Sometimes it is a desperate attempt to impress friends and at other times, it is a mindless show of power by their parents.
Children as young as 10 years, whose legs are barely long enough to reach the car pedals, are being caught behind the wheel.
Underage driving is not a new phenomenon but Delhi Traffic Police data shows that with every passing year, the offenders are getting younger.
In 2015, 225 fines were issued for underage driving. In 2014 and 2013, the figures stood at 186 and 178. Traffic police officials said as the number of prosecutions was going up, the age of these drivers was going down.
Traffic police records show that in 2013, the average age of underage drivers was between 15 and 16 years, and in 2014, the average age of all the violators was 14 years.
Last year, the average age was found to be only 11 years.
“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. There is a reason why the minimum age for holding a drivers’ licence is 18 years,” said Sharad Agarwal, joint commissioner of police (traffic).
The police said the figure was only the tip of the iceberg. Since there is no provision in the Motor Vehicle Act (1988) to prosecute drivers below the age of 18, many personnel let them go with a warning.
In the MVA, any driver, below the age of 18, if caught driving can be fined `500 along with a possible jail term of three months. Owner of the vehicle, or parents or guardians, however, are challaned `1,000.
Traffic experts say the prescribed punishment is not a deterrent, especially for the rich households.
“The problem is the rise of the neo-rich in the city. Low education and lack of awareness of the consequences of letting their children drive is ingrained in many households. Instead of checking the menace, these people take immense pride in letting their children drive young. The younger they drive the better,” said KK Kapila, from the International Road Federation (IRF).
A traffic constable posted at west Delhi’s Patel Nagar circle, who narrates his experience with dealing with underage drivers, said these children or their parents were quick to pay the fine.
“I have seen parents who keep their young children on their laps and allow them to steer their cars. When they are caught, they make excuses that they are in control. It is these children who take their parents’ cars and zoom across the city,” the constable said.