The medical fraternity has welcomed the Pune police’s decision to strictly enforce the rule for two-wheeler riders to wear helmets from January 1.
Dr Kapil Zirpe, former president of the Indian Society of Critical Care Medicine, told The Indian Express that those who still needed convincing were welcome to visit the neuro-trauma unit at Ruby Hall Clinic, where he works, to see what an accident victim goes through. “Most of these victims are youngsters. Their entire families get affected. Anyone who is not sure of the helmet rule should visit any of these neuro-trauma units at any hospital,” he said.
Zirpe said he sees at least 10-12 cases of head injuries due to road accidents every month and, in almost every case, the victims are found not wearing helmets.
Pune police commissioner K Venkatasham recently announced that the helmet rule would be strictly enforced from New Year’s day. For government employees, the implementation was to start this month itself. But because of problems in establishing the identities of such riders, the police decided on a New Year start-off date for everyone.
Deaths on city roads show why helmets necessary
The most telling statement on the importance of helmets comes, tragically, from the statistics of fatal road accidents. In the last three years till the end of 2017, 637 people had died in road accidents while riding two-wheelers in Pune. Only one of them had been wearing a helmet. Over 1,000 people had suffered grievous injuries, many of them landing in permanent vegetative state. It is compulsory for two-wheeler riders to wear helmets, but Pune traffic police have so far been unable to enforce the rule, mainly because of lack of adequate personnel. With Pune Commissioner of Police K Venkatasham now promising strict implementation from January 1, the new initiative will also make seat belts compulsory for passengers in rear seat of cars on the Pune-Mumbai Expressway, just like it is compulsory for those on the front seat, including the driver.
City doctors said the police must ensure not just riders but pillion riders also wear helmets — besides, not just on main roads but also in the narrower lanes in the old parts of the city, where, it is believed, mistakenly, that a fall from relatively slow-moving vehicles would cause no harm.
“Many roads in the newer suburbs are wide and we see cars and bikes zooming all the time. Many of these roads also cut through highways. In such a situation, safety measures are a must,” said Dr Dilip Sarda, former president of the Maharashtra chapter of Indian Medical Association. “This issue should not be politicised. Elected leaders should, in fact, ensure people get ISI-marked helmets,” he said.
Dr Sunil Rao, COO, Sahyadri Group of Hospitals, said excuses like neck pain or spinal problems caused by helmets were bogus. “Our emergency units and trauma centres are the first to witness the impact of road accidents on helmet-less drivers. The recovery process in such cases may take a long time and affects not only the patient but his/her entire family. Two years ago, we had organised a campaign titled ‘Use your head, wear helmet’ under which we hosted safety quiz contests for college students and distributed helmets. I think it’s time to intensify such campaigns,” he said.
“The argument of discomfort and neck problems do not arise as the travel duration in Pune, most of the time, is between half-an-hour and 45 minutes,” he said.
Dr Ketan Khurjekar, chief spine surgeon at Sancheti Hospital, said, “It is a myth that wearing helmets will lead to cervical spondylitis and neck pain. On the other hand, wearing a helmet secures vital organs in any road accident.”
Dr Vishal Rokade, consultant neurosurgeon at Sancheti Hospital, said using seat belts while driving cars may actually minimise or avoid spine injuries, which can cripple the injured for life.
NGOs working in the field of road safety also welcomed the police decision, and cited World Health Organisation data that wearing a helmet reduces the chances of fatality by 40 per cent and grievous injuries by 70 per cent. Ranjit Gadgil, programme director, Parisar, said, “It is irresponsible for any person to oppose the helmet rule, especially elected representatives, who must uphold the law recognising the alarming road traffic deaths and injuries in the country.”
Statistics published by the ministry of road transport and highways show in 2016, 52,500 two-wheeler riders were killed in road accidents nationwide. “This shows that two-wheeler riders, along with pedestrians and cyclists, are the most vulnerable road users and it is critical that the helmet law must be strictly enforced to save lives,” said Sanskriti Menon of the Centre for Environment Education, also a member of the Road Safety Network.