Parental complicity, a desire to impress peers, lack of driving skills and mental immaturity are leading to more and more underage driving with fatal consequences. The death of a person and injuries to four others in Delhi recently was the result of schoolboys, the driver just above the legal driving age limit, losing control of the car and running over sleeping pavement dwellers. With each year, the offenders are getting younger and parents more apathetic or indeed encouraging of their children getting behind the wheel. In 2015, 225 fines were issued for underage driving, up from 186 the previous year. Children between the ages of 15-16 years are among the worst offenders.
It is not just about being able to operate a car but also about the maturity and judgment needed to negotiate the roads. Since the Motor Vehicles Act prescribes a punishment of just Rs 500 for any offence by a driver below 18 or a maximum of three months in jail, it hardly acts as a deterrent. But in most cases, the teenage offender gets away with a warning. Now the law has been changed to provide for punishment to the parents of the offender, the jail term could stretch to three years. Yet, parents who should know better allow their children to drive in the firm belief that they can circumvent the law if something untoward takes place. That they are placing their own children in grave danger seems to have escaped many of them. That the car in the charge of an inexperienced teenager poses a huge threat to both him and others can only be driven home if the penalties are extremely stiff for those responsible, in most cases the parents.
In Kerala, a father was caught repeatedly posting pictures of his child driving high speed cars like Ferraris and when admonished expressed his determination to continue with the practice. The ability of their children to drive is seen as an achievement for many parents and their indulgence has on many occasions led to needless deaths of innocent people. Stricter checking on the roads is one part of the solution. But ultimately, the responsibility has to be with the parents who are bound by the law not to allow their underage wards to drive. There can be no good outcome to a child taking control of a high speed vehicle as we have seen in so many cases. The latest tragedy is proof, if any were needed, of that.