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‘Slam the brakes on underage driving’

Updated on: 25 May,2024 08:24 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Nitin Dossa |

Pune Porsche murder case, biker death catalyst for effective, all round initiative

‘Slam the brakes on underage driving’

Porsche involved in accident where two motorbike-borne engineers lost their lives earlier this month. Pic/PTI

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‘Slam the brakes on underage driving’

Nitin DossaEven as the twists ‘n’ turns in the Pune Porsche case continue with anger and outrage spewing, there is a need to take a macro view of underage driving. As new facts tumble out of the case, there is also the news that an underage biker, 15 years old we learn, crashed into an adult biker in Mumbai. The adult died as a result of the collision. This case, though overshadowed by the sensational Pune accident, shows us that underage driving/riding—I will refer to both in this piece—is unfortunately quite common and is, of course, highly dangerous.

No keys, please

I also want to say to parents who hand over car keys to their underage children as a sign of indulgence, that this is not parental love or affection, it is irresponsible and extremely foolish. No matter how much your child asks, you simply cannot cave in and allow an underage child to drive the car. I am sure many of my generation will identify with this: my parents used to have a no touching the car till you learn and get a licence policy. 

Today, some parents let their children drive just a short distance they say, with the family driver forced to act as ‘guide’ or sit next to the child, actually encouraging this underage person to drive. This is shocking, to say the least and ‘short distance’ or ‘just around the corner’ is no excuse to let your child take the wheel. Mothers must also play a proactive role, discouraging their child from being given the vehicle keys, be it a bike or car, before it is legal. A mother’s influence is huge and she must stand firm too, not allowing the child to have access to drive the vehicle, no matter the arguments, tears, begging, fighting, blackmail and at times, even threats by youngsters.

There are several instances where parents claim that their underage child made off with the keys clandestinely. The only option then, is to keep the keys safeguarded and away from the children at all times.

Flashy wheels

Today, there is so much temptation for youngsters as cars look good and are zippy and flashy. Earlier, our movies would show one or two ‘foreign’ or ‘imported’ cars. Now our movies show high-speed action, cars and bikes literally flying down city roads in thrill sequences. Songs are shot in speeding cars. That is reel life. In real life, a walk down some public spaces will show you youngsters posing against some flashy car, taking selfies with the car wow wheels in the background. This may not be their car but they congregate around it anyway, and it is an indicator of how aspirational and attractive this is to the youth. Though any vehicle can kill if rashly driven, earlier, India had fairly simple cars and it was a thrill to spot a Mercedes on our roads. Contemporary super luxe cars can go to super speed in seconds, so the need for utmost caution and responsibility on our roads is very high.

I come to societal pressures that play a part in such cases. I recall when the ‘don’t drink ‘n’ drive’ campaign started years ago, a top traffic cop would get calls from influential people, perhaps to ask him to save somebody or the other who had been caught for drunk driving. He refused to take those calls or succumb. These are pressure tactics, where influence is, unfortunately, part of the system. We need a clean-up, and to reinstate the faith of the public in our institutions. Domestic help and witnesses are at times brought under pressure too. The family driver is also under tremendous pressure. There needs to be recognition and resistance to all this, as it is a pointer to the weak links in the system.

Campaign start

The time has come for a concerted awareness and action campaign against underage driving. This does not solely rest on the police. Awareness must start at home, where very young children are told there is a reason why 18 is the age for a licence and driving. They are repeatedly reminded that it is not cool but ‘killer’ to take cars out for ‘spins’ when underage. Parents should enforce discipline and take action if any infringement occurs. 

Road safety programmes must factor in underage driving, with messages that it can be fatal. We at the Western India Automobile Association (WIAA) are certainly brainstorming about that in our meetings and will be out with a campaign soon. Police start with a well-thought-out, action-oriented effort against underage driving and bike riding too. Lives have been lost and changed forever in huge tragedies. The latest cases should act as a springboard for us to launch an obliterate underage driving/riding initiative. Let us all stakeholders come together to slam the brakes on this crime.

As told to Hemal Ashar

The columnist is executive chairman, Western India Automobile Association.

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