Speed of callousness


The horrifying speeding accident in which budding engineer Siddharth Sharma was run over by a juvenile racing into the night in his father’s Merc has yet again raised the question of underage drivers driving high-end luxury cars at speeds upwards of 180 kmph, killing people and violating road safety norms with impunity. Shalini Saksena and Sangeeta Yadav talk to experts to make some sense of the insanity raining on Delhi’s roads

Last year, Delhi Traffic Police issued 1,491 challans against minors till August 31. This figure stood at 104 in 2014 for the same period. In other words, underage driving by youngsters below 18 has increased 14 times! On the whole, 8,623 accidents took place in Delhi in 2014 out of which 1,671 victims died whereas in 2015, in 8,085 accidents there were 1,622 fatalities.

What is worrying is that these minors are not just untrained and without a driving licence, they also are happy speedsters, parking nightmares and leaders of traffic jams. Top this with the very alarming and growing trend of underage children driving to school themselves and you have a Capital where life is at ransom Be it a car, a bike or a scooty, underage drivers are at the wheels. With no sense of danger or responsibility, there is hardly anything that can stop them from riding away with someone else’s life — a case in point being the recent mowing down of Siddharth Sharma by a 17-year-old speed monster kid of a rich and irresponsible father.

Dr Neelima Chakraborty, senior principal scientist at Central Road Research Institute (CRRI), recently  presented a research paper on psycho-physical limitations to talk about the phenomenon of children below 20 years of age facing problems in judging the speed at which the car should be driven and how much distance one should maintain.

“Even after the age of 18, a child’s psychophysical attributes are not fully developed due to which he or she is unable to figure out the right distance and speed to drive. This is a very critical phase for children and requires a lot of training in driving two and four wheelers, especially the hi-end super fast cars that claim to go from 0 to 96 km/hr in 3 seconds or less,” explains Chakraborty.

Moreover, the higher middle class lifestyle in Delhi is such that owning a car or a bike has become a necessity instead of a luxury. On an average, households have more than two cars for the family. As per a Delhi Traffic Police report, the total number of vehicle registered in Delhi in 2015 were 4,30,603.

Last year’s Investment and Credit Rating Agency (ICRA) ratings stated that the sale of luxury cars in India will see a 20 per cent rise by 2016 and treble from 33,000 a year to 1 lakh by 2020. In 2015, Audi sold 11,192 cars in India while Mercedes-Benz, the car Siddharth’s killer was driving that fatal night, registered the highest ever sale of 13,558 units from April 1, 2015 to March 31, 2016, marking a 21 per cent increase from last fiscal.

The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways’ data reveals that 1.62 lakh road accidents were caused by underage drivers and those without licences between 2012 and 2014. Out of these, 60,000 accidents were caused by minors.

But Sharad Agarwal, Joint Commissioner of Police (Traffic), claims that the fatal accidents in Delhi have come down in the last seven years.

“Though there are no records of fatal accidents that have taken place through luxury cars but overall, the number in Delhi has come down. Since 2010, there’s been a decline in fatal accidents on Delhi’s roads. In 2015, the total number of road fatalities was the lowest in 25 years after 1990,” Agarwal tells you, adding that the credit goes to the precautionary measures taken by Delhi Police through regulation, awareness campaigns, enforcement and road engineering measures. But he conceded that there was a need for multi-pronged strategy to reduce the number of fatal accidents in Delhi, especially in case of serial offenders.

It the case of 34-year-old Siddharth Sharma, who was run over by a juvenile racing a Mercedes at Civil Lines in Delhi, the minor and his father were cautioned many times for breaking traffic rules previously.

“The first time, the offender has some fear about violating road norms but when he commits the same offence the second and third time, he becomes fearless of the law. On their first offence itself, the parents and enforcement authority should be so stringent with punishment that they become conscious. There should be dedicated guidelines to deal with underage driving accidents,” Chakraborty says.

Under the law, repeat offenders face cancellation of licence but, Agarwal says that most of the time this does not happen, thanks to clauses which say that you can only seize the licence if the offence has happened between one or three years of the first offence.

“We’ve started seizing the licence of drunk drivers, speeders and red light jumpers. That has a bigger impact than merely fining them. Once you seize the licence, they are grounded. We need to think of these kinds of measures,” Agarwal insists.

Sadly, however, India doesn’t have a comprehensive law for road safety, making enforcement of road safety practices nearly impossible. The Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 does lacks a comprehensive framework for road safety. The big step would be, experts say, to pass the Road Transport and Safety Bill, 2015, which is pending in Parliament.

“The present Motor Vehicle Act has lost its relevance. It doesn’t talk about the safety part. The fine is still Rs100 to Rs1,000 which is peanuts in this age. To discourage people from violating traffic rules, the law needs to be spruced up with stricter prosecution provision for offenders. Pre-licencing training is missing in India. Another issue is if the traffic officers seize the licence of offender in certain offences, he or she gets it from other State’s Regional Transport Office (RTO). All this needs to be urgently addressed,” Agarwal feels.

For the new Bill, http://www.roadsafetyatrisk.in/ recently launched an online petition through which citizens appealed to the Prime Minister for a strong road safety law. Last year, 235,722 people signed and submitted a petition and 50 MPs wrote to the PM urging for a quick passage of a robust road safety Bill. Among others issues, the petition talks of scientific and standardised accident investigation; stringent punishment for faulty road design; a transparent, centralised and efficient driver’s licensing system; mandatory safe driving training for all and stringent punishment for drunk-driving and over-speeding.

According to Safe Road Foundation founder, Mohammad Imran, the menace is much larger and what we are seeing is just the tip.

“Parents today have no time for their children. There have been instances where they don’t meet their children even for dinner. But they have plenty of money, so they buy them expensive gifts. During road safety workshops in schools we found that many students were driving their own vehicle with either a fake driving licence or no licence at all. Alarmingly, schools are aware of this but do nothing. Asked why they were driving to school, some said the vehicle was a birthday gift from parents, others talked of peer pressure and status talk,” Imran explains.

Agrees Chakroborty.

“As soon as the child turns 18, their parents gift them a car and they go out driving with friends. There is lack of observation, lack of enforcement and lack of fear factor. They have adrenaline rush for speed, they drink and even take drugs which is very dangerous,” Chakraborty explains.

Then there are mindsets, Delhi being unique in this. What we drive governs our road behaviour.

“A small Maruti car owner will drive in a much civilised manner as compared to a person behind the wheel  of a high speed car or a superbike. People driving such vehicles consider themselves powerful because the whole purpose of driving is to speed up,” Imran says.

Most Indian roads are not vehicle friendly and there is bad traffic sense among drivers makes it all the more dangerous. Almost all teenagers love to speed, tailgate (drive too close behind another vehicle) and not wear seat belts. In such cases, punishment alone is not enough. There is need for prevention through three ways: The car you are driving, the person involved and the road, all three need to to be perfect. If even one of these aspects is imperfect there is bound to be an accident. It has been found that 90 per cent of all people in the country who say they know how to drive, actually don’t. They don’t know the safe distance between two cars, blind spots, how much time there should be for giving an indication and what is the lane changing procedure.

In India, most of us learn how to drive from our father or brother and end up learning all the wrong things. Some don’t even take lessons and just start on their own. And often, parents encourage such behaviour. Often you see a father is sitting behind and teaching his 13-year-old how to drive a scooty. The child is happy and this makes the father happy. They don’t realise the threat of giving a vehicle to an inexperienced child.

Experts says that the situation is getting compounded because with every vehicle added on, there is a rise in traffic violations. This is leading to a fall in the road user culture. Traffic management has not been defined, nor has the role of authorities, Dr Rohit Baluja, president, Institute of Road Traffic Education says.

“The police that is supposed to only be engaged in enforcement is not doing its duty as it is too busy busy controlling traffic. The police are not properly trained in traffic management. On an average, there are 20 crore traffic violations on roads a day. In the garb of these violations, crime is on the rise as violations are not booked. It only comes to light when a high profile car is involved. So 99 per cent of the problem does not come to the fore. Abroad, each violation and its punishment is well-defined, unlike India. What we need is a proper definition based on the seriousness of the offence,” Baluja says.

Parents, who give vehicles to their underage wards, should also be held liable. The whole process of punishment is weak; the linkage is weak. It is like a father giving a gun to the child and says ‘go play with it’. The probability that the parent doesn’t know that his teenage ward has taken the car out for a spin is not possible.

And, it is not just about road education. All measures should be supplemented by training. There are certain things that one should know even before you apply for a learner’s licence — Sections 132, 133, 134 and 137 of the Motor Vehicles Act 1988 in case of any accident. Drivers don’t know these Sections or what they entail. They don’t know the seriousness a situation and one always believes that everything in this country can be managed.

Then there is enforcement.

“Do we ever ask a policeman how many challans he has issued to minor violators on the road? “On the assumption that there are 90 lakh vehicles on the road each day how many cars does the police stop for a licence? Should it not be the school’s responsibility also to see how the students are coming and going? Is it just police work? What the police can do is do random checks in schools during mornings and afternoons. One can involve resident welfare associations. There are cameras installed on most public roads. One can see whether the vehicle is being driven by a minor or a major. Action can be taken accordingly. For now, there is no fear in the minds of the people,” Baluja points out, insisting that that’s the root of the problem.

Father indulgence Juvenile case 2016

April 4, 2016: A juvenile driving a Mercedes in the Civil Lines in the Capital at a high speed caused the death of 34-year-old Siddharth Sharma (pic 2). The CCTV footage (pic 1) shows that Sharma was flung several feet into the air when the car struck him. The accused turned 18 four days after the incident and has been charged with culpable homicide. The driver was sent to own up for the crime but broke down and admitted that he was forced to take responsibility. He has been charged with misleading the investigation. The juvenile’s father, Manoj Aggarwal, was charged for abetting the crime and culpable homicide not amounting to murder.

Drunk killer N S Shanker case 2016

March 27, 2016: Orthopaedic surgeon Dr NS Shankar, while driving in a drunken haze, rammed five vehicles in a 2km stretch, mowing down 54-year-old Rizwan Pasha, who was on a parked two-wheeler with his wife, and injuring four others with his rampaging Mercedes Benz (in the pic) on Bengaluru’s Byrasandra Main Road. He was charged with culpable homicide. He is in jail.

Power drunk Sambia Sohrab case 2016

January 13, 2016: An Audi SUV being driven by a drunk Sambia Sohrab, son of former RJD MLA Mohammed Sohrab, mercilessly killed an IAF officer Abhimanyu Gaud while he was practising for the Republic Day parade on Red Road, Kolkata after driving through multiple barriers. Sohrab’s brother and another friend were following the Audi in another car.

All three were arrested and booked for murder, criminal conspiracy, attempt to murder, causing disappearance of evidence, harbouring the offender and mischief causing damage.

Alcohol & rage M Nisham case 2016

January 28, 2015: Beedi tycoon Muhammed Nisham was accused of murdering Chandrabose, a security guard of his building in Thrissur, Kerala. The police said the businessman was very drunk and he deliberately ran over the victim in a fit of rage after the guard failed to open the building’s gate fast enough.

A Thrissur court sentenced Nisham to rigourous life imprisonment and 24 years of jail term for six other offences earlier this year and imposed a fine of Rs 80.30 lakh, of which Rs  50 lakh, is to be paid to the widow of the victim. Before that, Nisham was booked in 2013 for allowing his minor son to drive his Ferrari.

Morning sickness Anukool Rishi case 2012

February 19, 2012: A Lamborghini speeding on the BRT corridor in Delhi crashed into a bus stop’s railing and swerved into the cycle lane, killing one cyclist and leaving the driver of the car, 28-year-old Anukool Rishi, dead. Rishi was the director at MVL Limited, a multi-million dollar company owned by his father, Prem Adip Rishi. The airbags failed as Rishi was not wearing seat belt. The car was registered in the name of PC Jewellers who said Rishi had taken the car for a spin as he planned to buy one himself. The police registered a case of culpable homicide and causing death due to negligence.

Speed monster: Satyajeet Singh case 2008

February 24, 2008: Two youths were seriously injured and two lost their lives in the wee hours of the morning when their Skoda Laura car crashed into a tree in front of  National Gallery of Modern Art near India  Gate. Sneha Kapoor and Anirudh Rawat, riding in the backseat, died on the spot. Satyajeet Singh, who was driving the car, and Gaurav Siddique were seriously injured.

The four friends, all under 25-years-old, were returning from a wedding and were allegedly drunk. However, Singh’s father claimed that it was not his son driving the car, which did belong to him.

Power drunk: Dinesh Tanwar case 2010

June 4, 2010: A Mercedes Benz being driven by then BSP leader Kanwar Singh Tanwar’s son Dinesh collided with a taxi in the wee hours in Delhi’s RK Puram area leaving the woman passenger dead and the taxi driver critically injured. Dinesh was charged with rash and negligent driving. He got bail in a jiffy as he was not charged with culpable homicide.

Corporate kill: Utsav Bhasin case 2008

September 11, 2008: A speeding BMW with a VIP registration number belonging to Sonepat-based industrialist Narendra Kumar Bhasin hit a bike on the Moolchand flyover in the Capital, leaving the two bikers seriously injured, one of who later succumbed to his injuries. The car was being driven by Bhasin’s 18-year-old son Utsav. Cases of rash and negligent driving as well as causing hurt and endangering life were registered against Utsav who was driving the influence of alcohol. He got out on bail in February 2009 after furnishing a bond of Rs 50,000.

Stardust: Salman Khan case 2002

September 2, 2002: Actor Salman Khan was sentenced to five years for killing one person and injuring four others after the Land Cruiser which he was allegedly driving, crashed into a shop in Mumbai’s Bandra suburb. He was booked for culpable homicide not amounting to murder among other charges. In December, 2015, Khan was acquitted of all charges after a trial lasting 13 years. The Maharashtra Government has now filed an appeal against the acquittal by the Bombay High Court and the case is pending in the Supreme Court.

The kickstart Sanjeev Nanda case 1999

January 10, 1999: Sanjeev Nanda’s was the first high-profile luxury car (BMW) case. Driving at 140km/hr, Nanda, son of industrialist Suresh Nanda, rammed his car into a police checkpost at Lodhi Road killing 3 cops and 3 bystanders. He was caught destroying evidence by a cop who followed the trail of his leaking engine to Golf Links. Nanda was charged with culpable homicide but released. In a 2008-09 retrial, he was found guilty and sentenced to five years in jail. In 2012, the SC reduced his sentence to the two years he had spent in prison, imposed a Rs 50 lakh him and released him.

(With inputs from Prakriti Roy)

(The article was published in Sunday Pioneer – http://www.dailypioneer.com/sunday-edition/sunday-pioneer/special/speed-of-callousness.html).


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