Common sense has finally prevailed in Delhi, where women riding two-wheelers will soon be required by law to wear helmets, the same as men. It is a step up from the retrograde argument the Sheila Dixit government had accepted, that Sikh women transgressed their faith by donning helmets.
While there is a strong argument for making helmets compulsory for men, women need them even more. In India, women who ride pillion vastly outnumber women who drive, and pillion riders are far more likely to suffer serious injury than those driving. Sadly, Indians have proven to be numbskulls on the helmet question. Despite over two decades of advocacy, the motorcycle helmet is still not seen as a safety device. It is not insurance against a broken head, but merely insurance against a traffic fine. Avoidance is wind-in-the-hair bravado, an expression of libertarian individualism. Also, an expression of extreme idiocy since, if the libertarian unexpectedly collides with another vehicle, its driver would probably be looking at a case of death due to negligent driving. With a helmet on, the libertarian’s survival would be much likelier.
Riding without a helmet is being recognised as a pan-Indian pandemic and state after state is instituting public education drives, if not legal curbs. But in prominent states like Tamil Nadu, it is still common to see whole families including grandparents and babies lurching about on two-wheelers, daring fate bare-headed. And it was ironic that Delhi had only managed to impose legal curbs on male riders. Because the story of two-wheeler safety began here in the early 1990s, with the pioneering work of Professor Dinesh Mohan at IIT Delhi, who subjected Indian helmets to crash testing and found almost all brands on the market wanting. The fact that the advocacy of decades has failed to urge the need for helmets speaks volumes for our intelligence. Until our skulls become more permeable, perhaps we do need legal protection from ourselves.