This post is also at ATP.
How many of us can say we don’t know anybody who drives underage in Pakistan? Chances are that many of us would know of cousins, relatives and friends (maybe even ourselves) who have driven a car or a motorcycle in Pakistan while being under the legal driving age, and without holding a government issued drivers’ license. Why is that so?
Over the years, our society has unfortunately become more complacent about underage driving than before, and more kids are growing up learning that it is ‘cool‘ to drive young, to drive fast, and to risk it with the law. The parallel assumption is that if they were to be caught by the police, a little rishwat (bribery) and connections in the Police or military will get them out in no time.
The result of this criminal neglect from parents and other elders (and I don’t use that word loosely here) is an increased danger of fatal traffic accidents that now exists on roads. Underage kids are not only untrained drivers, but they can also be more prone to road-rage, over-excitement & speeding, and incapable of making split second decisions. I lost a friend in a freak accident that involved an underage driver, and a recent news item in the Daily Times reminded me of the pain one more time:
KARACHI: A 17-year-old boy driving a bus of route 20 was arrested Sunday night for hitting and killing a man and his five-year-old daughter near Habib Chowrangi, SITE.
According to the police and witness accounts, the bus driver lost control while over speeding. The bus first hit a police motorcycle that was parked in front of the DC’s office and later smashed into a running motorcycle.
The motorcycle rider identified as 35-year-old Saleem and his five-year-old daughter Iqra died on the spot, while his wife Uzma and his older daughter, seven-year-old Aiman, were injured.
When the accident happened passers-by gathered around the scene and caught the driver of the bus. They were surprised to discover that he was a teenager and did not have a driving license or a National Identity Card.
The actual bus driver was said to be ill and was sleeping on a back seat when the accident took place. He handed over the steering wheel to the bus cleaner, Afridi, before going to sleep.
I have noticed young boys in Karachi often riding motorcycles recklessly, but I had not realized they were now also driving large buses and lorries. In this particular case it is easy to identify the real driver as the guilty person, but in other situations I have actually noticed parents actively encourging kids to drive when they are neither trained, nor authorized to.
Sometimes it starts with a short run to fetch groceries from nearby markets, and sometimes its just a little ride ride around the block for fun. But before you know it, kids are given the responsibility of driving family around elders are not available. This short-sightedness is a terrible mistake. It does not help kids grow up confident, as a relative asserted once. It only increases the risk of the kid getting into a terrible accident.
When will we learn that with plenty of other problems affecting us, there is no need to inflict otherwise avoidable tragedies on our people? This time a family of 4 is left grieving forever, the next time it could be a larger crowd waiting at a bus station? It could be someone we love dearly.
There is no reason for kids to be driving motorcycles or cars untrained and without a license. Kids of driving age should first attend driving schools to learn all the rules, and then they must obtain the driver’s license the way their counterparts do in other countries. Not only should the Police come down hard on this, but it is a responsibility we must also all bear in the society. We have to start from our homes, our families, and our friends. It may not be fashionable, but it is safe.