#VinitasPune – Will Pune ever become a helmet-mandatory city?

Helmet Compulsion
Image used for representation only.

Pune Police Commissioner’s announcement to make helmets compulsory for two-wheelers from January 1, 2019, is most welcome but will it become successful this time round?

Pune, which is known for its intellectualism and civic and socially alert citizenry, is curiously wanting when it comes to making helmets compulsory. Since 1990s, Pune’s Police commissioners, subsequent to a Supreme Court Order, have instituted campaigns to make helmets compulsory for two-wheeler riders, but have failed. Once again the present Police Commissioner Dr K. Venkatesham has declared his campaign from January 1, 2019, which is good news, but will it be the same repeat story?

For such campaigns which involve protection of the lives of two-wheeler riders, which in Pune account to over 70% of the vehicles, one should not be cynical. One must go by the adage, `better late than never’. However, the past incidences, makes one so, because it is not the common commuter but opinion makers of our city comprising several intellectuals and local political leaders who have vehemently opposed this campaign.

Despite the medical fact that head injuries are minimal by wearing the safety head gear, prominent Puneites simply reject compulsion, saying the individual should be given the liberty to choose whether or not to use it.

Take for example, the late Mangesh Tendulkar, the renowned cartoonist, who is one of my favourites and is known for his incisive and hilarious cartoons on traffic rules.

Cartoonist Mangesh Tendulkar
Noted Cartoonist Mangesh Tendulkar during traffic awareness campaign in Pune

Over and above he took to the ground, by standing for hours at traffic chowks to create public awareness about following traffic rules, for which he distributed post cards to the passersby. He was a great support to the Pune police and had made special cartoons for them, which were prominently displayed as hoarding all over the city. The Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI) too had used his creative skills to drive home the point. However, he used to publicly join protests against compulsion of helmets. His stance was that you can, at best, create awareness that it is important to get a good motorcycle helmet, but you cannot make it compulsory as it is bound to backfire.

It is really strange that it is only in Pune, that such a hard stance is taken. In 2005, when corporators across party lines launched a massive road agitation against compulsion of helmets, senior political leader Shantilal Suratwala actually announced publicly that, he would lead the way by not wearing the helmet, not paying the fine and if required even court arrest! Other leaders joined him saying this move is for the benefit of a cabinet minister’s son who has a helmet manufacturing company and that there have been many cases of hearing loss due to wearing of helmet! Is this becoming of public leaders? A similar protest with Mayor Medha Kulkarni in the lead with other local Netas of all parties in tow was seen in 2014! This makes you wonder whether they think it is a vote whipping endeavour.

Leading social activists like Maj Gen SCN Jatar of Nagarik Chetna Manch and Ranjit Gadgil of NGO Parisar amongst others have been supporting helmet compulsion, questioning as to who’s going to compensate for loss of lives but our political fraternity clearly, hell cares. According to Gadgil, awareness campaign is not enough; it has to be supported by an enforcement campaign.

As per the traffic police records of 2017, in the last three years, 637 two-wheelers, most of between 18 and 40 years of age, have been killed and barring one, none of them were wearing helmets. Over and above, 1000 of them have suffered injuries, some of them rendered to a vegetative state.

Despite these alarming statistics, in a typical `Puneri’ jibe, helmet compulsion has been ridiculed through loose comments that the traffic police should focus its attention on other more important traffic issues than minding peoples’ heads.

Much as one would wonder how anyone can oppose an issue which involves the life and limbs of other people, there’s no stopping their vehement opposition. Well, it should be common sense to keep silent if you do not agree, but why go on roads for that? Stories too are spread of two-wheeler riders having been killed despite helmets. Thankfully, over the last few years, the media and the traffic police have been continuously highlighting fatalities of those not wearing helmets and the numbers are high.

The other issue is of the quality of helmets. That, one should wear standardized helmets and not roadside ones is right; all it requires is for the consumer to make the correct choice.

During a series of articles that I wrote on this issue for the newspaper I was working in, one of the leading medical specialists of the city informed that ICU of most leading hospitals have a large percentage of head injury patients. When I asked him as to why do the medical fraternity not bring out this stark reality through public awareness, he mentioned that it would affect the economics of the hospital. Shocking?

Whenever I go to cities like Bangalore, Chennai and Kolkata, I find that two-wheeler riders wears helmets as a norm. In Pune, many wear helmets too and once it is made compulsory, everyone is sure to follow suit. So, why does this handful of Puneites always meddle in and spoil the campaign?

Mandatory helmet legislation increases helmet use

In an article by Dr B R Sharma titled ‘Motorized two-wheeler crash injuries and the role of helmet-use in their prevention: an overview’ in a leading medical journal, the expert concludes the following:

  • Helmets reduce head injuries and fatalities. Mandatory helmet legislation increases helmet use and is effective in reducing injuries, death and medical costs. To improve voluntary helmet use in the absence of mandatory helmet use laws, motorcyclists need an increased awareness of their vulnerability.
  • The study further indicates a need for improved safety devices for motorized two-wheeler drivers from a prevention perspective. Current laws and technology stress the importance of brain injury attenuation secondary to motorcycle crash prevention, and much has been done to minimize the severity of brain injury with current helmet technology arid the helmet laws.
  • However, improvements in protective devices to minimize thoracic, abdominal, spinal and extremity injuries are just as important, since severe injuries in one anatomic region are frequently associated with severe injury in other anatomic regions. Introduction of the overall protective gear for motorcyclists may help to prevent fatal injuries as well as reduce the workload on emergency departments providing trauma care.


Vinita Deshmukh

Vinita Deshmukh

Passion for the written word that comes alive, not only to tell a story, but to speak out loud about all that's good, bad and the ugly in society...

That's Vinita Deshmukh, Senior journalist and RTI activist who believes in journalism that reflects the views and needs of the common man.

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Vinita Deshmukh