India has the dubious distinction of accounting for the highest number of road accidents in the world; one fatality reported every four minutes. Over 1.46 lakh people lost their lives in nearly 5 lakh road mishaps across the country in 2017. One of the most alarming dimensions of this problem is the danger posed by juvenile drivers. Cases of underage drivers causing fatal crashes have been on the rise. A plethora of reasons — weak laws, slack enforcement, lack of public awareness about road safety aspects, negligence, lack of fear of law and a long wait for justice for victims — have all led to this pathetic situation. The onus of curbing teenage driving must lie with the parents or guardians because it is they who pamper their children by gifting them two-wheelers, unmindful of the danger they cause to road safety. It is time parents or guardians were held accountable for allowing underage drivers on the roads. It is a welcome development that a court in Hyderabad had sent four parents to jail after their minor children were caught riding two-wheelers. The police booked cases against the vehicle owners and in all the cases the fathers of minor children had to face the law. This should serve as an eye-opener for parents and guardians and a deterrent to check cases of underage driving. Young offenders must be sent to juvenile homes if they repeat traffic violation. Juvenile driving is particularly hazardous because minors have unpredictable reflexes and are quite unprepared for the traffic rules. In the process, they might cause injuries to themselves and to other commuters.
Official figures reveal that the most affected age group in the road mishaps was 18-45 years. They together accounted for 68.6% of road accident fatalities in 2016. If a minor is involved in an accident, it should be presumed that the parents had willingly allowed the unfortunate incident to occur. A parliamentary panel, whose report formed the basis for the amendments to the Motor Vehicles Act, had suggested that “if a juvenile commits a crime after taking control of the vehicle with or without the consent of his guardian, then the guardian may be held responsible for commission of the criminal act.” It also proposed higher fine, impounding of vehicle and jail term for guardians in such cases. The recent amendments to the MV Act, proposing stricter punishments and multifold increase in penalties for traffic violations, may serve as an effective catalyst but a more widespread awareness campaign involving general public is needed to improve road safety. The quantum of punishment for parents and the duration of community service for errant minors will have to be worked out after consulting the States.