Pune has the highest number of two wheelers in the country. According to the statistics at the Regional Transport Office (RTO), as many as 700 two wheelers are registered in the city everyday. Pune also has the highest two-wheeler accidents in the country. The second perhaps follows logically from the first. But what does not follow logically is the fact that this is one of the few cities in the country where the implementation of the helmet rule is at best slack, at worst absent.
Over the past week Pune ‘Newsline’ has been carrying a series on campaigns on what’s gone wrong in the city in recent years. We were spoilt for choice. But the issues finally selected were improper garbage segregation, ineffective hawkers’ removal, defunct cyclist tracks and failure of the authorities to implement the helmet rule for two wheeler riders. The most serious lapse is of course the last — simply because it deals with life. In Pune, that’s mainly young life.
The city has a well-earned sobriquet of being a students’ paradise (yes, pensioners paradise has been passé for sometime now). With nearly a five lakh floating population of students, it’s also a city that has over the years owed much of its economic prosperity to these youngsters who arrive in droves from other cities, spawning multitudes of PGs and food outlets across the town.
As soon as the basic need of accommodation and food is met, the next step is the procurement of a two wheeler, owing to an absolute dismal public transport system that even if more economical, falters so badly in terms of convenience that its almost a non- starter for most. This explains the augmenting numbers of two wheelers in the city.
The regional transport office (RTO) of Pune’s records show that at the end of financial year 2016-17 the vehicle population in the city had reached 33,35,841. This included 24,96,139 two wheelers- over two thirds of all vehicles on road. The other statistic is more startling. The city sees an average of 200 two- wheeler deaths every year. Only one per cent of this number comprises those who wore a helmet. Last year in the first nine months of 2016, 132 two- wheeler fatalities were reported. Of these 132 dead, 80 were in the age group of 18-36 years. None of the 132 dead had worn a helmet.
If we look at the big picture, India has the dubious distinction of having the most road traffic accidents and fatalities in the world, barring China. Over 78% of vehicles on the road are two-wheelers and they account for about 29 % of road accidents. 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 per cent of all fatalities) and 11,889 injured (30 per cent of all injuries).
This while India’s Motor Vehicles Act makes it mandatory for both driver and pillion to wear a BIS (Bureau of Indian Standards) certified helmet that is securely strapped.
Last month when Pune-based NGO ‘Parisar’ undertook a sample survey to determine the helmet compliance rate in the city, it found that Pune has been one of the cities that has not only failed compliance but actively opposed the enforcement of the helmet rule.
“Several enforcement drives have been carried out intermittently but have failed to improve compliance, despite several High Court and Supreme Court rulings. Pune has an accident severity (persons killed per 100 accidents) of more than 30 per cent, one of the highest among major cities in India. This is largely due to a high percentage of two-wheelers coupled with low helmet use,” it stated.
Talk to the authorities and after the traffic police and the RTO are done with passing the buck to each other, they rattle off various other measures that have been put in place to check non-adherence. These range from “regular concerted drives” to penalizing helmet-less riders to trying to implement a rule in Maharashtra that petrol pumps will not give petrol to two wheeler riders not wearing a helmet (that had to be rolled back due to public protest) to increasing the fine from Rs 100 to Rs 1000 in the newly passed Motor Vehicles Act.
So why haven’t these moves borne results? For the simple reason that many before them did not either. A lack of enforcement as well as pandering to inane sentiments of a population that puts “feeling hot and uncomfortable” over safety, is the main culprit.
Frenzied college admissions are currently on in the city. In a couple of months students from all over the country will arrive in lakhs, thousands will go on to buy two wheelers. Almost none will add that extra accessory of a helmet to the purchase, because they know in Pune they can get away with it.
Question is, how long does it take to understand that the real choice is not between wearing or not wearing a helmet. It’s simply a choice between life and death.