Hit and run laws in India
Authored By- Tanvi Gupta
Keywords: reasons, statutory provisions, problems, and measures
A hit and run case occurs when a driver causes harm to a person or property and flee away. These cases have increased over time and even led to the death of the victim. Finding a person guilty for such cases is difficult due to improper evidence and lack of cooperation by the witness. These accidents can occur due to drunk driving, rash driving, using a phone while driving, etc. Hit and run case is punishable under both Indian Penal Code, 1860, and Motor Vehicle Act, 1988. The current statistics push us to take measures to reduce such accidents and create awareness.
A hit and run cases occur when the driver causes harm to a person’s health or property while driving and fails to lodge their vehicle with legal authorities. In simpler terms, you cause harm to a person or his belongings while driving and then run away. As per statistics, there was a surge in the number of deaths from 18.8% in 2018 from 17.5% in 2017. Over the years, there has been a plethora of high-profile cases of A hit and Run in India. They were acknowledged and understood by people after famous actor Salman Khan drove over the pedestrians and killed a person sleeping on the pavement. It has been observed that the major reason for such cases is rash driving and drunk driving. A hit and run case generally is left unresolved due to a lack of evidence and witnesses.
Statutory provisions in India
There is no expressed definition for a hit and run cases in the Indian Penal Code, 1860. Section 161 of the Act defines “a hit and run” as “an accident arising out of the use of a motor vehicle or motor vehicles the identity whereof cannot be ascertained despite reasonable efforts for the purpose”. Hence, two essentials for a hit and run case are first, the collision of a vehicle into a person or his property, and secondly, escaping from the accident place. The person can be booked for such offense under Section 279 or 304(A) of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 along with Section 134(A) and (B) of Motor Vehicle Act, 1988. Hit and run cases are a bailable offense under both the Indian Penal Code, 1860, and the Motor Vehicle Act, 1988. A hit and run cases might result in minor injuries or grievous hurt or death of a person. Section 279 of the Indian Penal Code defines Rash Driving. It lays down the punishment of imprisonment up to 6 months or a fine up to 1 thousand rupees or both.
In the well-known case of Alister Anthony Pareira v. State of Maharashtra, the court laid down the test to determine criminal culpability based on “knowledge”. The court stated “Rash or negligent driving on a public road with the knowledge of the dangerous character and the likely effect of the act and resulting in death may fall in the category of culpable homicide not amounting to murder. A person, doing an act of rash or negligent driving, if aware of a risk that a particular consequence is likely to result and that result occurs, may be held guilty not only of the act but also of the result.” Hence, the person knowing the act will be liable under Section 299 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.
Section 304(A) of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 states death by negligence. A person guilty for a hit and run case can also be found guilty for death by negligence. The term negligence explained under this section is not mere carelessness. It is only when a rash or negligent act is of such a degree that the risk run by the doer of the act is very high or done with such negligence without interpreting the consequences of the act. Negligence is a relative term, there is no straight-jacket formula to measure it. It is bailable as well as a compoundable offense under this section. The person guilty for such an offense is liable for imprisonment for up to two years or fine or both. This sort of punishment act as an eye-opener for those who don’t take the law seriously. This section is applied to cases where the person accused had no intention and no knowledge that the act would cause death.
Furthermore, in extreme cases police can file a case under Section 302 of IPC, 1860 which deals with murder. Also, in cases of an offense committed by a minor, the parents of the minor are imprisoned for three years and some fine too.
Section 134(a) of The Motor Vehicle Act, 1988 lays down duty on the driver to secure medical attention to the victim immediately. Also, Section 134(b) emphasis on informing police officials and giving relevant information. If someone fails to do so, he or she will be liable. Before Amendment, the amount of compensation laid down in the act was Rs. 25,000 in case of death and Rs. 12,500 in case of grievous hurt. However, after the bill was passed in 2019 the law has increased the fine of Rs. 2,00,000 to the death of victims by a hit and run case and a fine of Rs. 50,000 to one who suffered the injury. There are different fines when an animal is involved in a hit and run incident.
Insurance and Fund under Motor Vehicle Act, 1988
Motor Vehicle Accident fund has been founded under Section 164B of the act. This fund tries to give immediate relief to the victims of the accident. Later the amount given is deducted from compensation received from the accused. Also, the insurance company plays a vital role in motor vehicle accidents and compensation thereof. If a person has third-party insurance and the accident has caused the death of the victim; the insurance company may pay monetary compensation to the family of the deceased. To claim compensation for the accident victim needs to have proper motor vehicle insurance. He also needs to prove before the insurance company that the offender was involved in a rash or negligent driving with a testimony of the witness. It is necessary to attach the FIR lodged with the police officials confirming that the offender couldn’t be traced.
Given because of galloping trends in road accidents in India and the devasting consequences thereof on the victims and their families, lawmakers need to increase the compensation and make laws more stringent. Furthermore, it has been seen that due to it being a bailable offense, people try to evade the punishment by using their power or compensate in a situation. When a hit and run case has been death traps any leniency in law would be at risk of further escalation of road accidents. As per the Indian Journal of Surgery, it was found that 80% of the victims are left untreated within the first or golden hours of incidence.
In the renowned case of Sanjeev Nanda vs. The State also known as BMW Case or the 1999 Delhi hit and run case, the court recommended some measures to curb the increasing number of accidents by random checking by police near pubs, making the investigation more scientific, strict implementation of excise laws for the minimum age of consumption and proper street lights. There should be awareness camps and drivers should constantly be reminded of their duty to adopt the utmost care.
(2012) 2 SCC 648 Naresh Giri v. State of M. P., (2008) 1 SCC 791  Crl. Appeal No. 807/2008