As drivers zip across busy roads at peak hour, mishaps occasionally happen, vehicles get damaged, tempers tend to flare, and the situation often escalates to verbal abuse and fistfights.

The tiffs are mostly settled out of court, but not necessarily because the ‘victims’ don’t want to press charges; often they do, but they are unaware of whom to approach and which law to invoke.

As road rage incidents soar, some lawmakers, police departments and other stakeholders are demanding that ‘behaviour patterns’ that qualify as road rage be defined under the Motor Vehicle Act, which is pending key amendments.

V Vijay Sai Reddy, Rajya Sabha MP of the YSR Congress Party, is among those who want a definition of ‘road rage’ included in the Motor Vehicle Act.

Speaking in Parliament recently, he trotted out his working definition. “Road rage means the sudden, violent and aggressive behaviour of the automobile driver in response to the actions of other road users, endangering the lives of others,” he said. However, this definition presumes the driver to be the accused in all road rage incidents, which may not be the case.

Jyoti Srivastava, an advocate with IndianLawWatch (ILW), which has studied the matter, told BusinessLine that road rage frequently reaches the ‘verbal stage’ and is defused before it reaches the ‘physical stage’.

“It is important to define the law, moving from the generic to the specific. The definition should focus also on the dos and dont’s for conduct on road,” she said, adding that the absence of CCTVs makes it difficult to assess what led to the road rage.

Suggesting that laws be framed based on statistics, she said it is important to understand the stages that precede actions that qualify as road rage, and determine which of these are graver and need strict legal attention.

Other stakeholders, such as the Karnataka police, have asked the Select Committee on the Motor Vehicle (Amendment) Bill, headed by Rajya Sabha MP Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, to include issues related to road rage in the Bill and enhance punishment in hit-and-run cases.

Confusing numbers

The confusion on road rage extends to figures: in official records, the data collated on it is clubbed with other mishap events.

In 2015, the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) reported over 45,000 incidents that caused injury under ‘rash driving’ and ‘road rage’.

However, a Home Ministry response in Parliament in 2017, on the issue of road rage, said that in 2015, 4,702 people suffered injuries while 1,388 died due to road accidents followed by violence causing injuries.

The Home Ministry response cited NCRB data under the ‘Accidental Death and Suicides in India’ section.

Stakeholders maintain that the incidence of road rage is on the rise. Traffic congestion, noise levels, time constraints and alcohol consumption have compounded the problem, according to ILW .

Low tolerance levels

Some of it is being attributed to the general decline in tolerance levels. “Those in positions of power tend to take the law into their own hands; most others don’t know how to respond when they encounter road rage,” said SP Singh, Senior Fellow, Indian Foundation of Transport Research and Training.

Singh reckons that it’s expedient to move on quickly even when faced with a car dent — or verbal abuse.