In July last year, a police bullet fired apparently to puncture a stunt biker’s tyre killed a 19-year-old riding pillion on the speeding vehicle in the heart of Delhi.
The bullet struck Karan Pandey’s lower back as his friend and rider Puneet Sharma, also 19, reportedly pulled a wheelie to make a getaway along with more than three dozen other speed demons from the clutches of a posse of police personnel around 2am.
The incident was a grim reminder of the menace that underage or young drivers pose on city roads — for themselves and those driving around them.
Children driving motorcycles or even cars down to their respective schools is a common sight in the Capital.
The traffic cops either stop them to advise not to drive till they become 18 or remain mute spectators. The police said the Juvenile Justice Act does not allow them to book or deal sternly with such rule violators.
"Most of the stunt bikers are minors and we cannot book or prosecute them as the law does not permit us to do so," said Anil Shukla, additional commissioner of police (traffic).
With many families possessing more than one car and parents’ tendency to indulge their children with ready cash and the car keys across cities, driving by minors has increased sharply.
To add to the challenge, the cops are now facing a bigger threat — minor stunt bikers — who often take the rules for a ride.
And though stringent provisions exist in the Motor Vehicle Act, 1988, against drivers who not only endanger their lives but pose a threat to the safety of others, the police cannot book them since they are juveniles.
But after the death of teen biker last year, the traffic police have started cracking down on registered owners of bikes on which the minors perform such stunts.
"We also seize the two-wheelers used in the stunts," Shukla added. The traffic police have increased their presence during the night in the New Delhi area — the favourite playground of such bikers.
Two years ago, the police had launched a drive to impound vehicles used by minors and writing challans of Rs 1,000 in the name of their parents. However, due to lack of manpower and arrangements for holding back the children till their guardians come to pay the challan, the drive did not continue for long.
Now, the police are banking on "embarrassment of parents/guardians" as a tool to check underage driving.
Grill session: Taj Hassan, Special Commissioner of Police (traffic)
How serious is the issue of driving by minors in Delhi?
Minors driving obviously pose a serious threat to road safety in Delhi. One of the major problems we face is that many people who drive motor vehicles are not distinctively juvenile.
Following tragic incidents, two years ago, Delhi traffic police had initiated a drive to catch minor drivers and impound their vehicles. As part of the drive, Delhi traffic cops used to issue challans to parents of the minor violators.
What prompted you to stop the drive?
We challanned 76 people for allowing minors to drive in 2013 and 121 in the previous year. As per the existing Motor Vehicles Act, punishment for allowing a minor to drive is up to Rs 1000 or imprisonment up to 3 months.
The proposed amendment bill offers a minimum fine of Rs 1000 and maximum Rs 2000 under Section 181 of the Motor Vehicles Act. Once the amended Act is in place, the higher penalty would have a deterrent effect.
Do you think that the Juvenile Justice Act needs to be amended?
I do not think so. We should look at increased penalty for allowing minors to drive.