Motor Vehicle Act: History and Development


Adwitia Maity, Department of Law, University of Calcutta

Shivangi Mugdha, NMIMS Kirit P Mehta School of Law Mumbai

Shashwat Raj, Asian Law College

Rajat Maheshwari, NLC Bharti Vidyapeeth University Pune

Editor : Sheetal Sharma, Faculty of Law, University of Delhi


The number of individuals killed in road catastrophes in India is the second highest within the world and accounts for nearly 1.5 lakhs per annum. This translates into 17 people dying every hour. Another 5 lakhs are seriously injured in road crashes. Road crashes account for quite 44% of all unnatural accidental deaths in India and 51% of all those killed between the ages of 18 and 30. Maybe these are just numbers but it's destroying India from within. Killing people unremittingly in their most efficient ages.

Looking at these numbers, there emerges a need for an Act that could mark the road safety standards and reduce the numbers by providing stringent rules and regulations. And hence, the central government passed the Act containing the provisions to govern traffic rules, vehicle insurance, registration of vehicles, envisage legislative provisions regarding licensing of drivers and also include penalties, if violated, herein after known as The Motor Vehicle Act.

Background and History

The first law regarding Motor Vehicles was enacted in 1914 during British rule. India was having impact of British Motor Vehicle Act as most of the laws are basically originated from the common law system. This act was later on amended by the Motor Vehicle Act, 1939 due to improvement in road network, change in transport techniques of motor vehicle management, so it felt necessary to consolidate and amend the law relating to motor vehicles by suitable legislation.

Laws which were enacted under British rule was amended subsequently which gave power to local government to issue and register vehicles.

Motor Vehicle Act of 1939 was replaced with the act of 1988 as it was not considered relevant to contemporary requirements. Thus, it was changed with technology and transport patterns.

Motor Vehicle Act of 1988 came into force from 1st July 1989, which was amended several times. Moreover, Motor Vehicle act was the principal legislation by which road transport and road safety was regulated in India, and it does so by imposing fines. The act creates two levels of regulation at the Central and State Levels. The Central government creates the categories of registrations and permit vehicles for its intended use. Whereas, the State government controls the permits of vehicles under the framework of registrations created by Central government and also create licenses for operation of such permits.

The Motor Vehicles Act, 1988: Salient features

o The act laid the policy against any liability incurred by the insured in respect of death or bodily injury to a person or harm to any property of a 3rd party. In keeping with this section, the policy doesn't need covering the liability of death or injuries arising to the workers within the course of employment except to the extent of liability underneath Workmen Compensation Act.

o When a canopy note issued by an insurance company isn't followed by a policy at intervals the prescribed time, the insurance company is certain to inform the actual fact to the involved Registering Authority.

o An applicant was entitled to compensation of Rs.50,000 in cases of death or Rs.25,000 within the cases of injury.

o An applicant could also approach the assembly having jurisdiction over the realm i) During which the accident occurred, ii) wherever he resides, iii) carries on business or iv) wherever the defendant resides.

o For victims of hit and run cases i.e. wherever the identity of the vehicle could be discovered the insurers were prone to pay the stipulated compensation.

o The Act also provided obligatory third-party insurance, that is needed to be taken by each vehicle owner. It has been laid out in Section 146(1) that not everybody shall use or permit employing a motorcar publicly place unless there's in effect a policy of insurance obliging with the need of this chapter.[3] Resistance of the provisions of section 146 is associate degree offence and is punishable with imprisonment which can touch 3 months or with fine which can touch one thousand rupees or with each (section 196). Each vehicle owner is needed to require a policy covering against any liability which can be incurred by him in respect of death or bodily injury as well as owner of products or his licensed representative carried within the vehicle or harm to the property of third party and conjointly death or bodily injury to any traveler of a public service vehicle. Insurance firms are allowed no different defense except the following: –

(1) Use of car for rent and reward not allow to ply such vehicle.

(2) For organizing sport and speed testing;

(3) Use of transport vehicle not allowed by allow.

(4) Driver not holding valid license or are disqualified for holding such license.

(5) Policy taken is void because the same is obtained by non-disclosure of material reality.

Issues with the Act of 1988 Presently Motors Vehicle Act 1988 was governing us, but this law is outdated now when seen through changes that have occurred within the transportation sector and mushrooming of vehicles and population. When the Motor vehicle Act 1988 was passed in 1988, India had a population of 83 Crores. Fast forward to 2018 and that we have multiplied to 132 crores. The law governing motor vehicles and transport is archaic, missing the laws necessary to manage fast motorization.

Vehicle operators need to follow traffic rules, wear helmets and seat belts, and not blame corrupt officials or cite traffic congestion for their behaviour.

Fines, currently set at 1988 levels, needed be revised to make them an effective deterrent. Petrol prices have increased 10-fold in this period; so, an increase of fines by five times is eminently justified.

Since fastmoving is a foremost cause of accidents and deaths, restraining the speeds or acceleration capability of vehicles manufactured for use in India must be set by the law. Drunken driving is a grave offense and must be efficiently stamped out. The government must deliberate allowing random soberness tests and reducing permissible blood alcohol levels for young and beginner drivers to 20 mg per 100 ml of blood. A scientific examination of road crashes and criminal liability of officials and contractors found responsible for poor road quality is also essential.

Some major issues which were there regarding the 1988 bill were, being able to get driving license in multiple state which now won’t be possible because the driving license had to be linked to the Aadhar card, the fines mentioned were of ancient times and most of the people would not care if they give Rs. 100 as a fine so that needed to be brought at par with today’s economic scenario. Third party insecure has been introduced which can be seen as a good step, it looks forward to regulate taxi apps like Ola and Uber which was needed in today’s time where these apps are ruling the roads.

The new bill takes care of all of these things which were earlier wrong with the act. A tough law is not the end, but only the commencement of improvements that are needed to halve road traffic accidents by 2020, a promise we have made by adopting the Brasilia Declaration for Road Safety.

Progress made in the act after 1988 for its developments

While the Act of 1988 contained provisions that were relevant contemporaneously, with change in time and circumstances, certain developments were absolutely indispensable to consider. Back in 1988, provisions surrounding licensing of drivers, conductors or stage carriers, registration of motor vehicles, certificates of fitness of the vehicles in question, their control of operation through permits, their maintenance, controlling the road traffic, and compensations in case of accident, were formulized and put into words.

Later on, to match up the changing needs of changed times and circumstances, several areas were explored which required to be addressed better. Thus, provisions regarding a fund for accidental occurrences, electronic monitoring and enforcement of road safety measures, the need for bringing about changes in the test for the issuance of a driving license, its registration on a nation-wide basis, the usage of Aadhar card, the case of violation of traffic rules by juveniles, and online learning license.

Furthermore, a robust National Transportation Policy was conceptualized, which has been included in the Motor Vehicles Bill, 2019 that had been introduced in the Parliament. It included several crucial aspects of passenger and goods transport, multimodal facilitation, etc. Provisions regarding the punishment for offences of construction, maintenance, sale and alteration of motor vehicles and components were also introduced in the bill, as its necessity was felt by the policymakers.


The initial legislations concerning motor vehicles in India had been formulized by the legislators, keeping in mind contemporary concerns. Later on, the Standing Committee on Road Safety & Transport had recorded several observations regarding road accidents and the onuses of the different parties involved in the same. So, in acknowledgement of these observations, remedies were consequently formulated, which have been included in the latest draft of the motor vehicle related legislation in India.

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