Monday, November 10, 2014

An attractive head gear - The Helmet

An article in today's Pune Mirror, spoke about the reluctance of Pune's citizens to wear the helmet or even accept the law that makes wearing of helmets compulsory.

Sections 128 and 129 of the Motor Vehicles Act, detail safety measures for two wheeler riders, with section 129 clearly stating Every person driving or riding (otherwise than in a side car, on a motor cycle of any class or description) shall, while in a public place, wear protective headgear conforming to the standards of Bureau of Indian Standards".
However, it is provided further that "the State Government may, by such rules, provide for such exceptions as it may think fit".
So, the Maharashtra government has laid down the following exceptions in rule 250 of the Motor Vehicle Rules 1989 -

"250. Wearing of protective headgear.-(1) The following persons are exempted from the provisions of Section 129 of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1998 (59 of 1988), namely;
(i) persons driving or riding all motor cycles in municipal areas;
(ii) persons driving or riding all motor cycles on roads, other than the State Highways and National Highways, in areas other than the municipal areas; and
(iii) persons driving or riding two-wheeled mopeds fitted with engine capacity of less than 50 cubic centimetres on the State Highways and National Highways in areas other than the municipal areas."

The amendment was brought into force by a notification dated 26th February, 1997.
The state government, more or less, made section 129 of the Motor Vehicle Act ineffective. They did not take into consideration the rise in the number of vehicles and the inability of the infrastructure of the city to keep up with the rising vehicular traffic. 

This rule was challenged by 8 petitioners, including students and the director of Symbiosis College in 2001. They submitted that two wheeler ownership and accidents have increased substantially over the years. Citing various studies, they submitted that helmets be made compulsory, even within the municipal limits.

The State government quoted various reasons justifying the rule -
1. Studies supporting reduced vision and hearing due to wearing of helmets
2. Studies supporting adverse effects of wearing helmets in cases back problems
3. Lack of enough helmets
4. Opposition form various committees and MPS and MLAs for enforcing this law.

The court, among rulings on may other points, also ruled that the exceptions cannot make the principal law ineffective, as this one had done. 
"It cannot be forgotten that the Rule is a child legislation. It cannot travel beyond the provisions of the main statute nor be repugnant to or inconsistent with the parent Act. In such cases, the rule must be held ultra vires. It is, therefore, not open to the State Government to make such a rule which has no nexus with the principal provision in the Act and would result in making such provision totally useless, unworkable and non-functional. In our opinion, therefore, such provision cannot be allowed to be implemented and an appropriate direction can be issued by this court in exercise of extraordinary jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution to the respondent-authorities to enforce the parent Act i.e. Section 129 of the Act".

The rule was modified on 1st October 2001, and the exceptions to the rule were -
1. Bikes with less than 50cc engine capacity, and 
2. All other towns, excluding Pune and Dhule area.
The objective was to introduce and implement the law in a phased manner, and hence Pune and Dhule areas were selected. I remember i was in college, when there were protests against this rule in Pune and people had set helmets on fire on FC road as a mark of opposition to making wearing helmets compulsory in Pune. I also clearly remember thinking, even then, how can anyone protest wearing a helmet?

Hence, i was surprised by the headline. I agree with the so-called committees - there should be no law that makes it compulsory for a person to wear a helmet. But my reasoning is different - what can the law do, that clear logical thinking can't?
Personally, i have been using the helmet for as long as i have been using the bike. I never liked the concept of wrapping a scarf around my head, as is so common on the streets of Pune -  like a piece of cloth was going to protect my precious head!
I use a helmet every time i am on a bike, no exceptions. Even if it is to go the the grocery store at the corner of my house. And i use my scooter everyday.

And from long time personal experience, the helmet does not obstruct my peripheral vision, nor does it affect the noise of traffic, honking, braking, police whistles, mobiles ringing and people talking, that reaches me through the helmet, sometimes, i wish it did! My back is absolutely fine. And i have an extra bit of "peace of mind" because in case of an accident, the helmet is going to help me prevent head injuries. 
I don't need the Central government to frame laws, and State government to make rules, for me to realize that wearing helmets will probably save my life some day. I don't need laws and rules to tell me how to value my own life.
And even if this is a conspiracy of the government to help the helmet manufacturers to make a profit, i don't care! Let them make profits, saving my head is more important that limiting the amount of their profits. 

So instead of opposing the move, we should embrace it wholeheartedly. 
Maybe even appreciate the efforts the government is putting in to ensure safety of its citizens. Instead of opposing any law just for the heck of it, try and understand the consequences of saying  "i will not use a helmet." There are young minds absorbing all the drama here - it is an opportunity to teach the next generation, on the cusp of entering the riding / driving world, the importance of following traffic norms and laws.

Be logical. Drive Safe.

1. Legal citations

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