Opinion: Bikers safety important, but helmets must not be made compulsory

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The recent circular by Karnataka’s Transport Department to ‘suspend’ license’ of ‘two-wheeler motorists’ who fail to wear a helmet has been in news for the last few days. While the measure taken to recommend standardized driving accessories is welcome, the imposition of ‘one-size-fits-all’ cliché on the ‘two-wheeler motorists’ falls short of ensuring riders safety.

Liability of Road Infrastructure developers?

Clearly here, the transport authorities are trying to pass the liability of accidents on the two-wheeler rider and the pillion(s).

Having been practicing as Motor Insurance Accident Claim Assessor & Loss Adjuster for the last 37 years, I can authoritatively say that improper road design & defective vehicle architecture cause many more road accidents than human error.

Unless motorist/road users reach the Honorable Courts, Road Infrastructure Developers like the Ministry of Road & Highways (MoRH), National Highway Authority of India (NHAI), Public Work Development (PWD) or City Civic Bodies don’t have any rationale accountability for injury or deaths caused due to defects, unscientific road designs, and irregular signage on roads.

Weather Factor

Tannirbhavi Beach: Pic Credits Giridhar

Also, be it district headquarter Mangaluru City in Dakshina Kannada or talukas in the Udupi district, the excessive humid climate is unforgiving on the riders. On a number of occasions, helmet-wearing motorists have become susceptible to common sicknesses like ear-infection, dehydration, fatigue, and headache.

As it is, two-wheeler motorists are no stranger to the woes of ‘fully covered helmet’ that impairs their audibility to on-road traffic, and also how the visor limits their visibility.

Furthermore, along with helmets, riders now also have to follow COVID-19 regulations and wear a mask. The simultaneous use of both accessories will greatly reduce the breathability of the on-road motorists.

It also has to be noted that Section 129 of the India Motor Vehicle Act 1988 requires minors above 4-years of age to wear headgear. I feel it will be a greater challenge for parents to convince their children to wear helmets throughout the ride.

Riders also have limited legal recourse to challenge the provisions of the Central Motor Vehicle (CMV) Act, 1989. In previous occasions, it has been noted that Honourable judges having gone through the CMVA 1989, haven’t found any valid stand by the aggrieved two-wheeler motorists.

Lower-income & Middle Class affected

Devan Jadav

Although costing less than a lakh of rupees, two-wheelers are largely driven by lower & middle-income groups. For most of them, travel is to meet their hand-to-mouth than for luxury. Many of them have hypothecated their vehicles to financial institutions & payments of Equated Monthly Installments (EMI’s) are due.

Imposing a penalty or suspending their license for months, will deprive the livelihood and add to their financial burden or agony. Their hopes of recovering from the economic & social brink of pandemic lockdown will be shattered, should the government try to extort the penalty under the pretext.

Way-forward

Ensuring driving safety is more about self-discipline that one should prefer on his/her own. Akin to the exemption by CMVA, 1989 given to our honorable members from the Sikh community who adorn turban and are exempted from wearing helmets.

There is nothing wrong if competent authority provides an exemption or prescribe even other two-wheeler motorists to wear alternative to helmets, due to health factors or extreme weather factors in coastal belts such as Dakshina Kannada and Udupi.

Karnataka State Government, Ministry of Road Transport & Highways (MoRTH) & NHAI must channelize its resources on improving road infrastructure rather than making blanket regulations.

The enactment of ‘mandatory helmet’ rules is clearly an oversight of the physical, mental, and health condition of the riders. It definitely varies from person to person. Instead, let the government set a maximum limit on a two-wheeler. Let them ban riders from taking their entire family (wife and two kids) from a safety point of view.

Further, instead of blanket fine; insurers may be allowed to deny insurance claims in their policies – if the riders without wearing a helmet face injury or death due to injury. Such a systematic mechanism will be constructive and encourage two-wheeler motorists from Voluntarily endorsing helmets.

However, the present archaic model of ‘penalty & suspension’ adopted by the Karnataka State Government as a short-gap measure, will least benefit the helmet vendor from surplus demand and not the two-wheeler motorist.

The author is a Fellow of Indian Institute of Insurance Surveyors & Loss Adjusters (F.I.I.I.S.L.A.), India and is practicing as Insurance Surveyor/Loss Assessor (Motor) since 1983. Recently, completing an 'All India' road journey of 19,110 Kms in 58 days has authored a Comprehensive Road Safety Guide “Mission: Advanced Road Safety 2019-2024” to bring down RTA deaths to almost zero in the next five years. The opinions expressed by the author are his own.

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