There has been a steep escalation of road accidents in the past few years with the expansion of more motor vehicles in India. Road injuries and fatalities have come up as a major public concern as it is one of the leading causes of death and permanent disability in this country. According to a study conducted by National Transportation Planning and Research Center , one road accident takes place in every four minutes in India. Almost 97% of the road accidents are caused by rash or negligent driving.
When a road accident takes place, it gives rise to both civil and criminal liabilities on the part of the driver depending upon the nature and cause of the accident. Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 majorly deal with issues related to road accidents. Indian Penal Code also covers certain areas when it comes to criminal liability.
Things to do in case of a road accident (Section 132 of Motor Vehicles Act, 1988)
It is the driver’s duty to stop his vehicle and wait for a police officer for some reasonable time when he is involved in a road accident and injures any person, animal or causes damage to any other car or property.
The driver of the vehicle should not panic and he should give his name and address to the person affected by the accident and also ask for the affected person’s details.
Generally people run away from such situations mainly due to fear of public harassment, violence and criminal record. There is a possibility that people may own up to their fault but because of rampant bribery culture they think that it is safer to run away than fact potential harassment and loot by the police.
There have been many accidents in which because of celebrity limelight and monetary stronghold the matter has been suppressed and not faced any serious implications in the eyes of law. The Aaston Martin hit and run case is one of those cases where the eye witness gave the statement that a young man (Mukesh Ambani’s son Akash Ambani) came out of the Aaston Martin Rapid and hopped into security vehicle after hitting a Hundai car and then ramming into an Audi showroom but the next day an old employee of Reliance Industries, Mr. Bansilal Joshi said he was responsible for the accident which occurred during a routine maintenance ride of the said car. He said that he panicked so he ran away. The police recorded his report but did not arrest him as they were not sure about who was the actual culprit.
The recent Hema Malini car accident also is one of the incidents where priority of fetching first aid was given to the celebrity and member of parliament over the common Indian family. All of the family members had suffered graver injuries than what Hema Malini did; and in addition to that, they lost their 2 year old daughter too. But medical help reached them long after Hema Malini was driven off around 60 km away by a Samaritan passer-by in his car.
Things to do in case of injury to a person in a road accident (Section 134 of Motor Vehicles Act, 1988)
It is the duty of the driver or the person in charge of the vehicle to take the injured person to the nearest hospital unless he is unable to do so due to circumstances out of his control. Such a driver should provide any kind of information to the police as and when demanded.
In case there was no police near the area of accident, such incident should be reported to the nearest police station within 24 hours of the said accident.
Information about the accident should be given to the insurer of the policy holder (driver or owner). Policy holder is the person who holds the Certificate of Insurance issued by the insurer. Information such as date, time and place of the accident, details of the person dead or injured, details of the driver of the car are important in such cases.
Things to do after a road accident
An application for compensation should be filed under the Claims Tribunal when death, injury or damage has been caused by a motor vehicle.
Such application can be filed by:-
the person who has sustained such injury;
the person whose property is damaged;
legal representatives of the person deceased or;
an agent duty authorized by the injured person or the legal representatives.
There are three modes by which aggrieved can ask for compensation:-
Principle of no fault liability (Section 140),
Structured formula basis (Section 163A),
Compensation in hit and run cases (Section161)
In the case of no fault liability principle, the claimant does not need to prove any fault or neglect on the part of the driver for receiving compensation. There is a fixed amount of compensation payable to the victim which is 50,000/- in case of death and 25,000/- in case of permanent disablement.
In case of compensation by structured formula basis, the owner of the vehicle or the authorized insurer shall be liable to pay as per the Second Schedule of the said Act to the victim or his legal representatives when such vehicle is involved in causing death or permanent disablement to any person.
The above two modes of compensation can be availed only if the identity of the car is known. Also, a claimant cannot use both methods of compensation together.
The third mode of compensation is in Hit and Run cases. Hit and run can be explained as the liability of a driver of any vehicle who is involved in a collision which damages vehicle or property of any other person or injures any other person(s) or both and who runs away without giving his name and license number as prescribed by statute to the injured party, witness or any law enforcement officer. It is a situation where the identity of the vehicle responsible for the accident is not traceable. As the identity of the driver or the owner is not traceable, a fixed amount of compensation is given to the victim or the legal representatives of the victim from funds created by the government. The claimant receives 25,000/- and 12,500/- in situation of death and grievous injury respectively.
So evidently, the compensation amount reduces by half if the driver or the car cannot be located. Therefore it is imperative to attempt to locate the wrong doer.
No time limit has been prescribed for filing claim application. Initially when the law came into force application had be filed within 6 months from the date of accident which was later increased to one year but for the welfare of the people such limitation has been deleted from the legislation.
Any person who feels aggrieved by the decision of the Claims tribunal can appeal in the High Court. There are exceptions to such appeal. Firstly, no appeal by the person who is supposed to pay any amount in terms of award given by the Claims Tribunal shall be entertained by the High Court, unless he has deposited with it rupees 25,000/- or 50% of the amount so awarded, whichever is less in the manner directed by the High Court. Secondly, no appeal shall lie against any award if the amount in the dispute is less than rupees 10,000/-.
Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 also covers the offences like over speeding, dangerous driving and drunk driving. A person should have had 30mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood in his/her body to be called drunk under the Act. A first time offender in the case of drunk driving could be sentenced up to 6 months imprisonment or fined up to two thousand rupees or both. A second time offender within the time gap of 3 years could be sentenced up to 2 years of imprisonment or fined up to three thousand rupees or both.
What gives rise to criminal liability in a road accident?
Accidents which are caused by the rashness or negligence of the driver give rise to criminal liability. Section 304A of the IPC covers such liability which is punishable for 2 years or fine or both. It is absolutely necessary that death or injury should be a direct result of the negligent act of the accused. If there is a third party intervention then the prosecution case would weaken. Remote or indirect connection will not give rise to any criminal liability. For example, if a driver while talking on the cell phone hits a pedestrian, he is directly responsible for such an accident. On the other hand, when a driver collides with a building and the window sill falls on a pedestrian walking by, then such driver will not be liable under this section.
A person who is driving or riding holds the ultimate duty to control his vehicle. Such a person is prima facie guilty of negligence if his vehicle dashes into something or someone unless he has reason to explain that he did everything in his power to keep the vehicle under control but the accident was inevitable. This principle was established in the landmark case of Ratlam v.s Emperor. In the case of K. Perumal v.s State it was held that the driver was liable to be punished under section 304A of the IPC as he ran over his vehicle on the victim, without attempting to save him even though there was sufficient space on the other side.
Carelessness does not give rise to criminal liability (but it does result in civil liability under the Motor Vehicles Act as previously explained). Recklessness of the accused should reflect disregard for other person’s life and property which means there has to be intention or what we call in law Mens Rea. In the case of Chintaram v.s State of Madhya Pradesh , the deceased was walking on the middle of the road so the accused was driving by the left of the road trying to keep a distance from her. When the accused reached close to the deceased she abruptly took a left turn and got struck by the motorcycle. In this case, the accused was not negligent. The erratic decision of the victim did not give any reasonable time to the motorcyclist to avoid her so he was acquitted.
There are various other offences involving motor vehicle accidents which are punishable under the Indian Penal Code.
Section 279 covers rash driving or riding on public way which is punishable by the way of imprisonment up to 6 months or fine of one thousand rupees or both. Rash driving is independent of other offences irrespective of its consequences, which means if the consequence of such rash driving is death or injury then the accused will be tried for those offences in addition to the charge under this section.
Section 336 provides that anyone who acts rashly or negligently which endangers human life or safety can be punished with imprisonment for a term up to three months or a fine of rupees 250/- or both.
Section 337 and section 338 cover causing hurt and causing grievous hurt which threatens life and safety of people. A person is liable to pay up to rupees 500/- as fine and can be sentenced imprisonment for a term of six months or both in case of causing hurt under section 337. In case of grievous hurt, the driver can be punished with imprisonment extending up to two years or fine of rupees 1000/- or both.
All seven charges were proved in the Sessions Court against the accused in the Salman Khan’s 2002 hit and run case which were covered sections 279, 304(iii), 336,337,338,427 of the IPC and sections 181 and 183 of the Motor Vehicles Act.
Recently, Vice President (Legal) of Reliance Industries, Jahnvi Gadkar has been charged with culpable homicide not amounting to murder along with provisions of drunk driving from the Motor Vehicles Act because Gadkar had in an inebriated state rammed her car (Audi) – into a taxi and killed two persons.
Position of road accident legislations in UK and USA
India and UK have very similar legal position with regard to road accidents. Road Traffic Act, 1988 is the main legislation which covers issues related to road safety and accidents. Provisions of Motor Vehicles Act 1988 (India) and Road Traffic Act, 1988 (UK) are quite identical. UK Highway Code Penalty Table gives a complete list of offences and their corresponding punishments.
There is a Drink Drive Rehabilitation Scheme in UK which has been active since January 2000. This is generally offered at the discretion of Court to the offender and under this scheme, any offender can reduce his ban on driving which should be more than 12 months. There is also provision of community service for repeated offenders.
In USA, car accident issues are entirely covered under respective state legislations but all the states have three basic elements which need to be proved satisfactorily by the victim to claim compensation. Firstly, plaintiff should prove that there had been a breach of duty from the part of the defendant. A mere utterance of sorry at the time of the accident by the defendant can be used as evidence against him. Secondly, the victim must prove harm is caused to him. Damage to vehicle and injury to the victim must be proved to the court so that the victim can rightfully claim compensation, medical expenses, loss of wages etc. Finally, the plaintiff must prove element of causation. Causation means consistency of medical testimony of the victim with the nature of the collision. It is possible that certain injuries of the victim occurred before the accident so injuries of the victim should be compared with a proper evaluation of the crash scene which is generally captured in pictures and CCTV footage at the traffic poles.
The Motor Vehicles Act had been recently amended in March 2015 and a new Motor vehicle Bill is set to be introduced in the monsoon session of the Parliament this year. The bill is going to introduce strict measures against traffic offenders. It suggests heavy fines up to 3 lakh rupees and imprisonment up to 7 years for death of a child. The increase in both pecuniary and imprisonment penalty may create a deterrent effect in the minds of general public as well as regular offenders. There are CCTV cameras at the traffic signals and the highway speed check posts but most of them are non functional. This loose functioning of the traffic authorities also needs to change. India may have an ideal legislation for dealing with traffic regulations and accidents but in the end it is the duty of the citizens and traffic authority to keep the roads & highways a safe place.
 Reasonable time has not been defined under the Act. It varies from case to case and also depends to some extent on the judges who comprise the bench.
 Section 166 of The Motor Vehicles Act, 1988
 Section 166 of The Motor Vehicles Act, 1988
 1994 Amendment of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988
 Section 173 of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988
 Section 185 of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988
 AIR 1935 Mad 209
 1998 4 Crimes 382
 1986, ACJ 1043 MP