Campaign to create social awareness against underage driving to be launched today

On June 2013, Vishnu S. Kumar, a Plus Two student at Zamorin’s Higher Secondary School, was returning home after lunch at a friend’s place.

He took the Kalluthankadavu route past the Kozhikode District Jail — a shortcut to hit Mavoor Road, the city’s retail shopping hub. But the teenager was not destined to reach home. Instead, his young life was snuffed out at the Kalluthankadavu junction — a blind spot where vehicles come from three points with little space to manoeuvre.

His two-wheeler hit a lorry. Vishnu was killed on the spot. Six months later, another shocking accident involving underage drivers would rattle the city.

This time, Mohammed Labeeb, age 17, was killed when the car he was driving was crushed under a parked lorry in the early hours of a Thursday in January 2014.

Police report says that Labeeb, a Plus One student of Chinmaya Vidyalaya, and his friends had sneaked out of their homes after midnight without the knowledge of their parents. The boys, police say, had driven around the city, at times crossing speed limits.

Their night-time adventure met a tragic end when the car lost control while crossing a hump and hit the lorry. The other passengers in the car were all between 14 and 17 years of age.

“Two boys are still in critical care, two others are unable to fully function and in hospital. For the past months, we have been wondering whom to blame for the accidents involving underage drivers… the children, their parents, or the law…” Rajeev Puthalath, Regional Transport Officer, Kozhikode, says.

No deterrent

The law is feeble. The offence of underage driving is easy on the pocket for most parents — a mere Rs.1,500 as per the Motor Vehicles Act — but the tragedy it inflicts remains for a lifetime.

Mr. Puthalath recalls a personal experience during a visit to a friend’s home. When asked after the latter’s son, a Class VIII boy, his friends casually said the boy was out on his motorcycle.

“On one side, you want to indulge your son’s wishes. On the other, you are scared you made a mistake buying him a vehicle. It is a tightrope-walk for most parents. But there are others too who take credit that their children have learnt to drive at an early age... This false sense of pride proves fatal for the child,” Mr. Puthalath says.

So the Motor Vehicles Department, in partnership with ‘Our Responsibility to Children’ (ORC), a project under the Social Welfare Department, has come up with a drive — ‘Anti-Children-Driving Campaign’ — to create social awareness against underage driving.

“Social responsibility to our children does not end by just paying a fine of Rs.1,500. Instead, the department has decided to confiscate the vehicle and any documents, call for the parents, and conduct a group counselling. We basically want to show that both parents and children are collectively responsible to society,” Mr.Puthalath says.

The project is scheduled to be inaugurated here on Wednesday —April 2 — by State Transport Commissioner Rishiraj Singh. Raju Menon, mentor at ORC, says the primary responsibility falls with the family.

“Elder siblings teach younger ones to ride a motorcycle, parents send children on two-wheelers to get eggs and fish… this encouragement to break the law starts with the family. It is they we have to educate first,” he says.

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