Why stylised Kerala vehicles making so much noise on road and in court

Vehicle modification
Minor, permissible modifications can be carried out by authorised agencies. Photo: gajaveera_trippisters,dj_blinker,slammedboy_fanpage,__punyalan_holidays_official_,cocktail_tours_travels,komban_holidays_official via Instagram

The image reads 'A fully modified Mustang'. The chassis is a riot of colours. The Mustang has an exhaust system which emits fumes and a deafening sound. Wide tyres protrude out of wheel arches. This was featured in an auto show in a college in Manjeri.

Another image shows the driver's cabin of a tourist bus lit up with dazzling multi-coloured lights. YouTuber Sanju Techy's pool inside an SUV seems just one of the extravagant, audacious ways of flouting norms the Motor Vehicles department (MVD) has been dealing with especially in the past two months.
Read More: Akash Thillankery rides through Wayanad on unregistered modified jeep; MVD initiates probe

A raft of clips and images of modified vehicles with a huge fan following on social media platforms, including that of Mustang and tourist buses, has caught the attention of Kerala High Court in the past few months triggering a series of orders.
The controversy surrounding violations by popular YouTuber Sanju Techy and repeated court interventions have underscored broader concerns regarding road safety and the legality of vehicle alterations in the state.

Referring to the incident involving Sanju, Alappuzha Regional Transport Officer (RTO) A K Dilu said that a major accident was narrowly avoided. He highlighted the potential consequences if the modified vehicle had lost control and collided with another vehicle, causing a short circuit and leading to a catastrophic accident with casualties.

MVD suspended Sanju's driving license. Photo: Screengrab/ Manorama News

Where the line is drawn
MVD's crackdown on violations has also stirred up a debate on extent of awareness and on the need to draw a line. Abraham Tharakan, owner of AT Carmodz in Thiruvananthapuram, specifically points out the ban on bull bars in India, contrasting this with their legal status in Australia where they are designed for airbag compatibility.
He challenges the rationale behind India's prohibition, suggesting a reassessment based on practical safety considerations. He also suggests a model similar to Sri Lanka's, where modifications are permitted with additional taxes.

Tharakan also raises concerns about the prohibition of glass headlights in India, where plastic headlights are required, yet the latest Mahindra Thar model features glass headlights. He questions how this approval was granted despite the ban.

However, MVD officials said that ARAI (Automotive Research Association of India) certifies glass lamps after thorough research and testing. ''Car manufacturers cannot introduce a vehicle based solely on their preferences; they must comply with ARAI's certification process,'' the officials said. Bus owner Arshad Cocktail said that often the staff of government department choose buses with platforms, attractive lights, and sound systems for departmental outings.

While there are blatant attempts at violations, awareness is a key factor, officials said. Section 52 of the Motor Vehicle Act outlines the permissible alterations to a motor vehicle, which can only be made after obtaining prior permission from the registering authority. Depending on the vehicle variant, users may alter the engine, change the colour, modify the fuel system, and so on. Colour alterations are permitted for vehicles without a colour code, such as cars, two-wheelers, and goods vehicles, except for colours like military green and police blue. All alterations must be recorded in the RC book.

Although no comprehensive manual exists on vehicle modification, the transport commissioner periodically issues guidelines, according to MVD Inspector Dileep Kumar. All relevant information can be accessed on the MVD Kerala official website and Parivahan.com. Apart from this, the MVD promotes 'modification literacy' by disseminating awareness content on social media platforms.

In addition to raising awareness, MVD officials monitor social media platforms for instances of youngsters flaunting their modified vehicles and engaging in dangerous driving stunts. Dileep Kumar said that most of these cases involve 18-year-olds seeking attention on social media. Consequently, action is taken against such activities.People can also alert officials about such incidents through Facebook or WhatsApp.

Minor, permissible modifications can be carried out by authorised agencies in Kerala, including body workshops and retrofit centres, which adhere to the regulations. However, some small-scale workshops conduct illegal modifications, officials said.

Why Transport Commissioner wrote to Youtube
In May 2024, the HC noted that despite directives, contract carriages are being used in public places, which are fitted with after-market multi-coloured LED/laser/neon lights/flashlights, etc., which are capable of dazzling the drivers of the oncoming vehicles, pedestrians and other road users. Screenshots of such videos were also produced in the court.

It further noted that video contents of unauthorised alterations and even the use of such vehicles in public places are being uploaded on online video platforms like 'YouTube', by the registered owners of such vehicles or vloggers.
Such videos are being recorded even inside the driver cabin of contract carriages, heavy goods vehicles and other motor vehicles, while the vehicle is moving, disturbing the concentration of the driver while driving, thereby posing a potential threat to the safety of other road users.

The sharp observations from the court had an effect. In June, the Transport Commissioner addressed a letter to the YouTube Moderation Team, pointing out that the video contents promoting risky and rash driving, showcasing altered or modified vehicles, which not only violate the legal standards but also posing significant safety threat, is influential among the youth, encouraging dangerous behaviour and fostering a culture of non-compliance with the traffic laws.

The Road Safety Commissioner has already addressed the Director of Public Instructions and also the Director of Collegiate Education regarding auto show and similar activities on college campuses using the vehicles with unauthorised fittings and modification, posing threat to the safety of the students and also against the use of contract carriages with unauthorised fittings for the study tour, etc of the students.

The Deputy Solicitor General of India-in-charge also told the court in June that the video clips that appeared on online media were forwarded to the Ministry of Road transport and Highways and is awaiting instructions from the ministry.

The comments posted here/below/in the given space are not on behalf of Onmanorama. The person posting the comment will be in sole ownership of its responsibility. According to the central government's IT rules, obscene or offensive statement made against a person, religion, community or nation is a punishable offense, and legal action would be taken against people who indulge in such activities.