With a record rise in the number of fatal road accidents involving underage drivers, the police and courts of law in the bustling cities of India have swung into high gear to punish their parents in a new strategy for beating the growing menace.
Not long ago, the law enforcement authorities, who hitherto let off the errant minors with a slap on the wrist by asking them to cough up only a fine of Rs 500, shocked the country by imprisoning parents of some 70 teenagers for one to three days in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad.
The guardians were jailed for the first time for allowing their school-going children to drive cars, scooters and motorcycles on busy public roads without a valid license, and several other well-heeled vehicle owners are likely to be put behind bars in many other cities.
September, indeed, started with a bloody note with a middle-aged pedestrian fatally knocked down by a teenybopper riding a swanky scooter in Punjab state’s industrial city of Ludhiana.
While a 16-year-old holy terror who sneaked out with his father’s car with his four friends was hauled up last fortnight after his souped-up sedan mowed down a biker in Chennai, a car with a teen behind the wheel killed three morning-walkers last month at Mahabalipuram town in Tamil Nadu state.
Incidents of even the spoilt brats being snuffed out in bloody road mishaps are also not uncommon. Another young boy, who threw caution to the winds while driving a sports utility vehicle, lost his Class X friend sitting beside him when his monstrous four-wheeler rammed into a parked van in Jaipur last week.
In another tragedy, triple-riding proved fatal for an adolescent and his friend while the third teenager was seriously injured after their motorbike dashed against a military truck in a Punjab town.
Truth to tell, about 150,000 people, including underage drivers aged between 12 years and 14 years, were killed – the highest in the world – in road smash-ups last year.
Some 20,000 of them die every year in India due to reckless driving by minors, and, thanks to a poor conviction rate, 75 percent of them get away with murder.
However, the fact that more than 130 juvenile bikers were dead and done for in collisions and crack-ups last year in Hyderabad alone, with the traffic cops collecting fines worth a staggering Rs 1 million proves that underage driving is going from bad to worse and is on the upward slope, especially in Delhi, Chennai, Kanpur, Bengaluru and Jaipur which account for highest road fatalities.
Shockingly enough, though the violation of the traffic laws has been rampant in the age group of 12-17, the average age of offenders is now down to just 11 years with the result that the police are now asking parents to sign an affidavit that they will not hand over their vehicles to the young fry lest they diced with death in their bid to get a bang out of their daily escapade.
At present, under the obsolescent motor vehicle Act, 1988, any driver aged below 18, if caught driving, can be fined Rs500 with a possible jail term of three months, and vehicle owners, parents or guardians can be fined Rs 1,000.
However, the new, more stringent legislation, Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill 2016, which has proposed 68 amendments to 233 sections and 28 additions to the 1988 Act, is stuck in Parliament as it has been okayed by the Lok Sabha but is yet to get the Rajya Sabha nod.
If the amended Bill becomes an Act, the owner of the vehicle driven by a juvenile or the parent of the young offender without license will be punishable with imprisonment up to three years with a fine of Rs25,000, the registration of the concerned vehicle will be cancelled for one year and the juvenile delinquent will not be granted a driving license till he or she turns 25.
No wonder, more and more courts are reading the riot act to the parents, and the uniformed men in cities throughout the country have intensified their campaign against under-aged drivers burning rubber up and down the road on way to their schools or tuition classes.
Akshayraj Makwana, deputy commissioner of police (traffic), Ahmedabad (East), told Al Arabiya English that the police crackdown has had a salutary effect with more and more students now using bicycles to reach their education centers.
“We are targeting schools, colleges and tuition classes where the students park their motorized two-wheelers, and stronger action would be gradually taken against the repeat offenders and their parents”, said the police officer who was recently promoted and transferred to Ahmedabad where a record 72 percent of the 290,000 registered vehicles are two-wheelers.
According to Ghanshyam Mirani, whose educational trust runs 5,000-student Divine Buds School in Maninagar, former election constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, by providing motor vehicles, parents risk the lives of not only their own children but also of other innocent road users.
Permitting their underage kids to drive is the first violation of rules and this, he opines, encourages the youth to flout other rules as well.
“Parents must become role models for their school-going sons and daughters. If children are allowed to drive and violate laws, they will not become law-abiding citizens when they grow up. It is the parents’ responsibility to educate them about importance of traffic rules”, he said and added that some parents, instead of giving a dressing-down to their wards, take immense pride in letting them drive young.
Says mother-of-one Rekha Palak: “It is sad that parents allow their young children to take to the wheel. Driving is not only about being able to operate a machine but it is also about maturity and judgment. I will never allow my 12-year-old daughter to ride any motorized vehicle as there is a scientific reason why the minimum age for holding a drivers’ license is 18 years.”
In fine, as many feel, one only hopes the new law likely to come into force in the near future may not just be cosmetic tinkering but has to be stringently implemented in letter and spirit.