The Indian Penal Code, 1860 defines rash driving or riding on a public way and causing death by negligence. Rash driving or riding on a public way is defined under Sec. 279 and causing death by negligence is defined under Sec. 304A of Indian Penal Code (IPC).
One of the most frequently misunderstood traffic offenses is that commonly referred to as “reckless driving.” And this reckless driving only deals with great damage of life and prospects in the society. In many states judicial definitions of reckless driving are found in cases where in the courts have construed homicide statutes in which reckless driving (culpable or criminal negligence or the like) is the specific element of the crime. Many of these statutes merely join reckless driving with the added element of a death caused thereby.
Section 279 is much of a new kind of offence committed as driving means it in itself means vehicular. And vehicles in India were introduced lately during the British period but Section 304A can be said of an early existence as an offence it does not limits up to negligent driving but it can be any negligent act or omission.
It is not mandatory that the person committing offence under sections 279 and 304A should be of guilty mind to commit such offence, mere negligence on part of the offender without exercising due care which a prudent man might reasonably be expected to exercise is enough to constitute the person guilty under these sections.
The common ingredients of both the sections 279 and 304A of IPC are that the accused must have done such an act or omission and that such act or omission of the accused was rash and negligent. The difference is in Sec. 279 that act must be rash and negligent driving and under Sec. 304A it could be any rash and negligent act.
INGREDIENTS OF SECTION 279 AND 304A OF IPC
- Rash Driving or Riding – This section deals with rash or negligent driving of any vehicle or riding in a public way in a rash and negligent manner so as to endanger human life or to be likely to cause hurt or injury to any person. If a person drives a motor vehicle on a road without due care and attention, he shall be guilty of an offence under this section and punishable with imprisonment which may extend to six months, or fine upto rupees five hundred, or both. The offence is cognizable, bailable and triable by any Magistrate.
- Public way – Any way which is common to all subjects whether directly leading to a town or beyond a town as a thoroughfare to other towns or from town to town, may properly be called a public way.
- Rash or negligent driving – A rash act is primarily an overhasty one and so must be opposed to a deliberate act, but it also include an act, which though it may be said to be deliberate, is yet done without deliberation and caution. It is not necessary that the rash and negligent act should result in injury to life and property. Speed alone is not the criteria for deciding rashness or negligence on the part of the driver. The relationship between speed and rashness or negligence depends upon the place and time. In a straight wide road, where obstructions from other vehicles or pedestrians are not present, it cannot be said that driving in speed or absence of sounding a horn by itself would amount to rashness or negligence. A motor vehicle is intended to be driven with speed.
So the ingredients of this section includes: there should be driving or riding which can be through any vehicle moving or having tendency to move. Then the driving or riding must be on Public way and such driving or riding must be rash or negligent.
To bring a case of homicide under this section the conditions are-
- There must be death of the person in question or can be called as the victim.
- The accused must have caused such death.
- That such act of the accused was rash and negligent and that it did not amount to culpable homicide
To impose criminal liability under this section it is necessary that the death should have been the direct consequence of rash and negligent act of the accused and that such act must be the proximate and efficient cause without the intervention of another’s negligence. It must be the causa causans (the immediate or operating cause); it is not enough that it may have been the causa sine qua non (a necessary or inevitable cause).
The section is defined as “whoever causes the death of any person by doing rash or negligent act not amounting to culpable homicide”
Now here the word ‘Any Person’ has to be explained as ‘Person’ includes a human being of any age, whether born or unborn. In a case where the accused kicked a woman in an advanced stage of pregnancy with the result that the child died in the womb, the accused was held guilty under this section.
Rash and negligent act according to this section is defined as:-
Rashness means doing an act with the consequences of a risk that evil consequences will follow but with the hope that they will not happen. Rash act is primarily an overhasty act opposed to a deliberate act as explained in the above section also.
Negligence is a breach of duty imposed by law so a negligent act denotes in criminal law failure to exercise reasonable and proper care and precaution to guard against injury, either to the public generally or to an individual in particular.
Section 304A, which was inserted in the IPC by Act 25 of 1870, postulates a rash and negligent act entailing death of another. Then provisions of this section apply to cases where there is no intention to cause death, and no knowledge that the act done in all probability would cause death; it should not amount to culpable homicide. Section 304A is directed at offences outside the range of sections 299 and 300, IPC.
MAJOR DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SECTION 279 AND 304A OF IPC
|S. no.||SECTION 279 IPC||SECTION 304A IPC|
|1.||Under this section rash driving or riding should be the act.||Under this section it need not be rash or negligent driving. It can be any rash or negligent act.|
|2.||The rash or negligent driving must be on a public way.||The rash or negligent act can be done anywhere it need not be any public way.|
|3.||The rash act or negligent act can be while driving or riding only.||Driving or riding is not necessary to commit such offence.|
|4.||It is a minor offence punishable with imprisonment extending upto six months or fine upto Rs. 1000 or both.||It is a grave offence punishable with imprisonment extending upto two years or with fine or with both.|
The other differences are that under Section 304A it is necessary that death is caused and it is caused by the direct consequence of the negligent act of the accused.
But under Section 279 it need not be necessary that death must be caused. If the rash and negligent driving may cause death of the resultant act of the accused then he may be charged under other Sections of IPC such as under Section 304A. It may then constitute a crime committed under Section 279 read with Section 304A.
Section 304A deals with a large number of cases than Section 279 as it include any rash and negligent act resulting in death by the accused, while Sec. 279 focuses on rash and negligent driving only which means that it cannot be any negligent act but though it is a specific negligent act i.e. Rash and Negligent Driving or Riding and this specific act too must be on a public way to constitute as such.
Section 304A has a wider terminology and needs much interpretation than Section 279 of the IPC. Section 279 covers only those cases which relate to driving on public way endangering human life, while offence under section 304A extends to any rash or negligent act falling short of culpable homicide.
Thus, Sec. 279 focuses on the crimes of rashness and negligent driving on public way which is limited to the act of driving or riding anything movable so it is to stop the crimes creating fear in the minds of public of the people who drink and drive or drive at high speed on a busy road or drives in crazy ways hitting people or causing of just fear as such. And if this rashness or negligent driving on public way leads to causing death than it is Sec. 304A read with Sec. 279 that is causing death by negligence. Though the scope of 304A is very wide and large as in this it includes any type of negligent act causing death but it is not necessary for charging Sec. 279 as it needs that there was negligent driving as a specific act.
 Law Commission of India, 234th Report 2000
 Nga Myat Thin, (1898) PJLB 426
 P. Rajappan v. State of Kerala, 1986 Cr LJ 511 Ker
 Mohammad Saffique v. State of Orissa, 1983 Cr LJ 535
 K.D. Gaur, The Indian Penal Code, Universal Law Publishing Co. Pvt. Ltd., 4th Edition, 2009