Space in a Private Car is treated as “Public Space” or not


The space inside a private vehicle parked on or plying along a public road can be treated as private space or public space depending on the law which you employ on it.

The term Public Place is defined differently in different laws, depending on the context or purpose of the law.

Kerala Police Act

The Kerala Police Act, 2011 defines Public Place as any place in which the public have access either as of right or not and includes in it, –

  • Any public building, monument and premises thereof, and
  • Any place accessible to the public for drawing water or washing or bathing or for the purpose for travel, recreation, food, rest, treatment, trade, etc or for any other service.

Under NDPS Act

Under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 (NDPS Act) the Section 43 clearly specifies in its explanation that the expression “public place” includes any public conveyance intended for use by, or accessible to, the public for the purpose of seizure and arrest.

Therefore, the officers who enters and search a private enclosed space and arrest a person under NDPS Act may use Section 42 of the Act for the purpose, if it is a private conveyance that stays at a public space.

In Kerala Abkari Act

Contrary to this, consuming liquor in a private car on a public place is tantamount to drinking in public space under Section 15C of the Kerala Abkari Act.

The explanation II appended to the Section 15C states that a public place includes a private vehicle in any public place.

In Covid 19 context

The Delhi High Court in Saurabh Sharma & Others v Sub Divisional Magistrate (East) & Others held that a private vehicle will amount to a public place in the light of Covid 19 Regulations and a person travelling alone in a private car along a public road will have to wear face mask.

Supreme Court decision

The Supreme Court in its decision in Gaurav Jain v Union of India, (1997) 8 SCC 114, examined the scope of public place. It was held that for a place to fall within the purview of this term, it need not be public property and could even be private property which is accessible to the public.

The judgements states, Public place’ a means any place intended for use by, or accessible to the public and includes any public conveyance. It is not necessary that it must be public property. Even if it is a private property, it is sufficient that the place is accessible to the public. It must be a place to which public, in fact, resorts or frequents.


There is no unified approach as to whether a private car in a public space is private or public space.

Each law looks at it differently based on the basic purpose the law sought to serve.