Pune Porsche crash: Tackle underage drunk driving on a war footing

Two young software engineers were killed after a Porsche driven by a 17-year-old, hit their motorcycle from behind in Pune.  (HT_PRINT)
Two young software engineers were killed after a Porsche driven by a 17-year-old, hit their motorcycle from behind in Pune. (HT_PRINT)


  • Tragic road accidents like the one involving a drunk 17-year old must serve as a wake-up call for all. How far should parents be blamed for their children's crimes? It’s time to start an Indian chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

The tragic accident in Pune on 19 May involving a 17-year-old driver, allegedly under the influence of alcohol, that led to the death of two young techies and the anguished debate that followed has strong parallels with the Michigan, US, school shootout in November 2021. In that case, a 15-year old turned the gun on his school-mates, killing four of them. 

The jury trial saw the court convicting both the offender, a minor who was tried as an adult, and his parents on the grounds that they had failed to prevent their son from committing a heinous crime. Where does parental responsibility begin and end, this newspaper had asked, in the context of juvenile crime? There are no easy answers. 

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But as more instances come to light of underage or drunk drivers taking to the road and causing death and injury, we, as a society, need to take a stand on some contentious issues. One, should juveniles (aged under 18 years) who commit heinous crimes like rape or causing death be tried as adults? Two, should parents be held responsible in such cases? Three, how can we prevent such incidents?

Take these one by one. Driving drunk before the age of eligibility for both these adult-only activities has grown alarmingly common. Although the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, and a related amendment lets juveniles aged 16-18 be tried as adults for heinous crimes after a preliminary hearing by a juvenile justice board, this is more the exception than the rule. 

This must change. As for parental responsibility, it could be argued that the parents of the 17-year-old in the Pune case are culpable since they apparently allowed their underage son to drive their car, a Porsche, knowing full well that he did not have a driving licence as he wasn’t yet eligible for one. Sure, we live in an age where parents have less and less influence over their progeny, especially once they reach their teens. But that does not absolve them of responsibility. 

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Vehicles, like guns, can be lethal. And alcohol impairs abilities. Indeed, it is not just parents, but society at large that needs to do some soul-searching. As Reupert A. et al, write in their paper, ‘It Takes a Village to Raise a Child’ in Front Public Health, March 2022, “Even though parents may be a child’s primary caregivers, a family does not exist in a vacuum." 

Social connectedness or the bonds that people develop, including a sense of belonging and feeling of being cared for, are no less important. Unfortunately, the covid pandemic hurt this ‘social inter-connectedness.’ For almost two years, humans lived almost in isolation, interacting only with close family members. That sense of isolation, loss of empathy with fellow humans may have scarred many, especially those who spent their formative and turbulent teen years under lockdown conditions.

How much of a role did all this play in the horrific accident in Pune? It is hard to say. What is true is that despite the fact that India leads the world in road fatalities, civil society is yet to respond with proactive steps like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), a non-profit organization that began in the US and now has chapters in Canada and Brazil. 

By working with law-enforcement agencies, MADD has reportedly helped reduce drunk-driving deaths by more than 50%, as estimated, saving more than 400,000 lives. At the very least, the Pune accident should serve as a wake-up call to start a MADD chapter in India.

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