It was a Sunday like any other when Sandhya Kiran, a resident of KPHB in Hyderabad, boarded an auto with her 14-year-old twins; Madhav and Mahadev and her mother, Nagamani, to travel to a relative's house in Yapral.
Within the next hour, all four family members along with the auto rickshaw driver, were rushed to the nearest hospital, as an underage driver who was speeding on a joyride, rammed into them on the Diary Farm road near Bowenpally.
"The car was on the wrong side of the road and was over-speeding. It hit the auto and went on to hit two more bikes before it came to a halt. The boy ran away as soon as the accident took place," an eye witness told mediapersons later on Sunday.
The horrific accident has left two dead; 14-year-old Mahadev and 65-year-old Nagamani. Sandhya continues to be critical and is undergoing treatment in the ICU of a hospital in Suchitra.
While the minor and his father, a businessman, have been arrested, it was not before they managed to abscond from their home and evade the police for more than 24 hours after the accident.
The incident has also triggered off a larger debate on underage driving in Hyderabad and who is responsible in such incidents.
Parents to blame?
Speaking to TNM, Additional Commissioner of Police (Traffic), Anil Kumar, says that the blame has to fall squarely on parents as many consider it a matter of pride, when their minor child learns to ride a bike or drive a car.
"The parents feel happy when they see their children driving. It starts off with something small like sending them to buy groceries nearby or dropping a guest who has come home. They are the ones who encourage the children when they know very well that it is a violation of traffic rules and regulations," he says.
The senior police officer said that city police booked 4,200 cases of underage driving last year, and has booked around 3,400 cases in the last seven months.
Kanumala Vinod Kumar from the Indian Federation of Road Safety (IFROS) also agrees that parents are to blame.
"When we speak to parents, they claim that they are being threatened and blackmailed by their children that if they don't give them a vehicle, they will resort to extreme actions. However, this doesn't mean that they hand over keys to the minor to kill some other innocent person on the road," Vinod says.
"Even high school students are driving gear-less vehicles and bikes. Isn't that a school's responsibility? They should not allow students to come in vehicles. They should inform the parents and the police and take action. New interventions are needed," he adds.
Is the police doing enough?
The Hyderabad police has been booking and filing charge sheets against parents and guardians of minors caught driving.
Last year, magistrate courts in Hyderabad had even sentenced parents to jail and sent minors to juvenile homes for the offense. Anil Kumar says that there were around 40 convictions. Despite this, the cases continue to come in.
"As far as the traffic police is concerned, we try our best to control road accidents, whether it is underage driving, drunk driving, triple riding or cellphone driving. We keep holding special drives on such issues which contribute to road accidents," the police officer states.
"We keep conducting counselling sessions for parents and also visit schools and colleges to create awareness. From our side, we are taking all the steps we can, but civil society should also take some steps and contribute to tackle this issue," he adds.
Will the new MV Act help?
The police and activists are hoping that the new Motor Vehicles Act, which was recently put into force, will help them deal with the issue.
"Where an offence under this Act has been committed by a juvenile, the guardian of such juvenile or the owner of the motor vehicle shall be deemed to be guilty of the contravention and shall be liable to be proceeded against and punished accordingly," the MV Act states.
"The new MV Act spells out stringent punishment. The fine amount is Rs 25,000 and the parents or guardians can get up to 3 years imprisonment. These children will also be tried in a Juvenile court. We hope that this will act as a deterrent to all parents who are giving vehicles to minors," Anil Kumar says.
The new MV Act also states that the registration of the motor vehicle used by the minor shall be cancelled for a period of twelve months.
"Now with the new MV Act, there is a specific point to address underage driving. However, it only works if the enforcement of the law is also strong. Additionally, the onus is on all of us to ensure that minors are not allowed to drive," Vinod states.