for a period of six months from the date on which the case is registered; or
(b) if such person is discharged or acquitted before the expiry of the period aforesaid, until such discharge or acquittal, as the case may be.
Section 22. Suspension or cancellation of driving licence on conviction.
“(1) Without prejudice to the provisions of sub-section (3) of section 20, where a person, referred to in sub-section (1) of section 21, is convicted of an offence of causing, by such dangerous driving as is referred to in section 184 of any class or description of motor vehicle, the death of, or grievous hurt to, one or more persons, the Court by which such person is convicted may cancel, or suspend, for such period as it may think fit, the driving licence held by such person in so far as it relates to that class or description of motor vehicle.
(2) Without prejudice to the provisions of sub-section (2) of section 20, if a person, having been previously convicted of an offence punishable under section 185, is again convicted of an offence punishable under that section, the Court, making such subsequent conviction, shall, by order, cancel the driving licence held by such person.
Section 23. Effect of disqualification order. “(1) A person in respect of whom any disqualification order is made under section 19 or section 20 shall be debarred to the extent and for the period specified in such order from holding or obtaining a driving licence and the driving licence, if any, held by such person at the date of the order shall cease to be effective to such extent and during such period.
Chapter VIII of the MVAct deals with the control of traffic. Section 112 pertains to limits of speed and prohibits driving of a motor vehicle or it being allowed to be driven in any public place at a speed exceeding the maximum permissible speed. Rule 118 of the Central Motor Vehicles Rules, 1989 provides for notified transport vehicles to be fitted with a speed governor in such a manner that the speed governor can be sealed with an official seal in such a way that it cannot be removed or tampered with without the seal being broken.
Section 113 provides for limits of weight and limitations on use. Section 118 confers power on the Central Government to make regulations for the driving of motor vehicles. Accordingly, the Rules of the Road Regulations, 1989 have been made. Section 119 provides for the duty to obey traffic signs. Section 129 provides for the wearing of helmets. Various other provisions are contained in Chapter VIII for regulation of traffic.
The Rules of the Road Regulations, 1989 contain detailed provisions regulating driving of motor vehicles, like keeping left, overtaking prohibited, caution at road junction, right of way to pedestrians, signals to be given by drivers, parking, visibility of lamps and registration marks, lane driving, respecting stop sign on road surface, distance from vehicles in front, no abrupt brake except for safety reasons, no projection of loads, non-carriage of dangerous substances on any public service vehicle, restriction on driving backwards, carrying of documents, viz., driving licence, certificate of registration, certificate of insurance of the vehicle and in case of transport vehicle the permit and
fitness certificate also.
Chapter XIII of the MVAct relates to offences, penalties and procedure. Section 177 contains the general provision for punishment of offences, which is available in the absence of any specific provision for punishment applicable in a given case; the punishment is a maximum fine of Rs. 100/- for the first offence and for the subsequent offence it is only Rs. 300/-. Section 183 provides the punishment for contravention of the speed limits referred to in section 112. Section 184 provides for punishment for dangerous driving and section 185 for driving by a drunken person or a person under the influence of drugs. These sections read as under:
Section 184. Driving dangerously. “Whoever drives a motor vehicle at a speed or in a manner which is dangerous to the public, having regard to all the circumstances of the case including the nature, condition and use of the place where the vehicle is driven and the amount of traffic which actually is at the time or which might reasonably be expected to be in the place, shall be punishable for the first offence with imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months or with fine which may extend to one thousand rupees, and for any second or subsequent offence, if committed within three years of the commission of a previous similar offence, with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine which may extend to two thousand rupees,
or with both.”
Section 185. Driving by a drunken person or by a person under
the influence of drugs. “Whoever, while driving, or attempting to drive, a motor vehicle,-
(a) has, in his blood, alcohol exceeding 30 mg. per 100 ml. of blood detected in a test by a breath analyzer, or
(b) is under this influence of drug to such an extent as to be incapable of exercising proper control over the vehicle, shall be punishable for the first offence with imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine which may extend to two thousand rupees, or with both; and for a second or subsequent offence, if committed within three years of the commission of the previous similar offence, with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine which may extend to three thousand rupees, or with both.
Explanation.- For the purposes of this section, the drug or drugs specified by the Central Government in this behalf, by notification in the Official Gazette, shall be deemed to render a person incapable of exercising proper control over a motor vehicle.”
Section 184 deals with reckless driving dangerous to the public having regard to all the circumstances of the case. Offence defined under section 184 and the offence under section 279, IPC are essentially the same. No person is supposed to drive a motor vehicle on any public way in a manner which may endanger human life or is likely to cause hurt or injury to any other person. The law casts a duty on every user of the road
or public way to exercise due care and caution while driving a motor vehicle. The amount of care and caution required to be exercised by a driver while driving on a public way would, of course, depend upon the situation and circumstances in which he is driving. The doctrine of contributory negligence has no application in criminal law. Contributory
negligence may be a factor for consideration in determining the sentence, but it is not a defence entitling the accused to an acquittal.
Certain other provisions of Chapter XIII providing punishments are:
s. 180: allowing unauthorized persons to drive vehicles;s. 181: driving vehicles in contravention of section 3 (necessity for driving licence) or section 4 (age limit in connection with driving of motor vehicles); s. 182: offences relating to licences; s. 182A: offences relating to construction and maintenance of vehicles; s. 186: driving when mentally or physically unfit to drive; section 187: offences relating to accident; s.188: abetment of offence unders. 184, 185 or 186; s. 189: racing and trials of speed; s.190: using vehicle in unsafe condition; s. 191: sale of vehicle in, or alteration of vehicle to, a condition contravening the Act; s. 192: using vehicle without registration; s. 192A: using vehicle without permit; section 193: agents and canvassers acting without proper authority; section 194: driving vehicle exceeding permissible weight; section 196: driving uninsured vehicle; s. 197: taking vehicle without authority; s. 198: unauthorized interference with vehicle; s. 201: causing obstruction to free flow of traffic. S. 207 confers power on any police officer or other person authorized in this behalf to seize and detain a motor vehicle, if he has reason to believe that it has been or is being used in contravention of the specified provisions, posing a serious threat to the public.
(iii) National Highways Act, 1956
Section 8B of the National Highways Act, 1956, which provides that whoever commits mischief by doing any act which renders or which he knows to be likely to render a national highway in relation to whose development and maintenance there is an agreement, impassable or less safe for travelling or conveying property, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may
extend to five years, or with a fine, or with both.
1Naresh Giri v. State of M.P. 2007(13) SCALE 7 : (2008) 1 SCC 791
3 (2000) 5 SCC 82
4 Rattan Singh v. State of
5 B. Nagabhushanam v. State of Karnataka 2008 (7) SCALE 716