There is a saying that encourages road safety, which goes: “When you are driving (or riding), think that your are the wisest person and all the others are fools.” It simply means that although you have taken all the care to drive/ride safe, some fool could easily make you a party to an accident.
But this appears to have no relevance whatsoever to Bangalore riders with the initially strictly enforced helmet-rule in the city losing steam. Two-wheeler riders are blatantly violating the rule, which was implemented with gusto on November 1, 2006.
Those who do wear them while riding are violating the rule by adorning non-Indian Standards Institution (ISI)-marked helmets. Many riders who do carry ISI-marked helmets prefer to wear them on their elbows or the handle bars of their two-wheelers while riding, citing discomfort if it is worn on the head.
But listen to this. Dr Ajith Benedict Rayan, vice-president, HOSMAT Hospital, narrated a case: “About six months ago, we received a patient who had met with an accident three months earlier. He was wearing a helmet when he fell and that prevented his head from sustaining a direct hit. But he continued experiencing severe headaches and when we ran him through the tests we found a blood clot in his brain. This was because he was wearing a helmet of inferior quality. If he had worn a certified helmet, he could have prevented the clot too.”
But the traffic police are doing nothing about the violations. Instead, they themselves wear non-ISI marked half-helmets, which are not allowed as per the rule.
This, despite the then minister for home and parliamentary affairs MP Prakash, in January 2007 (just two months after the rule was implemented), iterating that the helmet rule would not be revoked. Much opposition to the rule from the public had led the then chief minister HD Kumaraswamy to announce earlier that the state government would consider revoking the rule.
Today, after almost seven years, it appears that the helmet rule is dying, with riders as well as traffic police not bothered about its implementation.
According to the website of The Personal Injury Lawyer Directory in the US, motorcycle helmets lessen the impact of hard surfaces that hit the head during an accident. “Helmets are designed to compress when struck, which decreases the severity of the impact by absorbing and dispersing force,” it states.
This it does because helmets are constructed out of three main parts: the shell, liner, and interior. The shell is usually a hard plastic, designed to skid, prevent neck injuries, and deflect penetrating objects. The liner is the hard foam part of the helmet that compresses and takes most of the force in an impact. The interior is the soft padding that is designed to provide comfort and fit.
However, not all these features are present in the half-helmets and the non-ISI helmets that are mostly worn by riders in the city.
Murali Sridhar, a final-year degree commerce student, has been riding his 220CC two-wheeler for over a year now, but although his helmet accompanies him wherever he rides, it is seldom on his head while riding. He admits, “I slide it on my head only at junctions where I am sure the traffic cops will be there.”
DNA observed that in many cases, the traffic cops did not move an inch even when such rule-violating bikers rode from right under their noses.
But, MA Saleem, additional commissioner (Traffic) ,defended, saying that at least 80% of the riders do follow the rule, while almost all carried helmets and wore them when they came close to traffic cops, preventing the latter from booking fines. “We have booked 7.5 lakh cases (since November 2006) against those not wearing helmets,” he said.
Then he explained the importance of wearing helmets while riding: “The number of deaths due to head injuries that year (2006) was about 980 while it came down to 755 in 2012. Although this may look like a small number, we have to keep in mind that in 2007 we had 20 lakh two-wheelers in the city and now it has gone up to 31 lakhs.”
Dr Benedict said: “They (the riders) must wear helmets that covers their faces. But, most of them wear helmets which don’t cover their faces. When we say head injury, we consider everything like the cheek bone, chin, nose, temple etc. But, many don’t do it.”
Saleem feels it is time to re-enforce the rule. “In April, we are going to start a campaign for helmets alone. This is to bring awareness on not just wearing helmets but also about the quality of helmets and the types of helmets that people should wear.”
Hopefully, this time, the enforcement will stay for good.