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Punishment for Rash driving in India (Section 279 of IPC)

1) Driving of a vehicle or riding on a public way.

2) Such driving or riding must be so rash or negligent to endanger human life or to be likely to cause hurt or injury to any other person.

In negligence, undoubtedly there is no intention or desire for a particular consequence. The event happens without any premeditation on the part of the doer. There is invariably an overhasty act done without due deliberation and caution.

It produces a result which the offender never expected and over which he may feel sorry later. But he is punished, not for the effect produced, which he could not have expected, but for the manner of doing the act which was fraught with danger.

There is distinction between a rash act and a negligent act. A rash act is primarily an over-hasty act and is thus opposed to deliberate act, but it also includes an act which, though it may be said to be deliberate and cautions. Rashness means recklessness. A reckless act has to be understood in two different senses- subjective and objective.

In the subjective sense, it means deliberate or conscious taking of an unjustified risk which could be easily foreseen and in the circumstances of the case was unreasonable to take. In this sense it almost amounts to an oblique intent on the part of the accused. In the objective sense, the accused is not conscious of the result though he ought to be aware that it might follow and in the sense it is almost equivalent to negligence.

‘Negligence’ is the breach of a duty caused by the omission to do something which a reasonable man, guided by these considerations which ordinarily regulate the conduct of human affairs would do, or doing something which a prudent and reasonable man would not do.

Negligence is an omission to do something which a reasonable man, guided upon those considerations which ordinarily regulate the conduct of human affairs, would do, or doing something which a prudent and reasonable man would not do.

Criminal negligence is the gross and culpable neglect or failure to exercise that reasonable and proper care and precaution to guard against injury either to the public generally or to an individual in particular, which having regard to all the circumstances out of which the charge has arisen and it was the imperative duty of the accused person to have adopted.

The difference between culpable rashness and culpable negligence is this: A culpable rashness is acting with the consciousness that the mischievous and illegal consequences may follow, but with the hope that they will not, and often with the belief that the actor has taken sufficient precaution to prevent their happening. The imputability arises from acting despite the consciousness.

Culpable negligence is acting without the consciousness that the illegal and mischievous effect will follow, but in circumstances which show that the actor has not exercised the caution incumbent upon him and if he had he would have had the consciousness. The imputability arises from the neglect of the civic duty of circumspection. As between rashness and negligence, rashness is a graver offence.

The words ‘likely to cause’ carries the meaning that the actual causing of hurt or injury is not necessary. Its likelihood is sufficient.

The words ‘any other person’ means a person outside the carriage and not a person inside. Injury to the person inside is punishable under Section 337. It is not necessary that the rash or negligent act should result in injury to life or property.

Hence bare negligence involving the risk of injury is punishable under Section 279, IPC. For the purpose of Section 279, rashness and negligence must be described as criminal rashness or criminal negligence. It must be more than mere carelessness or error of judgment.

There can be no civil action for negligence if the negligent act or omission has not been attended by an injury to any person; but bare negligence involving the risk of injury is punishable criminally, though nobody is actually hurt by it.

The doctrine of contributory negligence does not apply to criminal actions. The accused will be liable even though there has been a degree of negligence on the part of the prosecutor which would incapacitate him from bringing a civil suit.

In State of Bihar v. Mangai Singh [AIR 1953 Pat 56], the accused drove his bus with defective brakes at a high speed and in his attempt to apply the foot brakes on being signalled to stop, he was unable to control it and where two of the wheels had gone into a nala and the bus body after a capsize gone to pieces which resulted in the instantaneous death of one and severe injuries to the other passengers. It was held that the accused was guilty of offences under Sections 279, 338 and 304-A, IPC.

In Manu Prakash v. State of Haryana [1996 CrLJ 663 (P & H)], the accused, a truck-driver, driving his vehicle rashly and negligently at a high-speed climbed the footpath and hit the deceased from behind causing his death. His conviction under Sections 279 and 304-A was held to be proper.

In Duli Chand v. Delhi Administration [AIR 1975 SC 1960], where the driver of a bus, who, although was driving at a moderate speed, failed to look to his right before turning at a cross­road and consequently running over a cyclist, it was held that the driver was guilty of negligence.

In Prafulla Kumar Rout v. State [(1995) CrLJ 1277 (Ori)], the accused was a driver of a bus. The accused came at a high speed and ran over a school-going minor girl, resulting in her death. The accused argued that the deceased had suddenly run towards the vehicle and since it was an unexpected act, it could not be construed as a rash or negligent act of the driver.

It was held that the accident occurred in front of the school, and it is expected of a driver to be cautious and slow down the vehicle near an educational institution. The accused was held guilty under Section 279.

In Badri Prasad v. State [1994 CrLJ 389 (Ori)], a mini bus driver at a high speed dashed against a bullock cart killing a man on the spot. The driver of the bus was convicted under Sections 279 and 304-A. It was not established that the driver was rash and negligent. It was held that mere carelessness or error of judgment was not sufficient for conviction under Section 279. Accordingly, the conviction and sentence of the accused was set aside.

In Annasahels Bandu Patil v. State of Maharashtra [1991 CrLJ 814], a bus driver was moving at a slow speed on a wide and straight road because of light shower. But suddenly finding a speedy truck coming from the opposite direction, he applied brakes as a result of which the bus skidded and dashed against an electric pole.

It was held to be an error of judgment on the part of driver, but his conviction under Section 279 was set aside because no grievous hurt was caused to anybody.

In State of H.P v. Man Singh [(1995) 1 CrLJ 299 (HP)], it was held that driving at a high speed on a crowded road and pressing a person against a wall in order to avert accident was negligence within the meaning of Section 279.

The offence under Section 279 is cognizable, but summons should ordinarily issue in the first instance. It is bailable but not compoundable, and is triable by any Magistrate and summarily.