Underage drivers not only put their own lives at risk but also that of others on the road. What if your child causes a motor vehicle accident? Where does the responsibility lie?
By Dr Debarati Halder
Throughout India, it is a common sight to see children as young as nine or 10 years of age driving confidently while parents proudly watch them.
Recently, several teenagers ‘enjoyed’ taking up the Kiki challenge whereby they needed to jump out of a moving car, perform some physical activities and jump into the moving car again.
The above-mentioned examples point toward a dangerous trend — an increasing number of teenagers and younger children are beginning to defy motor vehicle rules.
Most of the time, it is the parents who encourage underage driving. I have seen many parents prodding their young children to drive two-wheelers (and not bicycles) when they run errands.
In most cases, it’s either the parents or some other relative. While they teach children to drive, they don't bother to tell children about safe driving practices, or that children below 18 are not allowed to drive a motor vehicle.
Often, when children are prevented from driving a vehicle, they put forth these questions: 'But, why aren't we allowed to drive?' I have also seen children asking their parents that if they can handle an android phone at the age of seven or eight, then why not motor vehicles?
Interesting, isn’t it? As parents, we should know the answers to the questions our children pose about not being allowed to drive.
1. The Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, defines the terms motor vehicle under S.2 (28) as follows: 'Motor vehicle' or 'Vehicle' means any mechanically propelled vehicle adapted for use upon roads whether the power of propulsion is transmitted thereto from an external or internal source and includes a chassis to which a body has not been attached and a trailer; but does not include a vehicle running upon fixed rails or a vehicle of a special type adapted for use only in a factory or in any other enclosed premises or, a vehicle having less than four wheels fitted with engine capacity of not exceeding 1 [twenty-five cubic centimeters (cc)].
These are the vehicles which are driven by a majority of the underage drivers. While most parents believe that such vehicles are out of the scope of law, the reality is 'They are NOT'!
2. The Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, with its latest amendments strictly prohibits issuing license to individuals who are under 18. However, there is a relaxation for age only for getting learner's license for motor cycle without gear not exceeding 50 cc. The law says that a learner's license can be availed by individuals who have attained 16 years of age and the vehicle capacity should not exceed 50 cc. However, children cannot drive light motor vehicles (even if it is without gear) without the parents being liable for their driving.
Driving motor vehicles, including light vehicles, requires an individual to be cognitively mature. As parents, we need to understand that although our children feel thrilled by driving a vehicle, their brain isn't mature enough to handle that ‘thrill’. Children may invariably make mistakes while handling the throttle, gears, steering, clutch and the brake.
I was a witness to one such incident involving a little boy and his neighbour. The child wanted to test drive the neighbour's new bike. So, the neighbour allowed the child to drive while he sat behind, guiding the child. But, all of a sudden, the boy increased the speed and the vehicle skidded. Both the driver (the child) and the pillion rider (the adult ) were thrown off the bike. While the boy sustained minor injuries on his leg, the adult hit an electric pole and suffered a major head injury.
The consequences of the accident caused by underage driving are psychologically and physically traumatic as also, legally exhausting. On the one hand, parents agonise over what has happened to their child and feel guilty about allowing her to drive. On the other hand, they feel troubled by the various procedures involved — medical treatment and hospitalisation, not to mention, the legal procedures to be faced such as cross-examinations by the prosecution and the insurance company lawyers.
If the child causes an accident and thereby, death or grievous harm, then the parents may be held vicariously liable for letting the child drive a vehicle illegally and without monitoring.
We shouldn't make the mistake of thinking that penalties are minor in cases of motor vehicle accidents. The penalties may be clubbed with Indian Penal Code provisions and the child may also need to go through court procedures even though he is a minor. Such cases are covered by the Juvenile Justice Board, who may not allow bail if the circumstances vouch that the child would again commit the same mistake if he is allowed to go home. The recent amendment of the Juvenile Justice (Care and protection ) Amendment Act, 2015, and decisions of the courts also suggest that, if a child is above 16 years and had committed heinous offences, including hit and run with the motor vehicle, she may even be referred to regular criminal courts and treated like an adult.
Children look towards parents as their role-models. Therefore, parents should be careful to not to set a bad example for their children. So, as parents, we must:
Together, let us create a society where our children learn to fly high not to crash, but to fly higher.
Dr Debarati Halder, LL.B, LL.M, Ph.D (Law) (NLSIU, Bangalore) is the honorary managing director of the Centre for Cyber Victim Counselling (www.cybervictims.org). She is also the founder-secretary of the South Asian Society of Criminology and Victimology (www.sascv.org). She is currently Professor-Legal Studies at the Unitedworld School of Law, Karnavati University, Gandhinagar, Gujarat. She can be contacted @firstname.lastname@example.org
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