It's About Helmetting Right

    Rahul Desai

    If my existence mattered to you (in any positive way), you must thank ‘Vega’ for saving my life. (Or at least, for saving my aashiq ka thobda from getting deformed completely.) Vega is a helmet manufacturer in India, and one of their products is taking great care of my Einstein-brained head for more than two years now.

    To jot another similar incident, apart from my own this last Saturday, a year and a half ago one fine evening Raghu and I (my college roommate) were sitting in our hostel room. If I recall correctly, we were trying to synchronize some jazzy music over the LAN by playing it on two computers simultaneously and trying to create some unusual acoustic effect, just when Vaibhav came rushing in. Vaibhav (Puri Goswami) lived just next door, and he had returned from work (from his MS internship place). Instead of going to his own room, he came to us and showed us his helmet and its left side. Then he told us the story of how he was stuck in the traffic near Pune University Circle, was going so slow to the left of the road (parallel to the footpath), and lost his control falling down to his left side. It was such a controlled fall that his two-wheeler was all safe, and his entire body was equally fit - apart from the fact that his head (protected by the helmet) had banged onto the edge of the footpath. It was a hard hit, he passed out for a while and lost complete track of what was happening. He had to sit back by the roadside for some time and then proceeded and reached the hostel to tell us the story. The helmet saved our precious friends, unlike the case about three and a half years ago when the same helmet could have saved many other things apart from two important lives.

    Newspapers in every metro city in India give a daily report of people killed and injured in traffic accidents. As a response to this heightened awareness, many NGOs have come up in many cities to deal with this increasing urban epidemic of death and destruction. Police departments also hold road safety weeks, painting competitions, and zero-tolerance drives and demand greater powers to fine and punish. This has gone on for the last two decades. But, the killing and the maiming continue unabated.

    In contrast with developed countries like the United States, Europe, and Australia, we don’t have many studies done in any city in India in which road accident data have been analyzed according to scientific norms in vogue around the world. Not a single city in India has a well-formulated scientific process through which data gets analyzed according to methods that are likely to be beneficial. No police department in India has collaborated with road safety experts continuingly.

    So, how do we start? First of all, we should select practical measures which are known to work in all situations and apply them locally. Second, we need to set up systems for the collection and analysis of road accident data on a scientific basis suited to our socio-economic conditions. Then, this data can be used to fine-tune policies and set up long-term safety programs.

    Examples of policies that work internationally are compulsory use of helmets and headlights by two-wheeler riders, making small vehicles like bicycles and carts more conspicuous by use of reflectors on all sides and painting them yellow or orange, use of seatbelts by car occupants, and limiting vehicle speeds below 50 km/h on urban arterial roads. Helmet use is mandated by the Motor Vehicle Act in India. However, each state has to notify it for it to be enforced. Most of the states in India have been criminally negligent in not doing so. Studies done in Delhi, Chennai, and Bangalore show that a vast majority of two-wheeler riders and parents of teenagers are in favor of the law. The law is very easily enforceable. This measure alone will reduce deaths by 20-30% among two-wheeler riders.

    When two-wheeler riders keep their headlights on during the daytime, it does not help them, but it makes them more conspicuous to other vehicle drivers. This measure was found to be effective in Europe almost two decades ago in reducing fatalities by 10%. Malaysia and Singapore have also introduced this law. Studies from Malaysia show a 15% reduction in deaths. The measure does not cost anything and can be implemented tomorrow. Helmet and daytime headlight use by two-wheelers if enforced throughout the country may save 4,000 -5,000 lives and 60,000-100,000 serious injuries annually. If all bicycles in India had reflectors on wheels, in front and the back, and if all of them were painted yellow or orange, they would be much more visible. This measure would save another few thousand lives, would not cost much, and can be implemented easily.

    Fifty percent or more of road deaths in cities involve pedestrians. A pedestrian hit by a car at 30 km/h has less than 10% chance of dying, whereas this probability increases to more than 80% at 50 km/h. This is why all European cities are limiting vehicle speeds to less than 30 km/h in residential and shopping areas by the use of well-designed speed breakers, narrowing streets, and encouraging dead-end roads. On arterial roads, speeds are limited to 50 km/h with light-controlled pedestrian crossings at frequent intervals. We are encouraging speeds by the provision of flyovers and increasing distances between traffic lights. This can only increase accidents. Underground and overground pedestrian facilities do not work unless accompanied by escalators and ensure the safety of women and children.

    Seat belt use by car occupants decreases deaths by 20-30%. But nowhere in the world do a majority of people use seat belts unless the same is made compulsory. However, this measure will help car users only who constitute less than 5 percent of total road deaths in India. It is high time our policymakers and vehicle manufacturers gave more importance to science in road safety rather than PR for road safety. (Source: the last few paragraphs are from an article, the first/best result as per Google’s PageRank™. I gracefully copied and shamelessly pasted a part of it here. However, I suggest you explore your access to the World Wide Web or the local authorities for better, detailed, and more statistical information on this. Do share it with me.)

    Talking of accidents and faults, it doesn’t necessarily have to be either party’s mistake as the cause of the situation. However, casualties (if any) have certainly to do with someone’s mistake (carelessness). A helmet on a two-wheeler (the same as seatbelts in a car) is equally important as doing any other activity to riding the machine, at all.

     My point is to follow the precautions, at the least. Any casualty with your life (or mine, or that of anyone else) may not make the greatest difference in the world, but it does – to the people who are the world to us. Time to tighten up the responsibility belt!

    This article is about Life, People, Safety, Video and written by Rahul Desai. An irregular blogger, slow-paced reader and an optimistic pro-government Indian, Rahul is an information security professional with an undying urge to write reading-worthy articles. Read all their articles.

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