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Section 161 of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 defines a Hit and Run accident as “Hit and run motor accident means an accident arising out of the use of a motor vehicle or motor vehicles the identity whereof cannot be ascertained in spite of reasonable efforts for the purpose” Generally, any person involved in an accident is required to stop, provide necessary information and help the situation if possible. Failure to stop after a car accident is considered to be “hit and run” and can have serious consequences ranging from fines to imprisonment.
In an era of rash and drunken driving cases when the sense of road safety or concern for fellow pedestrians is constantly dwindling, the problem of hit-and-run accidents has been a major cause of worry in policy circles, for both those with a responsibility for roads policing and for road safety campaigners.
In most states, hit and run is a very serious charge. A first-time offender whose hit and run accident caused damage to another vehicle will be convicted of the crime and usually is mandatory to pay the victim for damages done to the car, either through their insurance company or in fines assessed by the courts. When the hit and run involve injuries to another person, the punishment is more severe. In this case, a driver might face large fines, major DMV points and the revocation of his/her driver’s license and/or insurance policy. When the hit and run caused a person to die, the accident is considered a felony by law. The investigating police officers may ask the owner of the vehicle to give a written report and turn in the car for further investigations. At that point, it is best to consult an auto accident lawyer before releasing any information to the police.
FACTORS INVOLVED IN HIT AND RUN
It becomes interesting to study about the hit and run cases from the perspective of the victims as well as the accused drivers because they illuminate the prevailing psychological aspects of the accused in terms such as 1. Why do some drivers fail to stop/report an accident (which includes offenses often colloquially referred to as ‘hit-and-run’)? 2. What preventative strategies could be implemented to reduce the number of future offenses?
Different drivers are actually exposed to different type of mental, social or situational pressures when they have accidentally hit someone. So the cause of running away or fleeing the place after hitting someone is not uniform for everyone. There are categories of drivers who keep driving because they are oblivious of the accident ever taking place. For example, the drivers of vans and Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGV) might be oblivious of hitting a motorcyclist or road furniture.
Then comes the category of uncertain deportees who are unsure as to the accident should be reported or not because they consider it too trivial an occurrence that might bring on hefty legal consequences against them. There are a group of people who switch to ‘flight’ mode simply due to panic, stress, and fear. On the other hand, there is a group who can be called the rational escapists, because very calmly adjudge that leaving or escaping is the best alternative to avoid the nuances that might follow after an accident.
On this note, it is worth mentioning that a hit and run case can also be deliberate and intentional, and the mindset of the rational escapists operate for a variety of reasons like to either (1) hide criminality; (2) avoid being victims of ‘scams’ or (3) to protect their safety if the accident has occurred in a dangerous location, and to escape the legal penalties that they might have to encounter. There are also intimidated drivers meaning those who face so much aggression from the fellow drivers or pedestrians that they get scared and flee the place even before the legal investigation has actually ensued. Lastly, there is the category of impaired drivers or drivers who come under the category of “non-compos mentis”, who might be in a state of hallucination or inebriation when the accident was caused. This state of intoxication or contamination may be the cause of the accident and impairs judgment over whether to stay at the scene or not.
Some of the major factors leading to hit and run road accidents are happening reckless and speedy driving of the vehicles, not obeying or following traffic rules, the attitudes of the “right of the mighty” bigger vehicles toward the smaller vehicles, overburdened or overcapacity hauling of public and transport vehicles, poor maintenance of the vehicles, drunken driving, driver fatigue, and above all the appalling condition of the already choked roads with every inch encroached by unauthorized persons and properties. Drunken driving, in fact, is becoming a major cause of concern these days where the alcoholic influence impairs a driver and he is jolted with excessive panic after hitting a person on roads, such that he loses the conscience to report and immediately takes to flight mode. Studies in low- and middle-income countries like India have shown that between 33% and 69% of fatally injured drivers and between 8% and 29% of non fatally injured drivers had consumed alcohol before their crash.
LEGAL PROVISIONS AGAINST HIT AND RUN ACCIDENTS
Usually in India, Hit and run cases are subjected to violations of sections 279 (rash and negligent driving) or 304(A) (causing death by negligence) or 304(2) (culpable homicide not amounting to murder), Section 338 (Causing grievous hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others) and also that of sections 134A and 134B of the Indian Motor Vehicles Act (IMV), 1988.
Section 134 of the Indian Motor Vehicles Act establishes the duty of the driver of any motor vehicle which has caused accident and injury to any person, or the third party to secure medical attention for the injured person, and, if necessary, convey him to the nearest hospital. It also makes it a legal duty of the accused to produce all the evidence or required information to the concerned police officer or to the report to the nearest police station at the earliest.
The IMV also provides for special compensations that are particular to the category of hit and run accidents. Under Section 161 of the Motor Vehicles Act laid down special provisions with respect to paying of compensation of hit and run cases. It specifies that in all such eventualities where the car and the driver are insured, the insurance companies who are carrying on general insurance business in India should compensate the victim of a hit and run in monetary terms. It establishes a penalty of eight thousand and five hundred rupees in case of death of a person hit by a hit and run and that of two thousand rupees in case of grievous hurt.
The definition and scope of ‘grievous hurt’ being subject to section 45 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. Further, Section 163 of the Motor Vehicles Act empowers the government to make regulatory schemes in relation to the payment of compensations in case of hit and run accidents, which specify the manner and the time frame of making applications for compensations, certain authorities to receive such applications, highlights the procedures that must be followed in the disposal or passing of those applications, etc. This section also provides for punishments for contravention of such schemes laid down by the government leading to an imprisonment up to three months or a fine up to five hundred rupees or both.
Further, a victim of a hit and run case can also file a charge under section 140 of the IMV Act, which establishes the liability to pay compensations on the principle of no fault. This means that if any vehicle or vehicles has caused death or permanent disability of a person, the concerned victim or his party can claim for a compensation of fifty thousand(in case of death) and twenty thousand(in case of permanent disability), without even having to prove any wrongful conduct or negligence in driving on part of the guilty.
LANDMARK CASES AND ADVOCATE’S COMMENTARIES
A number of landmark judgments, case commentaries as well as advocates have opined about the consequences and liabilities that can arise out of hit and run cases. As per a high court advocate Mr. Shankarappa, it is very difficult to elude the responsibilities in these cases and the accused, if caught while doing so can face even stricter punishments.
The Salman Khan Hit And Run Case
Indian Bollywood actor Salman Khan was convicted in a thirteen year long infamous hit and run case that stretched from 2002 to 2015, The facts say that the actor’s white Toyota Land Cruiser had crashed into American Express Bakery at Hill Road, Bandra (Mumbai), killing one person and injuring four. Witnesses claimed that they saw the actor leaving the site of the accident and that he was in the driver’s seat. The name of the victim was Nurullah Mehboob Sharif. During the proceedings of the case Section 304(2) of the IPC (culpable homicide not amounting to murder was invoked on the actor and he was also charged with a compensation of 19 lakhs. Finally, on May 6, 2015, Salman Khan was found guilty of all charges against him. The court pronounced its verdict and sentenced the actor to five years of imprisonment and his lawyers decided to move to a higher court for appeal.
Janvi Gadkar, Vice president and corporate lawyer of Reliance Industries was also accused of hit and run while she was driving in a drunken state and her Audi Q3 had crashed into a taxi, leading to the death of two individuals and injury of others. She had then moved the Sessions Court, where her trial is still on. Mumbai RTO has terminated for life her driving license
Alistair Pereira, a Bombay youth also killed 7 people in a hit and run case when he was drunk driving and lost the control of his sedan which crashed into a construction site killing 7 workers. He was sentenced to three years of imprisonment but appealed in Supreme Court, and was given bail in 2007.
POTENTIAL PREVENTIVE MEASURES AGAINST HIT AND RUN ACCIDENTS
Hopefully, some preventive strategies can prove to be potential in changing the meager scenario of hit and run accidents in India.
Firstly, there should be an improvement in the conditions of roads so that it facilitates smoother flow of both heavy and light traffic. The government should provide for proper footpaths for pedestrians and at pedestrian crossings at road intersections. A large number of roads in India still lack proper footpaths or in some cases, the footpaths are encroached by illegal shops and stalls making it improbable for pedestrians to commute through them. The streets, especially the small lanes and alleys that lack proper visibility should be well illuminated and provided with sufficient amount of street lightings.
Developing alternate means of reporting an incident within 24 hours and development of a nation-wide reporting app may facilitate easy reporting of the cases and reduce the number of those who fail to report out of the fear of personally approaching the police station at the heat of the moment. A national campaign can be launched both in online platforms, media portals as well as through offline modes to promote awareness about vehicular responsibilities in accident cases and also to make the drivers aware of the legal charges of the IPC and the IMV act that can be filed against them to make them legally acknowledged of the consequences.
Thirdly, technological advancement in this field can massively help in increasing the report of the accidents to the police stations and thereby help in the reduction of hit and run cases. If such kind of Location Tracking Technology (LTT) is installed in the cars that automatically and immediately file a report to the nearest police station as the accident takes place then it leaves no scope for the accused driver to elope the spot.
Several hit and run accidents are also caused by drivers who are on the course of their employment and are driving on duty. Work often requires the employees to rush from one place to another within a certain time constraint and thereby they take to rash driving. (e.g. pizza delivery boys). In these cases, it also becomes a legal responsibility of employers with regard to work-related driving, in managing how their staff uses the road for work, providing training and instruction where necessary and regularly review risk assessments. If the employees feel restrained from approaching the police, then there must be a system or awareness where the employees understand the need to report to their employers immediately, who in turn can advise and fulfill the legal requirements.
A major and potent cause of many kinds of accidents is drunken and rash driving. Although anti-drinking legislation provides for legal provisions and alcohol limits while driving, there must be an effective mechanism to enforce and ensure the same. If roadside drink drive analysis stalls are installed, that would contain officials who have the authority to stop automobiles, take breath samples and seize take legal actions if they are driving off limits or if they are caught to be under alcoholic influence, then it would serve as an effective means to curb hit and run accidents.
Awareness and control should be stipulated from the very grass-root level, where many driving schools grant early driving licenses to amateur drivers with inadequate training. There should be proper speed awareness training in all driving schools or at least through separate programs, and steps should be taken to ensure license is granted only to individuals who proficiently pass uniform criteria of driving tests covering all types of roads and traffic situations.
Most importantly, Indian legal system should strictly invoke legislations to detest roadside/ footpath dwellers, and make sleeping on footpaths a punishable offence, as this might greatly endanger the life of poor and innocent people who are mercilessly trampled by reckless drivers high on wheels at night. Even construction workers should be given separate temporary shelters and must not be made to cast their tents on roadsides.
Lastly, if one has been involved in a hit and run accident, an experienced auto accident lawyer will be able to assist with what steps to follow. At the same time, the personal injury attorney might be able to reduce the penalties by investigating the nature of the auto accident, the degree of the damage done. Thereby one should immediately approach the right legal aid available.
By – Shrestha Banerjee
Section 161 (1)(b), Motor Vehicles Act, 1988
 Hit-and-run: why do drivers fail to stop after an accident?, p. 2, Matt Hopkins, Sally Chivers and Gail Stevenson-Freer Department of Criminology, University of Leicester, January 2017
 Hit-and-run: why do drivers fail to stop after an accident?, p. 3, Matt Hopkins, Sally Chivers and Gail Stevenson-Freer Department of Criminology, University of Leicester, January 2017
 134. Duty of driver in case of accident and injury to a person.
When any person is injured or any property of a third party is damaged, as a result of an accident in which a motor vehicle is involved, the driver of the vehicle or other person in charge of the vehicle shall–
- unless it is not practicable to do so on account of mob fury or any other reason beyond his control, take all reasonable steps to secure medical attention for the injured person, and, if necessary, convey him to the nearest hospital, unless the injured person or his guardian, in case he is a minor, desires otherwise;
- give on demand by a police officer any information required by him, or, if no police officer is present, report the circumstances of the occurrence, including the circumstances, if any, for not taking reasonable steps to secure medical attention as required under clause (a), at the nearest police station as soon as possible, and in any case within twenty-four hours of the occurrence.
 161. Special provisions as to compensation in case of hit and run motor accident.
- For the purposes of this section, section 162 and section 163 —
- “Grievous hurt” shall have the same meaning as in the Indian Penal Code; (45 of 1860.)
 163. Scheme for payment of compensation in case of hit and run motor accidents.
The Central Government may, by notification in the Official Gazette, make a scheme specifying, the manner in which the scheme shall be administered by the General Insurance Corporation, the form, manner and the time within which applications for compensation may be made, the officers or authorities to whom such applications may be made, the procedure to be followed by such officers or authorities for considering and passing orders on such applications, and all other matters connected with, or incidental to, the administration of the scheme and the payment of compensation.
 2. A scheme made under sub-section (1) may provide that–
- a contravention of any provision thereof shall be punishable with imprisonment for such term as may be specified but in no case exceeding three months, or with fine which may extend to such amount as may be specified but in no case exceeding five hundred rupees or with both;
 Hit-and-run: why do drivers fail to stop after an accident?, p. 35, Matt Hopkins, Sally Chivers and Gail Stevenson-Freer Department of Criminology, University of Leicester, January 2017
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