Lindsay Pereira Column: Can't drive to save your life? No problem!

Training, experience, proper testing: You don't need any of that to get a driving licence in this state

Lindsay Pereira"No problem," smiled the man reassuringly from behind his desk at the Royal Driving School in Andheri.

I stood before him with questions about renewing my driver's licence. I figured, eventually, that those questions didn't really matter to him.

I could have been there fresh out of jail, after serving a 5-year sentence for rash driving, and he would probably have still responded with "No problem."

It had been 14 years since I last sat behind a wheel. Back then, the number of cars was smaller, the only brands were Maruti 800s or Ambassadors, and SUVs only made appearances in awful movies starring Akshay Kumar. I wanted to get back on the road though, and assumed a few lessons would help. What I hadn't counted on was my presence being completely redundant.

Licence to kill: The government has the option of denying licences to anyone it sees as unfit to commandeer a vehicle. For reasons unknown, it allows anyone and everyone to drive. Representation pic/Thinkstock
Licence to kill: The government has the option of denying licences to anyone it sees as unfit to commandeer a vehicle. For reasons unknown, it allows anyone and everyone to drive. Representation pic/Thinkstock

"No problem," he smiled, and I believed him.

The instructor assigned to me the next morning was extremely accommodating. He informed me that all I had to do was show the licensing authority proof that I had driven for 8 hours over a month. That's 8 out of approximately 730 hours, to qualify me for the city's roads. He didn't teach me about parking, presumably because few people in Bombay find place to park anyway. He didn't teach me about signals either, or reversing, or how to deal with emergencies. As for traffic rules, I was to memorise them and explain what they were only if asked by a traffic policeman during my 'driving test.' And all through my edifying month with him, he didn't once ask if I knew how to start a car.

My form for the licence was filled in by the same man behind the desk, the one who assured me there were no problems. He certified (without checking with me) that I wasn't colour blind, and then claimed I had no mental or physical problems that could prevent me from manning a vehicle.

Maybe I did have problems —indeed, people close to me often assume I do — but he didn't ask. An authorised physician was supposed to have signed the form, but my man didn't worry about that little formality either. I was, for all intents and purposes, one of the finest human beings to be granted control of an automobile.

A week after lessons began, I found myself at the Regional Traffic Office where I was asked to join a long line of men waiting for the same reason. We were all ushered into a room, made to submit our forms (all possibly filled out by people other than the applicants) and get our photographs taken.

Four weeks later came the 'driving test.' It involved standing in another long line of men and women somewhere behind Lokhandwala Complex in Andheri. One by one, each would get into a car with instructors from their driving schools, and drive for approximately four metres. A traffic policeman standing another four metres away promptly stamped our forms and sent us on our way. We were given access to the streets on the basis of how we manoeuvred those four metres.

"Would you like a two-wheeler licence too?" my instructor asked. "You don't actually need to drive one to prove you can." I politely declined.

A month after this happened to me, a young man appearing for his own test inside the RTO compound lost control of his car, running over one person and injuring six others. There was no officer inside the vehicle, as was supposedly mandatory, and he was booked under Sections 279 for rash driving, 338 for causing grievous hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others,
and 304 (A) for causing death by negligence.

A few days ago, not long after Salman Khan was acquitted in a hit-and-run case, corporate lawyer Janhavi Gadkar — accused in a drink driving case and charged with culpable homicide, not amounting to murder — got back her licence.

The government of Maharashtra has the option of denying licences to anyone it sees as unfit to commandeer a vehicle. It can reduce the number of accidents that take place on the basis of human error alone. For reasons unknown, it allows anyone and everyone to drive, endangering the lives of millions daily. The Motor Vehicles Department believes I have what it takes to sit behind the wheel of a 1248 CC engine.

I am now on your streets daily, driving among thousands of other untrained drivers. If you see me in your rear view mirror, I suggest you get out of the way.

When he isn't ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira

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