A spate of accidents in the recent past involving high-performance vehicles makes one wonder whether there should be a separate driving licence for bigger cars
A recent accident in Delhi involved a Bentley Bentayga being driven by a 19-year old youth which slammed into an auto-rickshaw killing one of the occupants. Being someone who has driven in Delhi and across India for a long time, I will not absolve the auto driver of blame. The average auto-rickshaw driver is clueless about concepts like right of way and the idea of flashing indicators is alien to them. Of course, in that respect they much like most folks taking control of a motorised vehicle in India. However, there is little doubt that the Bentayga driver was in all likelihood driving a vehicle far beyond his competence levels.
Most of us know that in India, with the exception of some states like Delhi, the process of getting a driving licence is a corrupt and flawed one. I have noticed several taxi drivers with licences from other states in Delhi with extremely poor understanding of driving rules and regulations. But this is not an elitist issue. Many young children get a licence at the age of 18 with little or no understanding of road rules and regulations. And this is the scary part, when you get a driving licence it says which class of vehicle you can drive — two-wheeler, light motor vehicle or a heavy vehicle. There are no restrictions on power and performance. So you could technically drive a Bentley Bentayga with 500 horsepower the day you get your DL when you should ideally be driving a Maruti Alto or Hyundai Santro.
This is not just specific to India though, across the world you can drive whatever vehicle you want the day you get your DL, and that is either when you turn 16 or 18. In most countries the driving tests are far more stringent but even then few go as far as Finland where drivers have to be trained to drive in slippery and icy conditions. Little wonder Finland has more Rally and F1 World Champions per capita than any other nation on earth.
And while there are young 18-year-olds in India with the requisite driving skills to handle a powerful car, you can probably count them on your fingertips. Let me assure you when I turned 18, I did not have the skills to handle a 100 horsepower car back then, it takes experience and it helps if you get some training. I have driven some manic cars on the streets of Delhi and Indian highways but I know how to control the power but most other road users in India are not expected to comply with rules. That is not accounting for our burgeoning bovine population on the roads. Handling a powerful car isn’t something you should do straight out of basic driving school, it takes time, particularly in India.
In many Western nations, massive insurance premiums for younger drivers restrict them to small, less powerful machines. While this means that the rich can abuse the system, even rich fathers would balk at the premium of letting his 18-year old drive a moderately powerful BMW, because the premium would be half the cars value, and in most nations a crash history record would lead to insurance premiums doubling. The easiest solution in India would be a similar route, insurance premiums should be determined on the basis of the age of the driver and lying should be made punishable. And while the Indian auto industry is cribbing about new long-term insurance requirements, they were necessary.
However, I am suggesting another solution. There should be a special driving licence in India to drive a car with more than 250 horsepower. The reason for that number? Because 99 per cent of cars sold in India have less than that amount of power. And remember the saying, with great power comes great responsibility.
Writer: Kushan Mitra
Courtesy: The Pioneer