"I still feel a rush of fear down my spine every time I am in the front seat of a speeding car," shares Mahek* (21) as she recounts a road accident that she survived when she was six years old. Now a psychology graduate from Delhi University, Mahek* was in the front seat of her car when the driver, who was under the influence of alcohol, rammed their hatchback into a road divider.
Fifteen years later and despite a set of strict laws and regulations, drunk driving is one of the major reasons behind road accidents in India. According to the Ministry of Road Transport & Highways, in 2019 there were 12,256 road accidents related to drunk driving. Over the last few years, the government has enforced stringent laws to address this issue. However, little has changed.
A number of citizen-led campaigns and advocacy groups have taken centre stage to combat the issue of driving under the influence, at a community level. Community Against Drunken Driving (CADD), a non-profit organisation in South Delhi, has extensively addressed this issue through advocacy and community involvement.
It's an attitude problem
Prince Singhal, a road safety expert and founder of CADD, mentions that drunk driving is an "attitudinal problem" and requires mindset change in order to be solved permanently. The September 2019 amendment of the Motor Vehicles Act 1988 mentions that in the case of drunken driving, first-time offenders will face imprisonment up to six months and/or fine up to Rs 10,000. The second offence, if within two years, can lead to up to two years prison term and/or fine of Rs 15,000.
Over the last two decades, a number of campaigns have been enforced by the government as well as civil society groups to tackle the issue of drunk driving. CADD has launched more than 1,200 awareness campaigns across the country by adopting a multi-sectoral approach to educate and safeguard communities from drunk-driving fatalities.
"The attitude of people is extremely callous when it comes to driving on the roads. The chalta hai [it should be okay] attitude needs to be governed through tighter laws and public movements," says Singhal.
A menace to tackle
"The youth is the most vulnerable age group when it comes to drinking and driving," Singhal points out, hinting at the increasing glamorisation of alcohol. There has also been an increase in cases of underage drinking across the country.
The minimum legal drinking age varies from state to state (it was lowered from 25 to 21 in Delhi earlier this year). A research conducted by CADD in 2018, however, revealed that nearly 62 per cent of the interviewed youth in the 14 to 21 age group, routinely consumed alcohol.
The survey further suggests that there are negligible checks on underage drinking, which leads to higher cases of drinking and driving among the youth.
(*name changed on request)
LANGUAGE OF THE LAW
According to the September 2019 amendment of the Motor Vehicles Act, in drunken driving cases, first-time offenders will face imprisonment up to six months and/or fine up to Rs 10,000