Don't be lenient with rash drivers: Supreme Court

The Supreme Court on Friday asked the trial courts and the High Courts not to be lenient while considering the quantum of punishment for causing death due to negligence and rash driving.

Giving this ruling, a Bench of Justices P. Sathasivam and J. Chelameswar said: “Considering the increased number of road accidents, the Supreme Court has, on several occasions, reminded the criminal courts dealing with the offences relating to motor accidents that they cannot treat the nature of the offence under Section 304A of the IPC [causing death by negligence] as attracting the benevolent provisions of Section 4 of the Probation of Offenders Act, 1958.”

Writing the judgment, Justice Sathasivam said: “While considering the quantum of sentence to be imposed for the offence of causing death or injury by rash and negligent driving of automobiles, one of the prime considerations should be deterrence. The persons driving motor vehicles cannot and should not take a chance, thinking that even if he is convicted he would be dealt with leniently by the court. For lessening the high rate of motor accidents due to careless and callous driving of vehicles, the courts are expected to consider all relevant facts and circumstances bearing on the question of sentence and proceed to impose a sentence commensurate with the gravity of the offence, if the prosecution is able to establish the guilt beyond reasonable doubt.”

Citing an earlier judgment, the Bench said: “When automobiles have become death traps, any leniency shown to drivers who are found guilty of rash driving would be at the risk of further escalation of road accidents. All those who are manning the steering of automobiles, particularly professional drivers, must be kept under constant reminders of their duty to adopt utmost care and also of the consequences befalling them in cases of dereliction. One of the most effective ways of keeping such drivers under mental vigil is to maintain a deterrent element in the sentencing sphere. Any latitude shown to them in that sphere would tempt them to make driving frivolous and a frolic.”

The Bench said: “The punishment must be commensurate with the gravity of the offence if the prosecution is able to establish the guilt beyond reasonable doubt.”

In the instant appeal, the Punjab government was aggrieved by an order of the High Court reducing the imprisonment handed to two drivers of as many buses involved in a collision with a truck in October 1992 that claimed five lives.

A judicial magistrate awarded a two-year imprisonment to both the drivers, and this order was upheld by the sessions judge. On appeal, the High Court reduced the quantum of sentence to 15 days (the punishment already undergone) and increased the fine from Rs. 200 to Rs. 25,000.

Allowing the appeal, the Bench said: “Merely because the fine amount has been enhanced to Rs. 25, 000…is not a sufficient ground to drastically reduce the sentence, particularly in a case where five persons died due to the negligent act of both the drivers of the bus and the truck. Accordingly, we set aside the impugned order of the High Court and impose a sentence of rigorous imprisonment for six months on each, with a fine of Rs. 5,000. The trial court is directed to take appropriate steps for surrender of the accused in both the appeals to serve the remaining period of the sentence.”

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Printable version | May 24, 2022 5:57:16 am |