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Monday, April 06, 2020

Why new helmet rule? ‘Skull injury can be fatal irrespective of gender or religion’

The Supreme Court, in its order dated September 27, 2004, stated that an exemption, granted to the Sikh women from any of the motor vehicles rules, will apply to all women.

Written by Hina Rohtaki | Chandigarh | Published: March 28, 2018 9:00:29 am
helmet rule The provisions of Section 129 and Rule 193 of Chandigarh Motor Vehicles Rules require the protective headgear to conform to the Bureau of Indian Standards.

Chandigarh administration is all set to make helmets mandatory for women who are at present exempted from the traffic rule in the city. So, here’s a look what is the present rule, what do women and doctors say and why the new rule is being formed. What is the existing rule?
Under Section 193 of Chandigarh Motor Vehicles Rules, every person, riding a motorcycle of any class or description, shall, while in public place, wear protective headgear confirming to the standards of the Bureau of Indian standards. The provision shall not apply to a person who is a Sikh, if he is riding a motorcycle wearing a turban. The persons exempted under the provisions of Section 129 (MVA’88) are those who are medically advised by a chief medical officer not to wear such a headgear or a woman.

Why are women exempted under the existing rule?
In its order dated September 9, 1998, in CWP titled Namit Kumar versus UT, Chandigarh, and others, the Punjab and Haryana High Court had given exemption from helmets only to ‘Sikhs wearing turban while driving (sic)’. It led to vociferous protests by Sikh women who wanted to be exempted as they felt that helmet is considered a cap, which symbolises slavery in their religion. After the protests, the union territory administration filed an appeal in 1999 in the apex court challenging the HC directions. The Supreme Court, in its order dated September 27, 2004, stated that an exemption, granted to the Sikh women from any of the motor vehicles rules, will apply to all women. Following this, all women, including those riding pillion, were exempted from wearing helmets in Chandigarh.

What has prompted the UT to revise its rules now?
Taking suo moto cognisance, a division bench of Punjab and Haryana High Court last week had observed that road accidents “do not see the gender of the victim”. The bench of Justices Ajay Kumar Mittal and Anupinder Singh Grewal had made the observation while hearing a Public Interest Litigation filed by a law researcher, Anil Saini, seeking changes in the legal provisions in Punjab and Chandigarh, which provided women exemption from wearing helmets. The bench even observed, “Is there a difference between the skull of a woman and a man?” Following this observation, a meeting was convened by UT Secretary, Transport, K K Jindal and it was decided to make helmets mandatory for women.

When is the new rule coming into force?
The officers have formulated a draft, which has been sent to the legal representative. The draft notification is expected to be made by the end of this week. After the draft is received from the legal representative, it will be sent to UT Administrator V P Singh Badnore for his final go ahead.

Have any women objected to it?
Though the changes are not much known in public as of now, convincing women to wear helmets continues to be a challenge. Harjinder Kaur, former SAD councillor, said that it would be difficult for Sikh women. “There are two separate aspects. Helmets are considered caps, a symbol of slavery. First we need to answer whether we are committed to be a baptised Sikh? Are we really taking care of old principles laid down under the religion. At the same time there are so many accidents taking place. I will urge some kind of safety head gear be designed for Sikh women or they can even wear a turban, which is legally allowed,” she said. The Punjab Motor Vehicles Act extends the exemption from helmets to all Sikh women.

What do doctors say about wearing helmet?
Doctors make no difference between men and women when it comes to wearing helmets. They are unanimous in their opinion that helmets should be made compulsory for everybody. With more women taking to motorised two-wheelers for independent mobility, the number of accidents, in which they are involved, has also gone up. Dr Sameer Aggarwal, Professor, department of orthopedics at Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), feels that safety head gear is highly important and that it would definitely bring down fatalities. “Two-wheeler riders are more prone to fatalities as compared to those in four-wheelers. The helmet protects the skull and jaw. A skull injury can be fatal irrespective of any gender or religion. So, one should wear helmets,” he said. Aggarwal added that even cyclists should wear helmets in the city. Dr Rajesh Chhabra, Professor in the department of neurosurgery, PGI, said head injuries are irreversible. “Most people wear helmets thinking about police challan, but why don’t they realise that it is important to save them from head injuries. It is surprising that people use multiple accessories to protect their mobile phone’s screen, but don’t want anything to protect their head,” said the doctor, adding that those selling two-wheelers should give an ISI-marked branded helmet along with the vehicle.

How many accidents, involving women riders, take place on an average?
As many as 24 women riders were killed and 85 injured in road accidents in Chandigarh from 2015 to December 2017. In 2017, 29 cases of such accidents took place in the city. In these, seven women were killed and 28 injured. There were 30 accidents involving women riders in 2016 — 4 died and 32 were injured; in 34 cases of 2015, 13 were killed and 25 injured. In 2018 till date, two women, riding two-wheelers, have died. A senior officer of Chandigarh traffic police said many of the death cases could be attributed to the rider not wearing a helmet. “Though women were exempted, we kept holding awareness sessions so that they voluntarily wear helmets,” the officer added.

What kind of helmet one should wear for safety?
The provisions of Section 129 and Rule 193 of Chandigarh Motor Vehicles Rules require the protective headgear to conform to the Bureau of Indian Standards. “The law thus requires that all protective helmets for motorcycle riders should meet or exceed the minimum performance requirements specified in the corresponding Indian Standard (IS: 4151). These requirements include minimum impact and penetration capabilities, chin strap retention qualities and a prescribed minimum field of view. To certify that their helmets meet all the requirements, the manufacturers are required to place the standard mark on the back of each helmet- “ISI mark”,” the rule states. Doctor Aggarwal added that he has seen cases where people suffered head injuries because of a poor quality helmet. “It is the helmet, which has to take the total impact of the trauma and it is of no use if it is of poor quality or the strap is lose because the helmet will come off as soon as the two-wheeler rider is hit,” he added.

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