An individual who flees the site of a car collision without pausing to offer assistance or exchange information with the injured party or victim is guilty of a serious crime known as “hit and run,” as per the Motor Vehicles Act 1988. Such incidents carry serious consequences in India since the judicial system is designed to guarantee the administration of justice. In India, hit-and-run incidents have been more frequent in the recent past. In short, a hit-and-run accident occurs when a driver collides with another car and then swiftly flees the scene without accepting responsibility. It is the driver’s responsibility to report any traffic accident involving their vehicle, according to both criminal and civil rules.

Recently, in January 2023, a horrifying incident occurred in West Delhi that shook the nation. A young woman, aged 20, lost her life when her leg got trapped in the front axle of a car. The car, carrying five young males in their twenties, had collided with her two-wheeler on January 1. In a brutal turn of events, her body was mercilessly dragged for nearly 13 kilometers under the vehicle.

Where in our law is this incident defined?

Hit and Run is defined under Section 161(1)(b) of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, as a “hit and run motor accident” which means an accident arising out of the use of a motor vehicle or motor vehicles whose identity cannot be ascertained in spite of reasonable efforts for the purpose.

What are the laws governing hit-and-run cases in India?

In an effort to curb hit-and-run cases, the government has proposed a new provision as part of its overhaul of criminal laws in the country. A section of the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, which is meant to replace the Indian Penal Code, provides for a jail term of up to 10 years for drivers who escape from the scene after an accident or fail to report the incident to the police or a magistrate. The punishment for hit-and-run cases in India is primarily governed by the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC) and the Motor Vehicles Act. These statutes aim to deter such acts and protect the rights of victims. Under the IPC, several sections come into play depending on the nature and consequences of the accident:

Section 279 (Rash driving or riding in a public way): This section deals with cases where the accused drives recklessly, endangering others’ lives. It prescribes imprisonment for up to six months., a fine, or both

Section 337 (Causing hurt by act endangering the life or personal safety of others): When the hit-and-run results in injuries to a person, this section applies. The punishment can be imprisonment for up to six months, a fine, or both.

Section 338 (Causing grievous hurt by act endangering the life or personal safety of others): If the accident causes grievous hurt to a person, this section comes into play. The offender may face imprisonment for up to two years, a fine, or both.

Section 304A (causing death by negligence): In cases where a hit-and-run accident leads to the death of a person, this section applies. The punishment can range from imprisonment for up to two years, a fine, or both.

Besides the IPC, the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 contains provisions related to hit-and-run offenses:

Section 134: This section casts a duty on the driver of the motor vehicle, in case there is any accident, to help the victim reach the nearest hospital or make any reasonable effort to provide medical attention unless it is not practicable to do so by reasons mentioned therein.

What should you do if you are involved in a hit-and-run incident?

Despite the natural stress that follows an accident, it is imperative that the victim manage the situation calmly. It is very advised to obtain pertinent information, especially regarding the negligent motorist, as this improves the chances of locating and prosecuting them. Also, it’s critical to get the names and contact information of any witnesses who may be there. Furthermore, it’s a good idea to pay attention to the following information:

Time and place: Document the precise moment and place of the accident in writing. This data is vital documentation for reference purposes in the future.

Scene of the accident: Take pictures of the scene, noting the positions of the involved vehicles, any obvious damage, and relevant road conditions. These visual records can provide valuable evidence later on.

Your vehicle: Take photos of it from different perspectives,emphasizing any damage the collision may have caused. These pictures can provide evidence to back up your claim and strengthen your argument, proving the validity of your insurance claim.

Following these principles can help you build credibility by presenting verifiable proof of the accident’s occurrence, in addition to increasing your chances of getting a fair payment from your insurance provider.

For the driver: It is usually advisable to stay at the accident scene in order to ensure that the injured receive the appropriate medical attention.

What are the possible conditions for a car hit-and-run to occur?

1. Accident: A motorist may strike someone by accident while operating a motor vehicle.

2. Driving under the influence: A person may be struck by a motor vehicle when a driver is impaired by alcohol or any other legal or illicit substance that is prohibited while operating a motor vehicle.

3. Driving carelessly: When a driver drives carelessly, an accident involving a motor vehicle occurs.

How is a victim of a hit-and-run incident compensated?

The Motor Vehicle Act discusses several forms of compensation, such as:

Section 140: Liability to pay compensation in certain instances on the concept of no fault.

Section 141: Provisions pertaining to an alternative claim for damages in the event of death or permanent disability

Special rules for compensation in the event of a hit-and-run vehicle accident are found in Section 161.

Special rules regarding the payment of remuneration based on a structured formula are outlined in Section 163A.

In Deepal Girishbhai Soni v. United India Insurance Co. Ltd., (2004) 5 SCC 385

The Hon’ble Apex Court distinguished between Sections 140 and 163A and held that

“By reason of Section 163-A, therefore, the compensation is required to be determined on the basis of a structured formula whereas in terms of Section 140, only a fixed amount is to be given.” Unless a contraindication is discovered in the statute, either explicitly or by necessary inference, a legal provision that provides compensation is deemed to be final in nature. While granting compensation, the Tribunal is obligated to adjudicate upon the disputed question as regards the age and income of the deceased or the sufferer, as the case may be. Unlike Section 140 of the Act, adjudication on several issues arising between the parties is necessary in a proceeding under Section 163-A of the Act.”

What legal repercussions (penalties) are there for hit-and-run drivers?

Serious repercussions from a hit-and-run occurrence might include driver’s license suspension, heavy fines, and possibly jail time. Sections 279, 304A, and 338 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) offer redress to victims of hit-and-run incidents.

Anyone found guilty of recklessly operating a vehicle on a public road may be charged under Section 279 of the IPC. Drivers who drive carelessly risk jail time of up to six months, a fine of Rs. 1,000, or both if they injure someone while driving.

Section 304A of the IPC applies to drivers who, while driving, are not intoxicated and cause the death of another person in an accident. The driver can be sentenced to one year of imprisonment, which may be extended to two years, along with a fine exceeding Rs. 1,000 or both. In summary, hit-and-run cases are subject to legal consequences, including potential imprisonment and fines, as specified by Sections 279 and 304A of the IPC. These provisions aim to uphold public safety and ensure accountability for negligent driving and accidents resulting in injury or death.

Adv.khanak sharma (D\1710\2023)

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