Earlier this week, a staff reporter for The Economic Times called to hear my thoughts on the problem of underage driving. This appeared in the Bengaluru City Page of Economic Times, the following day (Jan 3, 2017).
When the column appeared in the paper, I heard from many friends who had seen it in the paper and expressed their excitement and encouragement. In addition, I got some friendly ribbing for my ‘draconian laws’ and plenty of sympathy for my 15 year old, that he gleefully consumed!
What surprised me the most though, were the comments from within my circles that made it clear that a handful of my friends thought that a little deviation from the 18 year old requirement to drive, was harmless.
A vehicle has to be considered as a weapon. In the wrong hands, it has the capacity to do a great deal of damage. Clubbed with a youngster’s lack of experience and the propensity to risky behaviors, underage driving is a serious problem and must be treated as a non-negotiable, unbreakable rule, both within the home and outside of it.
Youngsters are legally allowed to get a license only at the age of 18 and there is a valid reason why authorities the world over, believe this is the minimum age at which a young person can earn a license and start driving a vehicle independently.
Although underage driving is serious, yet the accountability for such an offense is not easy to pin. While it is the underage child that is at fault, there is most definitely an adult in the picture – a parent or guardian, or the owner of the vehicle on whom the responsibility squarely rests.
In the majority of the cases, it is the parent asking the child to pick something up from a neighborhood store or help out with dropping a younger child/parent at a bus stop, drive themselves to a class etc.
We need to take steps to inform parents/owners that they will be held responsible for their child’s actions.
RTOs, vehicle registration authorities, driver license issuing and driver license renewal officers should warn owners of the dangers of allowing underage driving of their vehicles.
Vehicle salespeople and pediatricians/doctors treating children/youngsters should spend sometime talking to potential vehicle owners and parents about the dangers of letting minors driving their vehicles. New car/bike booklets and pamphlets at emergency rooms at hospitals should carry clear warnings of the dangers of allowing their vehicles to be driven by underage drivers.
Traffic police, traffic wardens, petrol bunk operators, security guards at the gates of communities/offices should be given the authority to ask for age proof of drivers who seem to be underage and to report vehicles driven by underage drivers to the traffic police.
The penalties for underage driving should be severe, and should not be limited to fines and counseling alone. For repeat offenders, penalties should involve jail term for the parents/owners and the underage driver, impounding of vehicle. A record of the offense should be maintained in a parent’s and child’s driver database.
Every traffic sense/traffic training exercise addressing young children and youth must highlight the problems and dangers of underage driving and stress on the fact that restraint from underage driving is a virtue.
At our Positive Strokes sessions for young drivers, we always discuss this topic of driving underage and without a license, the risks of such actions and the rewards of restraint.
Our children grow up too fast anyway. Let’s celebrate their childhood for as long as we can and then celebrate their coming-of-age responsibly at the appropriate time and in the appropriate manner.