Motor Vehicles Act, 1939: Understanding in and out

Motor Vehicles Act, 1939 was formed as a legislative act by the Parliament of India. This act dictates and controls all the aspects related to all road transport vehicles throughout India. It broadly regulates the following areas in context of motor vehicles:

Registration of motor vehicles

A motor vehicle cannot be driven on public roads if it is not registered. The owner at all times of driving must have the certificate of registration issued by the registering authority

Licensing of the driver

Any person is not allowed to drive any vehicle in a public place without holding a driving license. The driver should compulsorily have a valid driving license, either temporary or permanent, issued in the name of driver by an authorized agency

Transfer of ownership

In order to transfer the ownership of the motor vehicle, the certificate of registration must be renewed. An appropriate fee will levied by the registration authority as mentioned in rule 81 of the act


Penalties related to registration of the vehicle, penalties related to licensing of the owner of the vehicle

Traffic control

Control of traffic lays the rules to be followed by way of which the traffic on the roads can be controlled and safety can be ensured. This act specifies some limits in regards to the speed of the vehicle and weight on the vehicle, each depending on the type of vehicle

Motor vehicle insurance

Any owner of the motor vehicle must compulsorily have the certificate of insurance by an authorized insurer

Movement of motor vehicles beyond geographical boundaries of India.

This act was an improvisation of the already in force act which was called as Motor Vehicles Act, 1914 with only 18 sections. Certain changes were made to this act in 1920 and in 1924 by the way of amendments, but it was only in the act of 1939, which actually came into force in 1940, that the major amendments to the Motor vehicles act were made.

The amendments made at that time are still in function, however this act was replaced by the Motor vehicles act, 1988, but it was the 1939 act that laid the foundation for administration and management of the road transport sector. At the time of enactment of this act, the consent of the Indian railways enquiry committee was also considered.

This act formalized the administration of machinery in road transport. It structured the procedures related to licensing, registration, permits and penalties. This act also ensured to create and strengthen the Transport authorities with the help of police department at the state as well as district level throughout India. This act restructured the entire picture of road transport throughout all states in India. The time to time amendments to this act are making the sector more organized and streamlined.

Supreme Sections that fall under the Motor Vehicle Act, 1939

Section 112: Mentions the max speed at which a driver can drive a particular vehicle

Section 113: Driver is not supposed to drive a motor vehicle exceeding the permitted weight

Section 129: Person who is driving a vehicle (motor vehicle) is supposed to wear a helmet

Section 185: Driving by a person who is under the drug influence or is drunk is strictly prohibited.


Recent Update on the Motor Vehicle Act

Ministry of Road Transport and Highways is set to make amendment in the current Motor Vehicle Act and has prepared a bill. The salient features of the bill are:

  1. stringent measures against traffic offenders, but also recommends heavy fines amounting up to Rs. 3 lakh along with a minimum 7-year imprisonment for death of a child in certain circumstances.
  2. Substantial fines for other driving violations are also included in the bill.
  3. a fine of Rs. 5 lakh per vehicle and imprisonment for faulty manufacturing design.
  4. To bring down fatalities in road accidents by 2 lakh in the first 5 years.
  5. To set up 5,000 centres across the country for issuing driving licenses based on computerised tests as 30 per cent of the licences in the country are bogus as per the ministry source.
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