Why Kerala won’t follow rule penalising cab drivers ferrying drunk passengers

TA Ameerudheen

Kerala will not penalise taxi drivers carrying drunk passengers, a senior official of the Motor Vehicles Department has clarified.

He was responding to reports that the Motor Vehicles Driving Regulation, 2017 barred drivers from ferrying inebriated passengers, and listed punishments for them if they did. The regulation, issued by the Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways as a gazette notification, came into effect on June 23, 2017.

Rajeev Puthalath, Kerala’s Joint Transport Commissioner, said major changes in law cannot be carried out through a gazette notification. “Such changes should be made in the Motor Vehicles Act of 1998,” he told Scroll.in.

The notification stated that “the driver shall strictly comply with the laws for the time being in force relating to prohibition on consumption of alcohol and drugs and smoking, and also ensure compliance thereto by the other crew, riders, and passengers, if any.”

Puthalath’s assurance will come as a relief to tipplers and party-goers who hire cabs for the return journey, and to taxi drivers as well. The notification had Kerala’s cab drivers worried as they feared it would harm their business.

Puthalath pointed out that the notification mandates drivers to comply with the existing rules, as laid down in the Motor Vehicles Act. “Section 185 in Chapter 13 of the Motor Vehicle Act deals with driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs,” he said. “It mentions the penalty for drivers who violate the law, not for passengers. If passengers have to be charged, changes have to be made in this Act.”

Section 185 states that a driver can be charged if a breath analyser test detects alcohol content above 30 mg per 100 ml in their blood, or if the influence of a drug makes them incapable of controlling the vehicle. It also lays down the punishment:

“Those who commit the offence for the first time will be imprisoned for a term which may extend to six months or with fine which may extend to two thousand rupees, or with both. For the second or subsequent offences, if committed within three years of the commission of the previous similar offence, there will be an imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine which may extend to three thousand rupees, or with both.”  

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Puthalath said the Motor Vehicles Department has informed the state’s regional transport officers about the new notification. “Stringent action will be taken against drunk driving,” he said. “But we will not charge passengers who are found to be drunk.”

KL Franklin, Joint Regional Transport Officer in Ernakulam, said he was worried when he read news reports about the notification a few days ago. “I was concerned about the practical difficulties of checking passengers who hired the vehicle,” he said, adding that he was relieved by Motor Vehicles Department’s clarification.