10 Jun 2016 19:20 IST

Licence to kill

Corruption is the devil in India’s high incidence of road accident fatalities. But the root cause is something else.

Getting a licence seems like a big deal — “Passing through the scrutiny of the bureaucrats and their tests is so much work,” a lot of people complain. But the reality is that it doesn’t always have to be that way. It’s quite simple. All you have to do is know a middleman or an agent, pay a little more than the standard rate and bam! You’ve become a roadie, with a licence to zoom around the city, legally.

You don’t even need to know driving to get one. In fact, I know many in my family and friends circles who didn’t even start a vehicle to get a driving licence. There are a number of people who can’t make that S-turn, or differentiate between an indicator and a headlight; they even fail the test, but still end up with this document.

So what happens in a country, when even 10 per cent of drivers get their licences this way? Unwittingly, they also get the licence to kill.

Statistalk

It is the same corruption that lets parents think they can get away with handing over the car or bike keys to their under-aged child. In Chennai, I have now stopped being horrified at young boys or girls, some as as 10 or 12, zipping past me on a bike. One, driving a moped in my neighbourhood, looked even younger.

Nearly 1.5 lakh people lost their lives on Indian roads in 2015 . The fatality rate was 4.6 per cent higher than the previous year. In the same period, road accidents increased by 2.5 per cent to 5 lakh. Think about this: every hour, 17 Indians lost their lives in road accidents. Some of them were not even responsible for the mishap.

Like this man who was knocked down by a teenager in Delhi’s Mercedes hit-and-run case . More than half of the fatalities recorded in 2015 included those in between the age group of 15 and 24.

The generally poor condition of our roads could be a reason for the high fatality rate, but surely, the root of the menace is somewhere else. Seven Indian cities feature among 47 cities (globally) that have the highest rate of road deaths. Chennai takes the second spot; not surprising as Tamil Nadu is among the top places on the dubious list.

Collective failure

I lost a close friend in a bike accident, and a cousin passed away after a SUV smashed into him. In the first case, neither my friend — who was riding pillion — nor the friend behind the wheel was wearing a helmet. I doubt if either of them even had a licence at that time. I don’t know if the driver of the SUV that killed my cousin had legitimately passed the driving test, but it was said that he had violated traffic rules.

It is ridiculous to blame the authorities for the corruption. It is a collective failure where everyone — individuals, parents, teachers and authorities — is equally responsible.

And this isn’t very surprising, considering our system is among the weakest in the world. According to Insider Monkey, a financial website, India has the second easiest driving test in the world. Mexico has the easiest. Tests in the UK (with a pass percentage of about 40 per cent) and Singapore (with 50 theory questions) are among the toughest.

Getting a driver’s licence is often considered a rite of passage into adulthood. It will be in everybody’s interest that this passage is made as tough as possible.

It will certainly be worth many a life.