This article has been written by Tulika Dixit, from Chanakya Law College, Rudrapur.
There has been a precipitous growth of road accidents in the past few years with the extension of more motor vehicles in India. Road injuries and mortalities have emerged as a major public concern as it is one of the principal causes of death and permanent disability in this country. This article briefly introduces accidents and lists the provisions for the same under the Indian Penal Code. It mentions the flaws under the penalizing provisions of the sections of the act and lastly mentions about the dire need for amendment and also suggests for the ideas of the same.
India ranks number 1. Instead of being proud of this rank, I am ashamed of it because, not in women security, not in Gross domestic product (GDP), not even in cleanliness or education, India ranks no. 1 in ‘road accidents’! India has a louche record of road accidents. There is a nonchalant standpoint among the drivers. They are of the view that they are the “monarch of all they survey”. Heavy drinking gives rise to careless driving by which other people become prey. It incorporates a feeling of ‘not safe’ among the poor. The pedestrians are supposed to be uncertain and the civilized individuals forced into regular worry, however, nevertheless, anxious about the obnoxious mindset of the human beings who challenge themselves as ‘larger than life’. In such an obtaining situation, we are compelled to observe that the architects of law should investigate, scrutinize, reassess, and re-examine the sentencing policy in the sections relating to accidents in the Indian Penal Code.
Understanding the term “accident”
An accident is an unfortunate incident that happens all at once and unintentionally, typically ensuing in damage or injury. The Indian Penal Code mentions an accident for the first time in Section 80 as a general exception. The Section says that nothing is an offence which is achieved via accident or misfortune besides any intention of criminality. It additionally lays that the lawful act ought to be performed in a lawful manner by lawful capability with acceptable care and caution. If we talk about ‘accident’ it has a vast purview in the Indian Penal Code. Any act done negligently is an accident. Road accidents also come under it and this article specifically deals with it.
I say this with immense anguish that India hits the list for road accidents. Road accidents are an unfortunate reality of our lives. The daily news generally reports at least one incident of road accidents. Depending upon the severity of the accident, the number of casualties and the damage can really be concerning. Road accidents cost a lot of life and property damage.
In “Accidental Death and Suicides in India” a report pertaining to the year 2019 by NCRB (National Crime Records Bureau), it was confirmed that during 2019, a total of 4,49,002 cases of road accidents were reported. Although the number of road accidents is slightly declined by a percentage of 3.8, yet in case of fatality of the same, there is an increase of 1.3%. Out of the reported number of accidents, the death and injury due to accidents toll 1,51,113 and 4,51,361 respectively. The government made the Motor Vehicles Act more stringent by the amendment but the question still remains the same ‘why are the casualties and fatalities due to accidents not decreasing?”. The answer is simple, due to the lack of a strict sentencing policy.
Provisions in Indian Penal Code for accident
As stated earlier, the first mention for an accident in the IPC is in the form of a general exception in section 80 of the code, which can lead to escape from criminal punishment and liability if established fully before a court of law. It does not give any proper definition for the same. There are certain sections in IPC which give provisions for penalizing the acts done by negligence and rash driving.
Section 279 of IPC mentions rash driving or riding in a public way. It lays that: “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.”
This Section talks about endangering human life or causing hurt by driving. Taking an example, A, a college student drives a bike in a rash manner, and hits a school-going girl, B. B falls and gets a wound on her knee, A is said to have caused hurt and is liable under Section 279.
Taking another example, the same boy A does not hit anyone but is caught driving rashly on the streets, he will be liable under Section 279 only and the punishment too will be the same.
So, accordingly, whether the hurt is caused or is likely to be caused, the same provision for punishment exists. Also, the offence here is bailable, cognizable, and non-compoundable, which means, A can pay the penalty, get bail and can do the acts again and such cycle can go on.
Section 337 under the Indian Penal Code, 1860 provides for the provision on causing hurt by an act that endangers life or personal security of others. The section says, “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.”
This Section talks about endangering human life and the personal safety of others by doing any act negligently or rashly. The Section does not describe the nature of the act, so it includes a vast purview of the act, and hence driving on road can also be included. So, taking the example of the same boy A, suppose that he is driving rashly, and passes by an old man who is a heart patient. The old man being frightened by the sudden passing by of a speedy bike undergoes a heart attack and is said to have undergone hurt. Also, since he is a heart patient, A’s act has created a danger to the old man’s life thus, A is liable under Section 337.
The section is classified as bailable, cognizable, and compoundable with the permission of the court, by the person to whom the hurt is caused.
This Section provides for the provision on causing grievous hurt by an act that endangers life or personal security of others. The section says, “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.”
This Section talks about endangering human life and the personal safety of others by doing any act negligently or rashly so that a grievous hurt is caused. Again here, the nature of the act is not defined, so driving can be included.
Suppose that a truck driver negligently takes a wrong turn and hits a rickshaw puller and the rickshaw puller gets very deep wounds on his body, the driver is said to have caused grievous hurt and is liable under Section 338.
Taking the same example again, this time the rickshaw puller gets visually impaired due to the accident, the truck driver will be liable again under Section 338.
The Section again is classified as bailable, cognizable, and compoundable with the permission of the court, by the person to whom the hurt is caused, which means that if the accused person gives grievous curable hurt or even incurable the same provision for punishment is followed.
This Section provides for the provisions for death by negligence. The Section says, “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.”
Now, if we look into the accidental death report released by NCRB, the number of accidental deaths increased by a ratio of 1.3. Also, since the act is an ‘accident’ the wrongdoer does not get as much strict punishment as he must get. And moreover, maximum accidents are ‘disguised murders’.
Most of the time, it is proved that the death was an outcome of negligence by the driver but as we all know, murder in this way is easy to manipulate. Also, if the death so caused is really an act of negligence, even then the penalty must be much bigger. Section 304A of the code is classified as bailable, cognizable and non-compoundable. There is a famous saying in Hindi “Jaan Hai To Jahan Hai ” but this saying loses its value when the punishment for taking life only extends to a maximum of two years and that too in a bailable form.
The way out
Accidents and the resulting deaths are increasing at an alarming rate in India. To stop them, we need to make laws stricter. It is very well said by Louis D Brandeis that “If we desire respect for the law, we must first make the law respectable”, and ‘respect comes from fear. Unless the people are afraid of the punishment, they will not take it seriously. An amendment in IPC is a dire need. Although many times it is thought upon to make an amendment in the act, it is not executed yet.
As noted, all sections are bailable. If provisions of the sections especially Section 304A become non-bailable, not a sudden but yes gradual decrease in death rates due to accidents might be seen. Also, if we talk about Section 279, though it provides for punishment, it does not provide the number of times.
For example, if we see Section 185 of the Motor Vehicles Act (driving by a drunken person or by a person under the influence of drugs), it provides for less strict punishment for the first time offender and more strict punishment for the second time or habitual offender. The same type of provision for punishment in Section 279 must be provided.
Coming to Section 337, endangering the life or personal safety of others must be penalized with higher monetary fines. Talking about Section 338, the term ‘grievous hurt’ needs to be categorized and also a hierarchical penalty must be followed for less serious and more serious kinds of grievous hurts.
For example, breaking of a bone or dismantling the body and making a person handicapped or incapable of earning a living, both are covered under the same section with the same punishment. Here, making a person incapable of earning a living must be penalized in a stricter way as compared to giving grievous curable bodily injury.
Today, India ranks no. 1 in fatalities due to road accidents. Nothing matters for the existence of laws, the cases of accidents continue to increase at an alarming rate. The outcome is, road injuries and mortalities have emerged as a major public concern as it is one of the principal causes of death and permanent disability in this country. The reason for this is that people do not fear the laws anymore. In order to stop the increasing rate of fatalities and make Indian roads safer for the public, it is high time that the architects of law should investigate, scrutinize, reassess, and re-examine the sentencing policy in the sections relating to accidents in the Indian Penal Code.
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