KARACHI: There was a little uproar in the parking area of the Garden headquarters of the Karachi traffic police.
"Faltu ka hai kya yeh? [Is he worthless?]" asked the information technology head of the traffic police, Ghulam Raza, pointing towards 14-year-old Mubashir. "His legs can't even reach the clutch of the motorcycle and he is riding it."
Raza was talking to Mubashir's elder brother who had come to get Mubashir's confiscated vehicle released from the traffic police. Raza refused, however, to do so until Mubashir's father came.
Residents of Karachi can breathe a sigh of relief now as the traffic police have taken it upon themselves to confiscate any vehicle being driven by underage drivers. To discourage the culture of juvenile driving, they have started a campaign in which two sessions are held every day for public awareness. Traffic wardens take the vehicles being driven by underage drivers into custody. When their parents come to get the vehicles released, they are made to attend awareness sessions in buses equipped with video facilities at the Garden Headquarters.
According to Raza, the first session starts at 11am while the next one is held at 3pm at the headquarters. "[In these sessions], we ask all the juvenile drivers whose vehicles are impounded to come along with their parents to our headquarters," said Raza. "Here, DIG Amir Ahmed Shaikh, additional DIG Salman Hussain, administration DSP Arshad Siddiqui and instructor Arif conduct counselling sessions depending on whoever is available in the office."
Raza talked about the buses used for traffic awareness parked at the Garden Headquarters. He said that these were used to provide education regarding traffic rules to underage drivers alongside their parents.
"We never hand over the vehicle to any elder brother, sister, chacha or mamu," he said, adding that only parents were given the confiscated vehicles.
Inspector Shirin Khan, who is also among the officials who conduct the counselling sessions, was of the opinion that verbal oaths worked most of the times when it came to underage driving. She said that she makes young drivers take an oath that they will not drive until they turn 18. In addition, she also makes the parents pledge that they will not let their young children drive until they come of age.
According to Khan, the motorcycle is the most vulnerable to accidents and 90 per cent of the confiscated vehicles are motorcycles. "The young riders consider it fun," she said. "But when they slip over and die, people blame us and ask that where the traffic police were and why they did not stop them."
Khan said that in order to make the passionate riders and their parents realise the perils of the stunts they perform, the parents and juvenile drivers were shown video clippings of various dangerous traffic accidents in the awareness bus. "This scares them," she said. "We hope that our little effort can somehow curb the juvenile driving accident cases."
According to Urban Resource Centre joint director Zahid Farooq, this is the personal effort of Traffic DIG Amir Shaikh and should be appreciated and continued. "The traffic police are conducting personal counselling sessions for the underage drivers," he said. "What else could we want from them?" He added that the traffic police were doing more than their job and this activity should be conducted under the supervision of the SP.
"There are six districts in Karachi," he pointed out. "It won't be possible for the residents of Malir or Landhi to go to Garden Headquarters to get their vehicles released. Having it conducted under the SP will yield more effective results."
Published in The Express Tribune, May 15th, 2015.