RAWALPINDI: When a water tanker clumsily made its way through the traffic and caused a blockage on Jabbar Colony Road on a Thursday morning, motorists sounded their horns to express their annoyance. But they weren’t prepared for what happened next. The tanker picked up speed, went out of control and hit a utility pole. Had commuters in the morning rush hour known the driver was underage, they would not have been so surprised.
Unfortunately, the number of underage drivers is increasing in the garrison city and accidents are becoming more frequent.
“Underage drivers are a common sight in the city. I saw a boy, hardly 13, driving a car with his mother at his side. You even see them driving water tankers in some areas,” said Sibte Hasan, a bakery employee.
“Many gruesome accidents on our roads can mostly be attributed to underage drivers. Just a week ago, a boy driving a water tanker drove down the wrong side of the street and ran over a man. Have underage drivers of water tankers ever been stopped by the police? I don’t think so, that’s why they are a constant menace,” said Nadeem Hussain, a resident of Nadeem Town, where accidents involving underage drivers are frequent.
“It is all the more agonising for their families considering the fact that the victims leave home with dreams and plans for the day, but end up dying in road accidents because of underage drivers,” said Gohar Zaidi, a trader in Jabbar Colony.
I started driving when I was nine, said Mohammed Ali, 13, who lives in Jabba with his parents. My father taught me as he was getting old. I have no licence but I drive because I have to, he added. “My parents don’t really mind, because my earnings help feed the family.”
Hasan Mujtaba, 12, said he started driving a water tanker at 10 after learning how to drive by observing others. “I have been involved in two accidents that left three people wounded and one permanently disabled, but my parents reached a compromise with the family with the police’s cooperation.”
Most underage drivers you are talking belong to rich families, said Mrs Qizalbash, a widow in Qadir Colony and mother to a 14-year-old tanker driver. “Nearly all teenagers in posh areas drive flashy cars. Any teen involved in an accident abandons the car and buys another. If the law is to be strictly observed it should start from the rich as most teenaged drivers belong to that class Why target poor people who rely on their sons who drive water tankers?” she questioned.
You will continue to chance upon underage drivers, because many people do not respect the law, said Mehdi, a 31-year-old water tanker driver. You will see boys driving water tankers because their parents are ignorant of the consequences. That is why there are more serious accidents in Nadeem Town, where many of these underage drivers are to be found.”
The police are also to blame because they issue the boys driver’s licences despite knowing that they are underage. If you have the money, you can get any of the traffic police officers to do it for you, stated Mehdi. “In this situation, why wouldn’t people continue to be run over by teenaged drivers?”
Published in The Express Tribune, July 21st, 2014.