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It’s not legal but it’s safe

Posted: April 20, 2011

A potential storm in a tea cup is brewing over at Twitter, where popular blogger Kiruba tweeted just a little while ago,During yesterday’s drive from Chennai to Bangalore, my kids drove 140 out of the 360 kms journey. Not legal but we were driving real safe.” Madhu Menon has called him out on it, and a few others still have jumped in to defend him, with excuses ranging from “chill, everyone does illegal things” to “age has no relationship to how well you drive.”

For the argument, let us assume that Kiruba’s kids are exceptionally talented drivers, unlikely to cause any more harm than a competent adult driver would. And, he has also mentioned that they took turns sitting on his lap and driving, which I suppose means that at all times, he could have taken control of the steering and brakes.

So, if one gets the safety argument out of the way (just for argument’s sake, since it really can’t be pushed out otherwise), does that make it ok to allow one’s kids to do obviously illegal stuff? As one tweeter casually said, everyone does illegal stuff – everyone of us at one point or another is likely to have paid a bribe to a policeman or government office – though technically, it is the taking of the bribe that should be illegal. That doesn’t necessarily make it right though. Of course, I can understand when you’ve made the rounds of the city corporation 10 times and your files are not moving, it is tempting to just cough up the bribe and be done with it. I can see the imperative there. Letting your kids flout driving rules put there for a good reason? Not so much.

I am also a little wary of judging laws by individual case results. Here, I must confess that my husband is among those kids who started driving a few years before the legal age. Of course, this was over very short distances, and in the 80s and in a small town with very little traffic – it is still illegal, never mind that he is an excellent driver and has not caused harm to anyone. I also know cases of kids who were allowed to drive too early and did cause damage, although not anything serious. One cannot say whether flouting a law is ok or not depending on individual cases – laws exist based on an understanding of average or typical behaviour; in this case, the ‘average age’ at which people have been deemed qualified to drive is 18, and while that is not a “sufficient” condition for good driving, it is a “necessary one” for driving. (Necessary Vs. Sufficient conditions explained)

It’s also worth thinking about the message that goes out to kids (and I am not targeting Kiruba personally here, since I have no clue what sort of moral instruction he otherwise gives his kids) – but one has to think about the consequences of letting kids feel that laws do not really matter. In general, we Indians have a ‘sab kuch chalta hai’ attitude – and we are even proud of it, considering it as part of our flexible, adaptible society. But, we also have among the highest rates of road accidents in the world – and one has to wonder, how much of that is due to this ‘laws don’t matter’ attitude?

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