New Delhi, Sept. 5: The driver was “tall enough to see over the windscreen” and doing 80kmph when the Toyota Qualis crushed Vivek to death.
Vivek was three months old — and the driver 13 years.
Underage driving, catching on fast in the country fed by prosperity and permissive parents, snuffed out a young life in Delhi last night when a boy used his father’s absence to take the wheel of the sports utility vehicle.
Prashant (name changed because he is a minor) tried to negotiate a curve near an apartment complex in west Delhi at 80kmph, sending the Qualis hurtling out of control at 9.30 pm yesterday.
Vivek and his aunt Pushpa were in its path, the baby dying instantly on impact.
Prashant was arrested along with a man called Deepak who was with him. While Deepak is still in detention, the boy has been granted bail by a juvenile court. Pushpa was admitted at the time to a nearby hospital but was released today.
Belonging to a family of taxi owners and drivers, Prashant had been pleading with his father to teach him to drive ever since he turned a teenager in June, police said today.
“His father never allowed him to drive. So, he would wait for his father to leave town to practise driving with one of the father’s assistants (Deepak),” assistant sub-inspector Padmesh Tyagi, in charge of the case, told The Telegraph.
At five feet two inches, Prashant was tall enough to see over the windscreen, Tyagi said. His family was “poor and lived in a slum”. “His family is not well-to-do. It is not a case of a rich brat running over poor people,” he added.
The Qualis had been purchased second-hand for Rs 80,000 by Prashant’s father, the police said.
But Subhash, Pushpa’s husband who said he was an eyewitness, claimed that Prashant’s father “owns more than 20 cars”. “Yes, he runs a taxi business, but they are a well-off family. The police are trying to protect the boy,” he said.
Tyagi, however, dismissed the allegation as “emotional over-reaction”. “You know how the poor are... they automatically think the police are trying to save the rich,” he said, adding that the boy appeared “repentant” during questioning.
Senior Delhi traffic police officials said the phenomenon of underage drivers was a “relatively neglected area of road safety”. “This case came to light because of the death of a person. But my assessment is that many people allow their children to ‘test-drive’ well before they are legally allowed to,” the joint commissioner of police (traffic), Qamar Ahmed, said.
Traffic police records show that on most occasions, underage drivers stopped by officers are accompanied by a family member. “That clearly shows complicity on the part of the family. Somehow, many parents don’t appear to genuinely believe in the age bar for driving,” an officer said.