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Madras HC upholds Centre’s order on crash guards, bull bars in four-wheelers

The first bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice P D Audikesavalu upheld the notification while dismissing two writ petitions from manufacturers of automobile accessories.

By: PTI | Chennai |
September 22, 2021 7:49:57 am
The Madras High Court in Chennai. (File)

The Madras High Court on Tuesday upheld a 2017 notification of the Centre, ordering removal of crash guards and bull bars in the front and rear of four wheelers.

The first bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice P D Audikesavalu upheld the notification while dismissing two writ petitions from manufacturers of automobile accessories.

The manufacturers challenged the December 7, 2017 notification of the Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways and the consequential acceptance and implementation thereof by the state government by its letter of December 26, 2020 issued by the Chief Secretary.

The matter pertains to the use of crash guards or bull bars in motor vehicles. There are several vehicles which do not come factory-fitted with additional guards in front of the engine, but which are subsequently fitted to protect the impact of any frontal crash on the engine.

By the impugned 2017 notification, the Centre advised all the States and Union Territories to ensure that the crash guards were not permitted as the same was in contravention of Section 52 of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, which attracted penalty under Sections 190 and 191 thereof.

The bench pointed out that Section 52(1) of the Act prohibited a motor vehicle owner from altering the vehicle such that the particulars contained in the certificate of registration are at variance with those originally specified by the manufacturer.

The second Proviso to such provision recognises the authority of the Central Government to prescribe specifications, conditions for approval, retrofitment and other related matters for the alteration of motor vehicles. The Explanation, at the foot of the Section, indicates that alteration would imply a change in the structure of the vehicle which results in a change in its basic feature.

The petitioners contended that there is no basis to the relevant notification, nor is it evident that any empirical study has been conducted to ascertain the perceived ill-effects of crash guards.

On the other hand, the other two individual petitioners submitted that the vehicles armed with heavy duty crash guards would encourage the drivers to indulge in wanton rash driving. The driver of a car without a crash guard remains wary that any frontal collision may result in physical damage to the driver. But drivers in cars fitted with crash guards have the additional confidence that they may be protected as the engine may not crumble and this would encourage irresponsible conduct, including speeding, they argued.

The bench observed that the extent that crash guards add to the length of the car, or as the manufacturers suggest, provide greater security to the front of a car, and thereby alter the basic features of a motor vehicle, there appears to be sufficient basis in the issuance of the impugned notification of December 7, 2017.

At the end of the day, it appears that public interest may have impelled the Central Government to issue the notice and, on a matter of policy where the Central Government perceives that a thing is necessary in public interest, the court would not willy-nilly intervene unless it finds the policy to be absurd or objectionable to the meanest mind.

The bench also took judicial notice of the larger, higher private passenger vehicles that are fitted with crash guards and behave as bullies on roads, particularly on the highways.

It also recorded that the State Government’s stand is that it has accepted the Union’s instructions and has enforced the prohibition in such regard in the State and hoped that the enforcement is across the board and that the so-called important persons are not exempted from the rule.

This order will not prevent any representation made by the manufacturers of crash guards to the Union for such representation to be considered in the proper perspective, if the material used for their manufacture is indicated in the representation, the bench, however, said.

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