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Stop Blaming the Car

Stop Blaming the Car
Lead Illustration: Anthony Lawrence

In accidents involving luxury cars, there is no sympathy, only glee, as if somehow the foreign car owner deserves his comeuppance and in no way could he or she be innocent

~By Bikram Vohra

The prejudice in India against the make of a car involved in an accident is palpable. It is as if an Audi or a Beamer or a Merc immediately indicts the driver or owner as guilty of criminal conduct. He must have been drunk, he must have been speeding, he must have no concern about the lives of poor people and he must be twice as guilty even before the facts are in… after all an accident in an Audi is tantamount to proof of arrogance and conceit and pure evil.

The tenor of the media reporting displays such social bias and class division.  It would be comical if it wasn’t so grossly unfair. There is no sympathy, only glee, as if somehow the foreign car owner deserves his comeuppance and in no way could he or she be innocent…

Why does a reckless driver in a smaller car somehow get the benefit of doubt, as if his flouting of the road rules were less indictable because his vehicle wasn’t a brute of a beaut and indicative of a rich man’s possessions?

What the prejudice also does is make a mockery of the law in relation to hit and run drivers or those who get behind the wheel in a stupor.

On both counts a person can be held under Section 279 or 304(A) of the Indian Penal Code and also under 134A and 134B of Indian Motor Vehicle (IMV) Act. In 2012 the Supreme Court of India upped the ante when it confirmed a three-year High Court sentence on Alistair Anthony Periera after he mowed down seven people in Mumbai in a Mercedes but as a deterrent it hasn’t yet worked its way through the natural indifference to reckless driving.

The unspoken agreement on our roads is to hit and run to “save” oneself. Also, it gives one time to hole up somewhere and dry out so that any alcohol test becomes moot. For this reason, hit and runs often disappear till they have got their legal ducks in a row…or bought and paid for a surrogate scapegoat.

Ten times as many accidents reported have indigenous “toy cars” involved in them. Of the nearly 400 people killed every day hardly a few are victims of an Audi or a BMW to make it even statistically an issue. But they do not make for a story. The moment it is an imported car that is in the picture all hell breaks loose. Even the headline has the make of the car to give it more heft. Killer Audi, Beastly Beamer, Murderous Merc.  Anchors on TV go hoarse repeating the model of the car as if the car and not the person at the wheel was at fault and had to be held accountable.

Regrettably, lesser “deaths” by lesser vehicles do not get the same publicity and often are closed after a suitable financial payoff is arranged. They are written off as accidents or just bad luck.

It is time to make a new law for hit-and-run, one that has common application and allows only for the driver to only “run” to the police station in case he fears a mob attack. Anything else by way of disappearing is to be seen as at least manslaughter and not negligence or simply rash driving under section 279 of the penal code.

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A look at some of the worst road mishaps in the last six months:

January 28, 2017: A 19-year-old riding a scooter killed when hit by a car coming from behind in Ultadanga, Kolkata

December 12, 2016: Four die after their Maruti Alto hits a stationary truck on the Yamuna Expressway, Delhi

December 11, 2016: A couple gets injured when a speeding SUV driven by a class X student hit a scooter on which the two were travelling in Kukatpally, Hyderabad

December 5, 2016: Three die and 19 pedestrians injured after a speeding sedan jumps a red light, hit two motorbikes and climbs a footpath in Kolkata

November 14, 2016: Four people, including three women and a child, die when a Mahindra XUV 500 had a tyre burst, jumped the divider on the Yamuna Expressway and hit a Ford Figo

November 5, 2016: Six persons including two children killed and three others get hurt when the driver of their taxi loses control and hits the road divider near Wadi Bunder, Mumbai

October 31, 2016: Four killed when the driver of a car carrying six people loses control on the Chennai-Kumbakonam national highway

October 16, 2016: Three undergraduate students of SRM University in Chennai killed when their speeding car hit the road median

October 15, 2016: Three engineering students of Amity University, Noida, killed and seven injured after their rental SUV, Scorpio, collided with a tractor on National Highway, Murthal

September 24, 2017: A 25-year-old biker killed and the person riding pillion injured after they are hit by a Honda City coming from the opposite direction, near Rabindra Sarobar Metro, Kolkata

September 10, 2016: Four killed when their speeding car collides with a container on Pune-Mumbai Expressway at Lonavala

What we also find murky and difficult to admit is the uneven field in which each “accident” occurs. I use the word “accident” advisedly because even by law proving rash or negligent driving is a confusing business with too many permutations and the impact of outside influences often making a dog’s breakfast of the law and the cops themselves treating this issue casually.

Take the case of the doctor whose Audi 7 car killed four people in an auto rickshaw in Hindon Delhi last month.  It is a perfect example of how an investigation into death by car unravels rather than unfolds.

Two days after the gruesome crash the police could not figure out who owned the car. This is inexplicable. Aren’t these cars registered and cleared by Customs and the RTO? By the very fact that it is not some garden variety clunker of a car with a changed number plate but a top of the range Q 7 the owner should have been identified within a few minutes and traced… or if he was on the lam his address discovered.

Clearly, much power and pelf was at work to thwart this whole gory mess. Although the car was finally identified as belonging to a doctor this worthy had disappeared. Okay, accepted that he was in hiding and has done a runner in panic. But by now you would think the police would have been able to obtain his photograph and put out an all-points bulletin to look for the man. There was nothing. After all, if a well-known well-heeled doctor owns a top of the range vehicle it is reasonable to assume he also has a social standing and relatives and people who work for him and know him but even his data is spotty at best as if keeping all this information confidential was, in some way, going to lead the police to the bigger fish.

There are no bigger fish…or are there?

Seeing how Dr Rawat ran away from the gathering “crowd” rather than do his job as a medical practitioner, the police took him on his word that he was not driving the car and have registered no case against him.

Nor are they puzzled he took several days to fetch up and confess his innocence.

Ah well, blame the Audi.