This blog post is written by Shreya Tandon, a law student from Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies (VIPS), IP University. It is an exhaustive article that covers all the legal aspects and nature of car accidents stated under the Indian Penal Code,1860 which are taken into account after the happening of a road accident.
Just like any other normal day, Ajay left for his office at 10:30 in the morning. Little did he know that today he’ll be on the verge of losing his life. He was at a stone’s throw from his office when an SUV approached him from the opposite direction and hit him hard and caused serious damage to his car. He went unconscious for a few minutes and his nose started bleeding.
As he regained the confidence to come out of the car, he gazed past the crowd which had circled around him. Two men came towards him and threw a 500 hundred rupee note on his face saying, ‘Take this and Keep Your Mouth Shut !’. Before he could say anything, they drove away, luckily he memorized the number plate of the car.
He was taken to the nearby hospital immediately and was told to rest for two days as his nose was swollen badly. The same night he had a horrible nightmare that he died in an accident and the thoughts of what would have happened to his family if he had died in the accident made him feel even worse and he could not forget the dangerous mishappening which took place due to the other’s rashness and negligence.
He was really disturbed and hence decided to speak to his friend Rahul who was an advocate by profession. Rahul told him that this is not a small incident and he cannot let this go, Rahul also told him about the existing legal provisions which can provide relief to his grievance.
Thereafter, he gathered courage and approached the police station. He narrated the whole incident and filed an FIR.
This shows that fixing criminal liabilities in case of motor vehicle accidents are of utmost importance to provide a sense of security and to ensure justice.
Every now and then the front page of the newspaper is filled with headlines such as “Amity students killed and 7 injured in Delhi car crash” or “In Bangalore speeding car kills cop” and the number of such incidents is constantly on a rise. According to data from the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, in 2018, 36% comprised the road deaths of those traveling on two-wheelers, followed by 15% pedestrians. According to the World Health Organisation’s report, India records only 1% of the total vehicles but ironically 6% of road traffic accidents. These figures can surely scare the daylights out of anyone.
Over the years, the lives of people have changed drastically. All we can see are the roads jammed with vehicles all day long, horns honking, it takes hours to cover even the smallest of distances which makes people impatient. There are various consequences that arise from these daily life situations:
- Lack of tolerance which results in disobeying the traffic rules, such as skipping 60 seconds of red light which can hardly make any difference, driving on the wrong side as to avoid a long U-turn, driving beyond the speed limit as to reach someplace on time, and so on. These are some of the daily life examples which I am sure everyone has been a part of intentionally as to save some time. However, what people do not realize is that these few minutes can be the most crucial and maybe the last ones of their existence.
- Now talking about the population which drives illegally below the permissible age i.e. minors. Due to lack of parental control and maturity, they make their way through the busiest roads risking not only their lives but the lives of millions of others. They are spotted crossing the speed limit and also get caught in the drunk driving cases.
- Using mobile phones has been another trend while driving the car. Even cab drivers are spotted attending calls from different customers and they pin locations while driving again which make it unsafe not only for themselves but for everyone on the road.
- Sadly, a traffic cop in Ranchi was made liable under the new Motor Vehicle Act for driving a two-wheeler without a helmet. If the duty holder himself chooses to disobey the law, how can they expect a normal citizen to follow every guideline issued by the state government?
- The mentality of the majority is such that the issue can be resolved by offering a few bucks to the policemen or calling the person in power who can set them free.
People fail to understand that rules are made for their own safety and there should be no need for someone to make them obey those rules by charging hefty fines or towing their vehicles. If they disobey, they’ll themselves end up regretting their careless and negligent decisions.
Nature of car accidents – are they civil or criminal?
All the misdemeanours are usually torts. Car accidents are usually civil wrong. They are private in nature as it hampers the right to an individual’s life and for such wrong, the sufferer is entitled to get compensation in monetary terms. They may also be criminal in nature as such accidents are a threat to society and therefore should be punished by the state. The same can be both a tort and a crime in certain circumstances such as hit and run cases, reckless driving, driving under the influence(DUI) and driving while intoxicated(DWI). Such crimes are made punishable under the Indian Penal Code, 1860.
Where the act falls under both the categories, the definition of the crime would vary as the same defenses cannot be pleaded in both of them. The wrongdoer may be told to pay for damages along with compensation to the injured party and at the same time, he can also be punished criminally by imposing imprisonment or fine or both.
Evolution of law of crimes and motor accidents
It’s petrifying to see that motor vehicle accidents are at a high rise. It also puts the police and judicial authorities in a state of helplessness to resolve the cases in a limited span of time. Had there existed a situation where car accidents could only be substituted with monetary relief the situation would have been totally different.
History and Amendments
Purpose of Legislation
One of the major remedies opted by the victim lies under the Motor Vehicle Act, 1988. With the differences in the development and emergence of new grave offences, it was pleaded that the fines should be increased to such a level that it makes one think thrice before breaking the law. As the provisions regarding fines in the MV Act were so petty and equal to that of peanuts that it hardly bothered people before committing a menace. Therefore, in 2015, the Ministry of Road, Transport, and Highways came up with the new Motor Vehicle Bill with the recommendation of stringent punishment to violators and a huge hike in the fines.
In India, we now have Motor Accidents Claim Tribunal(MACT) also to deal with such cases prima facie. In addition to this, most of them are solved by awarding compensation and recovering damages. There are certain provisions of vital importance that are issued under the MV Act which makes it compulsory for the driver to follow.
Offences relating to the use of motor vehicle punishable under IPC
As the offence is so serious the aggrieved party can claim relief under both Motor Vehicle Act as well as under the legislation guidelines accumulated under the Indian Penal Code, 1860. It is through these laws that the offenders are held liable and are either told to pay fine or are imprisoned or both.
The reason why the scope has been widened is mainly that-
- MV Act is compoundable in nature meaning, they are less serious. Complaints can be withdrawn against the accused under MV Act. On the other hand, the scope of the Indian Penal Code is vast and covers the multiplicity of offences. It covers more serious offences and is not compoundable in which parties are not expected to compromise.
- Chapter XIII of the MV Act is silent about the deaths of persons, grievous hurt caused to them resulting from rash and negligent driving. Nor does it prescribe any special punishment for the same. Whereas, if we give a glance at the IPC, it is impliedly made in order to deal with such offences under Sections, 297, 304, 304A, 336, 337, and 338.
- The punishment criteria is what makes all the difference. Punishment for first-time offenders is 6 months in the MV Act whereas IPC provides for more stringent punishments given under various provisions.
Rash driving or driving on a public way
Section 297 of Indian Penal Code states that whoever drives or rides any vehicle rashly and negligently in a public environment without due care and attention which is most likely to cause harm to others resulting in endangering their life or can cause them hurt or injury will be made liable under the act and would be punished with maximum six months imprisonment or with fine which may be extended to thousand rupees or both.
It is cognizable and bailable in nature. The matter is assigned to the Magistrate of the concerned area.
For example, Two boys aged fifteen riding on a scooter without help lost their control and were unable to stop by and hit an old lady. They would be guilty under this section.
Causing death by negligence
Section 304A of Indian Penal Code states that, if death of any person is caused by the rash or negligent act not amounting to culpable homicide, it shall be punishable for a term up to two years or fine or both.
This section was specially inserted in the penal code by the Indian Penal Code (Amendment) Act 27 of 1870. It is cognizable and bailable in nature.
It covers all the parameters of homicide which are an outcome of rashness and negligence on part of the accused. Hence, the essential ingredients are as follows-
- The person must be dead.
- Such death is caused by the accused due to negligence and lack of care.
- Not amounting to culpable homicide i.e. there was no intention nor the knowledge that his actions would lead to someone’s death.
In the case, Mohammed Aynuddin alias M alias Miyam v. State of Andhra Pradesh on 28th July 2000, the passenger while boarding the bus fell down. The driver did not pay attention and started the bus. As it moved forward the passenger was only halfway through and lost the balance. The driver was held liable under Section 304A of the Indian Penal Code for culpable negligence by the trial court as well as High Court.
It was held by the court that, “a rash act is primarily an over-hasty act. It is opposed to a deliberate act. Still, a rash act can be a deliberate act in the sense that it was done without due care and caution. Culpable rashness lies in running the risk of doing an act with recklessness and with indifference as to the consequence. Criminal negligence is the failure to exercise duty with reasonable and proper care and precaution guarding against injury to the public generally or to any individual in particular. It is the imperative duty of the driver of a vehicle to adopt such reasonable and proper care and precaution.”
Causing hurt by an act endangering life or personal safety of others
This law is given under Section 336 and Section 337 of the Indian Penal Code. Both sections seek to punish whoever causes harm to others rashly and negligently, endangering human life, and invading personal safety. Intention and knowledge play no role to bring such a person under the scope of this section. This is a cognizable, bailable, and non- compoundable offence. Section 337 is just an aggravated version of 336. Prior is punishable for punishment which may be extended till 6 months or five hundred rupees fine or both and the later’s punishment may extend to three months or fine or both.
Causing grievous hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others
This is covered under Section 338 of the Indian Penal Code. It seeks to punish whoever causes grievous hurt to others rashly and negligently, endangering human life, and invading personal safety. This is a cognizable, bailable, and non-compoundable offence. Maximum punishment can be extended upto two years or fine up to thousand rupees or both.
Latest Supreme Court Judgment
The Supreme Court in its splendid judgment stated that a person committing an offence under the Motor Vehicle Act can also be held liable under the Indian Penal code. With an increase in motorization, there has been a huge hike in road accident injuries hence, both the acts were considered operational in their own independent spheres.
The SC in the case, The State of Arunachal Pradesh v. Ramchandra Rabidas in 2019 stated that there is no visible bar that prevents a crime to be prosecuted under both the legislations at the same time. On 4th October 2019, Justice Indu Malhotra and Justice R Subhash Reddy set aside the Gauhati High Court judgment which had directed to issue instructions to the subordinate officers to bring legal proceeding against the offenders in motor vehicle accidents only under the statute of The Motor Vehicle Act, 1988 and not the Indian Penal Code,1860. The guidelines were given to the following states- Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Tripura, Nagaland, and Mizoram.
The apex court while penning down the judgment held that, both the statutes are different from each other. The IPC has a broader approach towards criminal acts. On the other hand, if we see the purpose of the MV Act is solely to maintain the road safety standard. Therefore, in this case, the general rule that special laws should prevail over general laws does not apply and stays void. It was held to be unsustainable and contrary to law and was, therefore, put down. In other words, the person can be booked under both the acts for his wrongdoings.
The Bench said, If the Indian Penal Code gives way to MV Act, and the provisions of CrPC be overcomed by the provisions of the MV Act as held by the High Court, then the cases of culpable homicide not amounting to murder, causing death, or grievous hurt, or simple hurt by rash and negligent driving, would be considered as compoundable offences. Such interpretation would lead to leniency in law thereby the offender will get away with a nominal fine by pleading guilty without facing any prosecution for the committed offence.
Further, it was also stated that the sentence imposed by courts should be equivalent to the seriousness of the offence, and should have an intimidating effect on wrongdoers. The punishment of offenders of motor vehicle accidents under the IPC is stricter and proportionate to the offence committed, as compared with the MV Act. Even assuming that some of the provisions of the MV Act and IPC are overlapping, it cannot be said that the offences under both the statutes are incompatible.
Burden of proof
It is stated under Section 101 of the Evidence Act, 1872. It simply means the duty and obligation to prove something. It is assumed that if no evidence is submitted by the party on which the burden lies, then that person shall be held guilty of committing that offence.
In criminal cases, the liability lies with the prosecution to prove that the accused is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In 1968, the case of Rishi Kesh Singh And Ors. vs The State, it was held that in case of accidents, the accused need not prove his case beyond a reasonable doubt. It is enough for him to show the preponderance of probabilities in his favour.
Coming to ‘on whom the burden of proof lies?’
The Evidence Act,1872 talks about the same under Section 102. It is the responsibility of the person introducing evidence which may constantly shift during the trial. There are various cases in which one can observe the party which was initially under the obligation to prove the burden transferred to another by providing facts and giving additional evidence in his favour.
Grant of compensation
The aggrieved can claim damages under the MV Act, M.A.C.T guidelines, and seek redressals from the tribunals. There is a proper procedure which is to be followed while filing of claims under the Tribunals.
Present day Supreme Court judgments on claims concerning such unfortunate mishap
M.R. Krishna Murthi v. The New India Assurance Co. Ltd. & Others
The Supreme Court, in this case, asked the Government to ascertain the feasibility of establishing a Motor Accident Mediation Authority in every district to ensure speedy trial of accident claims. This judgment highlights two main points:
- In the year 2017 1,47,000 people lost their lives approximately which is more than the total population of Shillong.
- These deaths gave an exceptional rise to the number of accident claims that had already been there causing an increase in the number of backlog cases in Indian litigation.
The Apex Court, thus, realizing the necessity of resolving these claims asked for setting up of the Mediation Centers. The Court also pointed out the need for introducing an Indian Mediation Act in the parliament.
National Insurance Company Limited v. Pranay Sethi
In this case, the Supreme Court laid down the guidelines for assessing the amount of compensation to be paid by the offender to the accident victims who are self-employed, or have fixed salary, or have a permanent salary. The Court held that the concept of ‘just compensation’ should be based on reasonableness, equity, and fairness.
The guidelines have already been referred above in the ‘Claims Assessment’.
Defences available to a person who has been unfairly dragged into payment for wrong claims
The following counterclaims can be availed:
- Proving that the accident was inevitable in nature. The accused took reasonable care nonetheless it could not have been avoided and was beyond foresight.
- The defense of Negligence can be claimed after proving the proximate cause.
- Showing that the situation was unavoidable and was an Act of God.
The purpose of making legislation is that it works for the public good. With time we can see that there has been a drift from compoundable offences to the more serious ones. Therefore, our judiciary is constantly working for the people and the society by broadening the scope and thinking beyond the horizon. But in a literal sense, if we see, it is the people’s negligence that results in barbarous accidents so people have to work for its implementation for better results. As we say, a car cannot function solely without its wheels, in the same way, law cannot be enforced effectively if people do not make an effort to follow the proper rules.
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