Pune: Against the backdrop of the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill 2017 that got passed in the Lok Sabha which emphasizes stricter penalties for traffic violations, Pune-based NGO Parisar undertook a sample survey to determine the helmet compliance rate in the city.
Research shows that the single most effective way of reducing head injuries and fatalities resulting from motorcycle and scooter crashes is wearing a helmet. The proper use of a helmet decreases the risk and severity of injuries by 72% and likelihood of death by up to 39%.
In India, according to the Government’s Annual Report, “Road Accidents in India – 2015” two-wheeler accidents accounted for 36,803 fatalities and 1,35,343 injuries. In Maharashtra 4,514 two-wheeler users were killed (34% of all fatalities) and 11,889 injured (30% of all injuries).
India’s Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, makes it mandatory for both driver and pillion to wear a BIS (Bureau of Indian Standards) certified helmet that is securely strapped. This 29-year-old law is in line with international safety standards.
Various exemptions by State Governments and the lack of enforcement has made the law ineffective leading the Committee on Road Safety appointed by the Supreme Court to issue instructions to States to make the enforcement for both drivers and riders compulsory.
Pune has been one of the cities which has come out strongly in opposing the enforcement of the helmet rule. Several enforcement drives have been carried out intermittently but has failed to improve compliance, despite several High Court and Supreme Court rulings. 438 persons were killed and 1205 injured last year in 1443 accidents. Pune has an accident severity (persons killed per 100 accidents) of more than 30%, one of the highest amongst major cities in India. This is largely due to a high percentage of two-wheelers coupled with low helmet use.
The current study was done by taking 58 photographs at 10 intersections in the city, at various times of the day. A total of 769 motorcycle riders were observed, of which 20% were pillion riders. An analysis of the photographs shows the usage of helmets at a dismal 16%. An abysmal 2% of pillion riders observed were wearing helmets. The study also revealed a significant gender gap in compliance. Though rates for both male and female compliance are low, males still wear helmets (18%) at a rate more than twice that of females (8%). Areas where there are a lot of commercial and educational establishments had more people wearing helmets perhaps because they could be travelling longer distances, whereas in quieter and residential areas, the compliance was almost non-existent.
Additionally, 110 interviews were also conducted, which reveals that the various reasons cited for non-compliance were weight, unattractive and poor design of helmets, perceptions that accidents were unlikely, and that short distance travel and slow speeds do not need wearing helmets. The foremost reason cited was ‘feeling hot and uncomfortable’, followed by ‘restriction of vision’. When asked what would prompt the use of helmets, 59% of the interviewees stated, ‘stricter enforcement’, followed by 32% stating that a ‘change in helmet design’ could bring about the change. Increase in fines, and making pricing more affordable constituted a small part of the rationale. 70% did not feel the need for pillion riders to wear helmets and 63% two-wheeler riders did not feel safe riding a bike in the city.
Enforcement of the helmet rule has been sporadic with a few awareness campaigns being conducted, without much outcome. Ranjit Gadgil, Program Director at Parisar stated “Both experience and research has shown that awareness campaigns alone will not have any significant impact on compliance unless this is part of an enforcement campaign. Developing an effective enforcement campaign with targeted compliance rates along with a well thought out public awareness campaign can increase compliance and help to save thousands of lives”.