Mounting rage on the roads

Joginder Singh
Former Director – CBI

Antiquated laws, poorly trained drivers, bad traffic management and authority’s indifferent attitude have combined to create a mess.

India may not have a very high incidence of road rage cases as compared with some of the Western countries, but it is fast emerging as a dangerous trend. It is in essence a reflection of aggression caused by stress while driving. But what is cause for concern is that in most cases it is no more restricted to making rude gestures, heaping verbal insults, or smashing windows but ends up in physical assault or even murder. Take the recent incident in New Delhi. A pilot allegedly drove over the manager of a restaurant because the former’s car grazed that of the latter.

A look at the number of deaths resulting from road rage in Delhi alone gives a fair idea of the seriousness of the issue. In the past five years, out of the 2,489 murders in the national capital, 382 were committed by people who let their anger explode.

We Indians continue to be reckless on roads. The number of deaths in road accidents has increased from 84,430 in 2003-04 to 1.14 lakh in 2007. According to statistics, in 2007, India witnessed 418,657 road accidents out of which 14,590 were fatal. It is an increase of 8.4 per cent over 105,725 deaths in 2006.

It is important to note that most of these deaths have occurred due to bad road designs and lack of proper traffic management systems. Hence, the important question is what the Government is doing to tackle traffic offences, especially road rage incidents. The Government has decided to start a three-digit helpline 911— just like 100 for police and 101 for fire service. But it remains only on paper.

The law of the land has neither any definition of road rage nor any specific provision for it. It depends on the FIR registering official what IPC Sections he would use to register such a case. It is because the law makes a fine distinction between murder by rash and negligent driving, a planned murder and a murder by a sudden or grave
provocation. For instance, the accused in the New Delhi case was promptly granted bail on the ground that it was a bailable offence.

A road rage case may be registered under Section 304 as culpable homicide not amounting to murder or, under 304(A) as death due to rash and negligent driving. In some cases, Section 325 is used to bracket a road rage case with one of hurt or grievous hurt. It can also be registered as murder under Section 302 and attempt to murder under Section 307.

This kind of legal ambiguity can lead not just to corruption but also dilution of cases, especially those involving the high and mighty. An investigating officer has the liberty to turn a minor incident into a serious one and vice versa.

What is worse is that the legal procedure is too long-drawn to punish traffic offenders. If a drive were to be started to check the authenticity of driving licences issued, chances are that more than 25 per cent would turn out to be fakes.

The fault lies with our system. There is no institutionalised arrangement for drivers’ training in our country. The so-called driving training schools run by private operators are nothing more than a front for purchasing fake driving licences. Most advanced countries prescribe written as well as practical tests for applicants of driving licences. In our country even if the system exists, it is only on paper.

The Delhi High Court observed in January 2010 that bus operators should not be blamed alone for the increase in accidents, the State Government is equally responsible because it is lax in issuing driving licences. “The problem would not have arisen if you ensured trained drivers were given licences … The power to give licences is with them (Government). Bus operators cannot produce drivers,”said the court.

According to Transparency India, truckers pay bribes at every stage of their business — starting from getting their vehicles registered with the Road Transport Office and obtaining road-worthiness certificates to obtaining and renewing inter-State and national permits. Besides, they pay cash at police checkpoints set up to curb smuggling and keep vigil on movements of anti-nationals and anti-socials. It estimates that truckers pay around Rs 22,500 crore in bribes annually.

The Global Corruption Barometer 2010, a survey conducted by Transparency International, says 74 per cent Indians feel that corruption has increased over the last three years. People find politicians are most corrupt, followed by the police, civil servants and officials from the fields of education, business, judiciary, NGOs and military. A truck industry operator said, “Harassment at the hands of police and Road Transport Office staff results in rash and negligent driving to make up for the time lost …The indifferent attitude of the Transport Department is the main reason for approaching middlemen or touts.”

The authorities are yet to wake up despite over 314 deaths a day, 13 deaths per hour and a murder on the road every five minutes. Absence of a centralised data of rash and negligent driving and grossly disproportionate punishment for traffic violations surmount the problem.

It is surprising that the serious problem of traffic offence has not even evoked a debate in Parliament. It shows the Union Government does not feel responsible for this sorry state of affairs. It reminds me of what Alexander Pope once said: Honour and shame from no condition rise; Act well your part, there all the honour lies.

The Union Government would do well to remember that the responsibility lies with it to improve the traffic management system in the country by changing the laws and being ruthless in dealing with corruption in the system. Similarly, those who violate traffic rules or are found guilty of causing injury, death and damage on account of rash driving should be severely punished so that others are deterred.

It is a comment on our sad state of affairs that along with fatal accidents on the roads, the incidence of road rage is also increasng with each passing day.