In India, the minimum age required for driving is 16 years for motorcycles of 50cc or less and 18 for all other vehicles. In reality several under-aged children are seen on the city roads driving two-wheelers and cars, whizzing around at a great speed regardless of their own safety and risking the lives of pedestrians and other vehicle-users. A 5 per cent increase in average speed leads to an approximately 10 per cent increase in crashes that cause injuries and a 20 per cent increase in fatal crashes. Statistics reveal that at least 13 people die every hour in road mishaps in the country, and among the states, Tamil Nadu is the leader. Several fatal mishaps on highways are caused by sheer carelessness and mostly by inexperienced drivers. Such road fatalities incur a huge loss to the social and economic fabric of the society and to the families of the victims. Among these is a loss of a loved one and earning member, whereby the elderly are forced to work, and children are compelled to leave school and find employment in order to make ends meet.
In many respects, most of us do agree that driving a vehicle is a pleasure. We often see and even wonder, an youngster who will wait for hours in a queue to buy tickets for a match or a picture will bristle with impatience at every red light on the road. It is pertinent to have driver education in all schools for children who attain the legal age. The most convincing evidence that driver education is effective comes from insurance companies, whose rates are based on casehardened experience. With driver education, the traffic violation figures drop when compared with the untrained youngsters. Driving schools sprout in almost every residential locality, but their expertise in training is limited. Lane driving, speed control, adherence to traffic signals and hand signals are rarely taught. Jumping red lights, recklessly weaving through traffic, abusing other road users and improper parking are rampant on city roads. The licensing authority personnel who conduct driving tests before issuing a licence are prone to accepting bribes to provide a valid driving license to the learner, and efforts to curb this menace are largely ineffective. The consequence of having drivers (?) who obtain their license by dubious means is well known as road fatalities soar. There are license holders who do not even the ABC (Accelerator, Break and Clutch) of driving.
Education on driving, road safety and road behaviour in schools would be ideal in the long run to change the way people drive, and reduce fatalities. Driver education should be possible to be imparted even by means of a simulator. I heard that in the US, hundreds of schools employed this device with excellent results. Students were relieved to know that they could make learning mistakes without hurting anybody, and have real basic training that would be impossible in traffic.
Whenever I see huge hoardings of the so-called high-end schools in India advertise facilities for swimming, horse-riding, roller-skating et al, it occurs to me, why they not included driver education in their prospectus. Another innovation that helps a student with driving problems under safe conditions is the off-street driving range wherein an instructor is able to handle several students at a time. Let us begin by training the youngsters to have a safe and secure highway commute. In short, where there is a will there is a way.
Madhu K. Nair [May 2007]