What is a pillion?
According to the Cambridge Dictionary, a pillion refers to “a seat or place behind the person riding a motorcycle where a passenger can sit”.
Who is a pillion rider?
A Pillion rider is a person travelling on the pillion seat which is behind the rider of a motorcycle.
Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 governs and regulates the law relating to motor vehicles, but the above mentioned terms are not defined in the Act. However, the Act provides for various measures to regulate pillion riders and to ensure their safety.
Legal provisions for pillion riders under the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988:
Section 128- Safety measures for drivers and pillion riders[i]–
(1) No driver of a two-wheeled motor cycle shall carry more than one person in addition to himself on the motor cycle and no such person shall be carried otherwise than sitting on a proper seat securely fixed to the motor cycle behind the driver’s seat with appropriate safety measures.
(2) In addition to the safety measures mentioned in sub-section (1), the Central Government may, prescribe other safety measures for the drives of two-wheeled motor cycles and pillion riders thereon.
Section 129- Wearing of protective headgear[ii]–
Every person driving or riding (otherwise than in a sidecar, on a motor cycle of any class or description) shall, while in a public place, wear protective headgear conforming to the standards of Bureau of Indian Standards.
Provided that the provisions of this section shall not apply to a person who is a Sikh, if he is, while driving or riding on the motor cycle, in a public place, wearing a turban:
Provided further that the State Government may, by such rules, provide for such exceptions as it may think fit.
Section 128 specifies that a rider of a motorcycle shall not carry more than one pillion rider along with him, this is in the form of a safety measure. By virtue of the above mentioned sections, it is mandatory for all riders to wear protective headgear/helmets; the proviso in Section 129 however exempts Sikhs from the said rule. The State Government had a right to make Rules regarding exemptions with respect to the same under the section, however this power of the State Government was curtailed after the amendment to section 129 was introduced in 2019.
Amendments brought in through The Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act, 2019[iii]
Amendment to Section 129 of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988
“129. Every person, above four years of age, driving or riding or being carried on a motorcycle of any class or description shall, while in a public place, wear protective headgear conforming to such standards as may be prescribed by the Central Government: Provided that the provisions of this section shall not apply to a person who is a Sikh, if, while driving or riding on the motorcycle, in a public place, he is wearing a turban: Provided further that the Central Government may by rules provide for measures for the safety of children below four years of age riding or being carried on a motorcycle.”
Penalty for violation of safety measures for motor cycle drivers and pillion riders
“Whoever drives a motor cycle or causes or allows a motor cycle to be driven in contravention of the provisions of section 128 or the rules or regulations made thereunder shall be punishable with a fine of one thousand rupees and he shall be disqualified for holding licence for a period of three months.”
Penalty for not wearing protective headgear.
“Whoever drives a motor cycle or causes or allows a motor cycle to be driven in contravention of the provisions of section 129 or the rules or regulations made thereunder shall be punishable with a fine of one thousand rupees and he shall be disqualified for holding licence for a period of three months.”
Implementation of Amendment to Section 129:
Many State Governments have made it mandatory for pillion riders to wear helmets in view of promoting safety of pillion riders after Section 129 was amended in 2019 to include any person above the age of 4 years being carried on a motor cycle to wear protective headgear.
1. The Uttar Pradesh Traffic Police made it mandatory for pillion riders to wear a helmet along with the rider in 2019 owing to make the streets safer for pillion riders. The police also conducted a ‘Traffic Awareness Month’ where riders and passengers were made aware of the rule.[iv]
2. Kerala’s Transport Commissioner issued directions to the police to ensure that all two wheeler vehicle riders, including pillion riders, are wearing helmets. Non adherence of this rule would result in a fine of Rs.500.[v]
In the case of George John vs The Chief Secretary, A division bench of the Kerala High Court comprising of Chief Justice S Manikumar and Justice AM Shaffique considered an appeal[vi] filed by the State Government and held that the Amended section had to be implemented expeditiously and made it mandatory for all pillion riders above the age of four to wear helmets.
Compensation to Pillion Riders:
Section 147 of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 provides for the requirements of having an insurance policy and also deals with affixing liability. The Courts have established the rule with respect to the question of whether an Insurance company’s liability extends to a pillion rider involved in a motor vehicles accident, by way of several precedents.
In Oriental Insurance Co. Ltd. vs. Sudhakaran K.V[vii], the Supreme Court, summarised the law regarding the pillion rider on a two wheeler and held as follows:
“The law which emerges from the said decisions, is:
- the liability of the insurance company in a case of this nature is not extended to a pillion rider of the motor vehicle unless the requisite amount of premium is paid for covering his/her risk.
- the legal obligation arising under Section 147 of the Act cannot be extended to an injury or death of the owner of vehicle or the pillion rider;
- the pillion rider in a two wheeler was not to be treated as a third party when the accident has taken place owing to rash and negligent riding of the scooter and not on the part of the driver of another vehicle.”
The view adopted by the Supreme Court in the above-mentioned judgement has been reiterated in several subsequent precedents, one such judgement is,
General Manager United Insurance Co. Ltd. vs. M. Laxmi[viii], where the Court settled that “the liability of the insurance company is not extended to a pillion rider of the motor vehicle unless the requisite amount of premium is paid for covering this risk. The legal obligation arising under Section 147 of the Act cannot be extended to an injury or death of the owner of vehicle or the pillion rider.”
Following the Amendment in 2019 to the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, it is now mandatory for all pillion riders above the age of four to wear helmets and non-compliance of this rule will attract penalties. As far as an insurance policy extending to a pillion rider is concerned, the Courts have been abundantly clear that an Insurer is only liable to a pillion rider if they are covered in the policy by way of paying the required premium.
Edited by Pushpamrita Roy
Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje
[i] §128, Motor Vehicles Act, 1988.
[ii]§129, Motor Vehicles Act, 1988.
[vi]George John vs The Chief Secretary(W.A. No. 2261/2015)
[vii](2008) 7 SCC 428.
[viii]AIR 2009 SC 626.