DESPITE THE death of 175 two-wheeler riders in Pune this year, who, police said, would have been alive had they worn a helmet, city youths continue to refrain from wearing the protective headgear.
A team from The Indian Express recently visited the campus of Fergusson College to find out the students’ views on wearing helmets.
Nirmal Dushman, a second-year student of Environmental Science, said, “Wearing a helmet is not safe. I was about to get into an accident because my helmet was blocking my side vision.”
“Traffic Police are very lenient and only remain vigilant near highways,” he added.
Sumit Bhatkar, an MSc student, said he doesn’t wear a helmet for short rides. “A helmet is inconvenient to carry around. So, I only wear it when I go for long rides, like to Lonavala or Ahmednagar. On highways, though, it is important to wear a helmet,” he said. Shreeya Rawade, a BA student of Digital Art and Animation, said she wears a helmet sometimes. Asked why, she said, “Wearing a helmet causes certain problems, like not being able to hear clearly. Besides, helmets are quite heavy, so it is especially tough to carry them in summer.”
Her classmates, Harsh Kumar Singh and Swapnil Gulhane, too, had strong opinions about helmets. Harsh said he usually wears a helmet and has survived an accident unhurt because he was wearing one. However, he added, wearing a helmet has become a farce in Pune. “Most people wear helmets to simply avoid the police. The ones they wear are just framework and not meant for protection. Many of the headgears have designing flaws too, which make them obscure the vision of riders,” he said.
Swapnil, who said he only wears a helmet on long rides or on the highway, said, “Local helmets provide no protection and are extremely heavy. They also have defects and often make one’s head sweat.” Meanwhile, many of the students did believe that wearing a helmet was imperative.
Kanap Chaitanya, a BSc student, said he always wears a helmet. “But, almost 60 percent of my classmates don’t wear it. The watchmen on the campus are supposed to ensure that students do, but they don’t really care,” he added.
Additionally, he said the NCC group he is a member of is organising a programme as part of the Navy Day on December 4 to encourage students to wear helmets. Gayatri Gade, a student of Microbiology, said, “Looking at it from a scientific perspective, helmets can also prevent neck problems and can save people from respiratory issues.”
Disagreeing that helmets could be an inconvenience, she said the number of riders wearing helmets was rising in the city. “The number has increased significantly since 2008,” she added.
Tejal Samuel, a B Sc student, agreed. “I always wear a helmet. It makes me feel safe and also saves one from pollution. Once, my bike skidded on a wet road and wearing a helmet saved me. I encourage others to wear it too,” she said.
A third-year B Sc student, Yash, also noted that traffic rules were being strictly followed in Mumbai, but not in Pune. “Almost everyone in Mumbai wears a helmet because the police make sure that residents adhere to traffic rules. Recently, Pune police imposed a fine of Rs 500 for anyone riding pillion without a helmet. But what is the use of imposing a fine, if they don’t even catch the person riding the vehicle?” he asked.
Yashodhara, a second-year student of Economics, agreed with other students. She said he has observed that rules were being followed only on main roads — FC Road, JM Road. “People have to take care of themselves. I wear a helmet because it gives me assurance. If not rash driving, bad roads and potholes can cause accidents,” she added.
Omkar Patil, a BA student, said the Pune police have been known to give incentives for wearing helmets, especially during the traffic week, where they once handed out chocolates to the riders wearing helmets. “I have taken several of the Pune traffic police oaths and always follow traffic rules. Besides, my parents also don’t allow me to ride without a helmet,” he added.
The Express team also spoke to two of the faculty members on the campus. Ujwala Gore, a Professor of Physics at Fergusson Junior College, said she wears a helmet, but avoids it when riding to nearby places. “I always ask my son to wear one too. I feel good and safe. Unlike me, he always wears it.”
Prakash Pawar, the Vice-Principal, said, “Helmets are necessary, but accidents can happen even when one is wearing them.” Once, I forgot to wear it in a hurry to reach the college, he added.
He said the main reason for increasing number of accidents in Pune is improper traffic rules and no road safety. “Even while crossing the road, there can be an accident,” he added.
Civic activists, meanwhile, termed the reasons given by students as “excuses”. Shridhar Chalkha, an activist, said, “Wearing a helmet prevents head injuries, which increases the chances of surviving an accident. Instead of making excuses, students should prioritise their safety.”