Talking on the phone while riding or driving has till now been an offence in India and numerous people get fined every day because of this law. Now the Kerala High Court has said there is no such law in the Motor Vehicle Act that can penalise drivers who talk on the phone while driving. However, the court added that if talking on the phone while driving can be attributed to the instances where the driver is caught endangering public safety, a fine can be imposed. This comes after the recent verdict of the Rajasthan HC that directed the police to cancel the driving license of people who are repeatedly caught talking on the phone while driving.
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While it has been established that talking on the phone while driving can distract the driver, the court has ruled that there is no provision in the existing law to book the person for speaking on the phone while driving. However, most cops from various states book the person for driving and talking on the phone at the same time. The act cannot be offensive unless such drivers endanger public safety. Until now, there have been no such instances where the cop has to give a reason to book a person talking on the phone while driving.
The court gave the statements while hearing a petition filed by MJ Santhosh after he was booked by the cops. Santhosh is a resident of Kochi and cops booked him under the Section 118 (E) of Kerala Police Act and Section 184 of the Motor Vehicle Act. Both the sections are used to book the driver who is using a mobile phone to talk while driving. The section 118 (E) of the Police Act applies to any person “who knowingly does any act which causes danger to public or failure in public safety.”
MJ Santhosh was let go without a fine after the court said that he can be booked only after the cops can establish that he was endangering public safety. During the hearing, the court also observed that there is no pre-existing rule in the State Police Act that bans drivers from talking on their mobile phones. The court said that if the cops have registered a case then the existing law has to be amended and passed by the legislative assembly to book such offenders.
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The ruling bench said during the hearing,
“There is no provision in the Police Act that bans people from talking over mobile phone while driving. Hence a person doing this can’t be assumed as one causes danger to the public.The court can’t rule that the person who speaks on a mobile phone while driving causes danger to the public. The assembly should pass an amendment to include these provisions in the Police Act to make it an offence. If the police had registered such cases in the state those concerned can approach the respective magistrate courts to quash their cases,”
The High Court order of one state is valid across all the states in India, except Jammu and Kashmir, unless a state high court opposes to the order. The new order can impact the whole country. A spokesperson of the State Motor Vehicles Department said that the government will take necessary action after examining the verdict in detail.
Section 184 of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 says, “Whoever drives a motor vehicle at a speed or in a manner which is dangerous to the public, having regard to all the circumstances of the case including the nature, condition and use of the place where the vehicle is driven and the amount of traffic which actually is at the time or which might reasonably be expected to be in the place, shall be punishable…”
There have been incidents in the past where people have been booked for using hands-free devices and Bluetooth systems to talk on the phone. The new verdict can have a huge impact on the road and how cops issue fines to such people.
So should you talk on the phone while driving?
No, you should not. For one, it takes time for the traffic police to implement a new court order. They may even go on appeal against it. Also, the cops on the road are not likely to know about the order, and could still stop you and challan you – and you may have a big fight and hassle on your hands. While an HC order is applicable across India, it would still take a long time for the other states to know about it and implement it – if they implement it at all. So essentially, it’s not worth the trouble.
Next, we firmly believe that any distraction should be avoided while driving. And the safest thing to do is to stop the car and accept the call, however safe a driver you might be.