As a wise man once said, roads of a country indicate its development. The Indian road network is the second largest road network in the world, only after that of the United States. This vast network needs to be monitored and maintained by the state to ensure the flow of transport. When we think of roads, the first authority coming to our mind is the traffic police. Though there are more than 20 crore vehicles registered in India, the total force of traffic police does not exceed a meagre number of 72,000, by a report from the Bureau of Police research and development. Traffic police discharge the duty of safeguarding and regulating roads and traffic. They also perform regular checks on documents of drivers on road, to prevent them from infringing the laws. This article aims to shed light on the powers of traffic police and legal backing to it.
Laws in India:
The most relevant law for this field in India is the Motor Vehicles Act of 1988, which regulates vehicles and drivers across the Indian subcontinent. This act was amended in 2019 by the Parliament to introduce necessary changes to the 30-year old legislation and also employing stringent rules to avoid road accidents. The act empowers traffic police to discharge their duty and to serve the public by safeguarding their interests. The powers of traffic police also allow them to perform acts and checks to protect people.
Powers of Traffic Police:
Speed limit- Section 112 of Motor vehicles act, 1988 states that no person should either exceed the speed limit or drive below the minimum seed limit, in a public place. Violating this law results in immediate police action, and a traffic police officer is authorized by law to enforce this law. In case of violation of the law, the person should comply with the laws by paying fine. By the Motor Vehicles (amendment) act of 2019, the fine imposed for speeding has been increased from 400 rupees to 1,000 rupees. This fine amount can be paid to the traffic officer at the rank of a sub-inspector or online with the e-challan slip issued.
Over-loading of a vehicle –If a vehicle is believed to be loaded such that it violates section 113, any officer authorized by the Motor Vehicles Department is authorized to direct the vehicle to a weighing facility and to comply with sub-section 1 of section 114, thus discharging his/her duty. If the vehicle is found to be contravening the said provisions, the officer may instruct the driver to off-load the extra weight. The officer, if he founds the extra weight carried by the vehicle and attracts penal action by violating section 113 and 194 of MV act, can insist the driver produce necessary documents to take action. This principle was held in the case of Thangavelu V. Sub-Inspector of Police.
Restricting a vehicle- If a traffic police officer thinks of any restriction to stop vehicles using a way or a road due to its dangerous nature or other reasons, can stop the vehicles from using the road. This restriction can be published in the state government gazette.
Erecting traffic signs – A traffic officer can erect any pertinent traffic signs on the road for the safety of the citizens. The traffic signs should conform to the general norms of traffic signs and should be installed only by the authority empowered by the state, such as a traffic police officer. If an individual accidentally damages a traffic sign and thereby making it useless, he /she should report such incidence to a police officer within 24 hours.
Removal of vehicles – If a vehicle is unattended in a public place for more than ten hours, a traffic police officer in uniform can remove the vehicle by towing service or by wheel-clamping.
Illegal parking – If a vehicle is parked in a spot where parking is prohibited, then the vehicle can be immobilized by wheel-clamping or removed by towing service, by a traffic police officer.
Wearing protective headgear – As the motor vehicles act enforces the strict wearing of protective headgear by two-wheeler riders, it is the duty of traffic police officers to enforce the law, by imposing the fines prescribed by the state or central government, which is 1,000 rupees, as of 2020.
Demanding documents – The driver of a motor vehicle should produce the necessary documents such as
- Driving license
- Registration Certificate
- Insurance policy papers
- Pollution Certificate.
If a traffic police officer seizes a license of a driver owing to his offences, then he must acknowledge the same by giving him a receipt. This can be shown as a valid document if the driver is stopped in another instance by traffic police to show his license after the seizure of the same.
Power of traffic police to stop: – A traffic police officer not below the rank of sub-inspector can cause a vehicle and driver to stop and remain stationary for a reasonable time period for reasons such as an accident, but not for more than 24 hours. Traffic police below the rank of a sub-inspector can stop the vehicle only if the vehicle and the driver are involved in an accident with a human, vehicle, or an animal.
Power to demand personal information- If a driver commits an offence mentioned in this act, he/she shall furnish his/her name, address, and license details to a traffic police officer authorized by the government.
Imposing fines for offences – The traffic police officer can impose fines on the drivers for violating traffic rules and regulations, such as
- Driving at excessive speeds.
- Rash driving.
- Driving under influence of alcohol.
- Driving vehicles by persons deemed as physically or mentally unfit.
- Racing in public roads without permission.
- Driving vehicle in unsafe condition.
- Parking vehicle illegally, thus obstructing traffic.
Monitoring for abnormal vehicles: – It may sound strange, but it is a law that no altered or modified vehicle must be used in public roads without prior approval from authorities. Traffic officers may confiscate vehicles from the owner and demand explanation.
Using vehicles without documents: – Traffic police can demand documents from drivers and if a vehicle is found to be driven without registration (S. 192) or permit (S. 192 A). An exception to these provisions is a vehicle can be used without proper registration certificate or permit only for uses such as transporting sick people, food materials, or medical supplies in case of emergency or distress.
Unauthorized interference with vehicles: – If any person other than lawful authority or reasonable excuse enters or moves a stationary vehicle and tampers with its mechanism, then traffic police shall impose fine.
Driving uninsured vehicle: – If a driver drives an uninsured vehicle on road, the traffic official may demand an explanation, impose fine and imprison him in circumstances.
Arrest without warrant: – A police officer in uniform can arrest a person without a warrant, if the person does the offence in front of the officer, the offences should be in connection with sections 184 (Driving dangerously) or 185 (Driving the vehicle under influence of alcohol) or section 197 (taking vehicle without authority). As these offences pose grave danger to the public lives, these offences are considered seriously by the traffic police authority.
Breath tests: –Traffic police have the power to require any drivers on the road to give one or more samples for breath analyzer test, to check the presence of alcohol in the blood.
Impounding documents: – Traffic police have the power to seize the license document of the offender to prevent the escape of the offender from summon or trial.
Impounding vehicles: – If a vehicle driven on public roads is used without a proper registration certificate or permit, the traffic police can seize the vehicle and can take it to temporary safe custody.
What to do when you are stopped by traffic police:
First, be calm and composed. Do not get tensed or frustrated. Co-operate with them to do their duty. Provide all necessary documents to the officer. If you have violated any rules, get a challan or an e-challan receipt. If you are summoned before the court, get the challan, and produce yourself before the magistrate within 24 hours. If there is an officer not below the rank of sub-inspector, you can settle the fine on the spot. The challan contains details such as your name, court of trial, details of offence, date of trial, vehicle details, and signature of the officer, along with an acknowledgment for detained documents such as driving license or registration certificate.
Traffic police have always been a watchful authority to safeguard the public and their lives. They have been bestowed with powers to discharge their duties effectively. They can do their duty to the utmost level only if the public co-operates with them to create accident-free roads. Remember the powers of the traffic officers and your duties as a responsible driver and next time when you stop for a traffic police check, respect them, and act accordingly.
Report of the Bureau of Police Research and Development (2017), available at http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/71030303.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst, accessed on 8th June 2020.
 THE MOTOR VEHICLES (AMENDMENT) ACT, 2019 NO. 32 OF 2019 (India)
The Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 (Act 59 of 1988) s. 112.
The Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 (Act 59 of 1988) s. 113.
R. Thangavelu V. Sub-Inspector of Police, LAWS (MAD)-2008-1-292
The Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 (Act 59 of 1988) s. 115.
This article is authored by A S Aravind, Second-Year, B.A. LL. B(Hons.) student at Tamil Nadu National Law University.
Also Read – Motor Vehicle (Amendment) Act, 2019