These Mumbai bikers are not scared to ride without a helmet

Aug 28, 2013, 09:06 IST | Fatema Pittalwala

Even as the number of bike accidents increases in the city, bikers continue to venture out sans helmet. Doesn't the fear of losing one's life scare them? Why do some bikers find a helmet a burden rather than a blessing? We try to find out.

According to traffic officials, riding a bike without a helmet is one of the most common offences a biker commits. But in spite of rise in biker accidents and deaths in the city, bikers continue to ride a bike without a helmet.

LIFE SAVER: According to traffic police, more than 47,000 cases of bikers riding without a helmet, is reported. PIC/NIMESH DAVE

Doesn’t the fear of losing one’s life scare them? People at times have strong disregard for their own health and safety. Looking at the state of our city roads, riding a bike without a helmet is something you cannot afford in Mumbai. Without any traffic sense among drivers, no lane discipline and roads pockmarked by potholes, riding with a helmet has become a necessity. Yet some bikers feel more secure when they ride a bike without a helmet.

NOT SCARED: Despite meeting with many accidents, Pranav Rajnikant Mistry does not wear a helmet. PIC/SAYED SAMEER ABEDI

Opposite beliefs
Mumbai-based businessman, Najmuddin Tambawala (49), who has been riding a bike for the last 25 years, justifies his not wearing a helmet by saying that his commute between his office and residence, is very short. He says “For a very short distance there is no need of wearing a helmet. It makes no point. My office is just 10 minutes away and I use my bike to go everywhere. So wearing a helmet and then taking it off every time becomes a hassle. I prefer to avoid it, as it is very inconvenient to wear. Anyway, there is so much of traffic; we can barely ride above the speed of 20 km. Wearing or not wearing a helmet does not really make a difference. Also I ride my bike in the by-lanes. For longer distances, I do wear a helmet but that is not because of safety, but due to the fear of getting caught.”

SAFETY FIRST: Chintan Engineer. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar

Tambawala’s 21-year-old son, Mustafa owns not only a helmet but also gloves, jackets, knee and elbow pads. He does not agree with his father’s ideology and says, “Just because you are riding at the speed of 20 km, it does not mean that you shouldn’t wear a helmet. I agree that the possibility of an accident at high speed is greater, but accidents can happen even if you are going at 10 kmph. My dad does not even have a proper helmet; it is something similar to a construction worker’s helmet.”

OPPOSING VIEWS: Najmuddin Tambawala and his son, Mustafa. Pic/Sayed Sameer Abedi

Upset over his son’s statements, Tambawala says, “Wearing a full faced helmet is not safe, but in fact very dangerous. I am more scared of riding with a helmet, than without. The helmets are so heavy; they tend to make the biker stiff. They cannot turn their heads to their sides with ease. They will always see straight and make a turn without any regard for other drivers. Without a helmet, there is no added weight on your head and you can easily move your head. It is more convenient to look at your sides.” To this Mustafa mischievously says, “There is something called as rear view mirrors.” Sensing his father’s annoyance, he quickly adds, “Personally yes, to a point it does makes your neck stiff and I can’t look at my blind spot. But that doesn’t mean I don’t wear one. I feel incomplete riding a bike without a helmet. I know I am a safe rider, but others may not be.”

CHANGING ATTITUDES: Jaidev Lohia believes that wearing a helmet saved his life. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar

Defying law
Pranav Rajnikant Mistry (21), an advertising intern, says, “It’s been only a year since I started riding a bike. So far I haven’t worn a helmet. It is a burden to carry around. Whenever you go shopping or are running errands, it is too inconvenient to wear and carry it at all times. I understand that a helmet is necessary for safety reasons, but that is only when you are going on long rides. Considering our traffic and roads in Mumbai, there is no need to wear a helmet. Another reason I don’t wear a helmet is because it is very claustrophobic and previously during the rains it caused more problems and it blocks my vision. For example, when you ride a bike during rains, you have to keep face flap shut at all times. But this in turn causes the screen to fog up, which impairs your vision. The same problem occurs during summer. But instead of rains, it is your sweat that fogs up your screen. The helmet also stinks a lot once it gets wet.”

Mistry, who has been caught and fined by the traffic cops on multiple occasions, continues to ride the bike without a helmet and refuses to ever wear it. “Even though I have fallen off the bike quite a lot, I don’t see the requirement of wearing a helmet. I don’t think I am scared of meeting with an accident. Instead of a helmet, if you tell me to wear knee and elbow pads, I will willingly do so.”

Cool quotient
Abdullah Hakim (24) does not wear a helmet as he does not find it very cool. He says, “I don’t believe that a helmet can alone save my life. I have been riding a bike since the last five years and I have met with seven really bad accidents. But regardless of not wearing a helmet I have come out safe and I have survived. Look at the conditions of the Mumbai roads. The roads are filled with potholes. You can barely pick up speed. Even if I fall in that speed, I might just walk away with bruises and the damage won’t be that severe. Also, one of the reasons I don’t wear a helmet is because I cannot hear the honking of other vehicles. The helmet is so tight around your head; it totally cuts off the traffic noise. Not wearing a helmet is not risky; instead you should be scared of those people, who ride insanely on the roads as if they are the only ones there. More than wearing a helmet, I think it is your driving and the speed at which you drive, that makes the roads safe or unsafe.”

Harsh penalty
Subhash R Nilewad, Deputy Commissioner of Police (Traffic), City says, “Riders come up with the most inane reasons for not wearing a helmet. They call it a burden on their head. I have had reports where, women riders have said that their hair gets tangled in the helmet, and it ruins their hairstyle! Now is their hairstyle more important or their life? Riders face so many problems because they wear a helmet that is not ISI marked. They just wear helmets for the police; I don’t think they care much about their own safety.”

According to Nilewad, from January 2013 till July 2013, 47,649 bikers have been caught without a helmet. Until July 2013, 60 people have died because of riding without a helmet and on an average, 100 cases of bikers riding without a helmet are recorded daily. And this is just in the metropolitan area — Dadar to Cuffe Parade. It does not include cases reported in the suburbs and Navi Mumbai.

Nilewad thinks that if action is taken, the punishment has to be strict. “Frankly speaking the fine for riding without a helmet is very low. No one hesitates while paying a Rs 100 fine. The fine has to be increased, for a substantial change. If it is a repeated offence, the license should be suspended for a month or six months.”

He adds, “Helmets for the rider and the pillion rider are a must. It is against the law if the pillion rider is riding without a helmet. Yes, I agree we are not very strict with pillion riders, but action is taken when necessary.”

Changing viewpoint
Biking enthusiast Jaidev Lohia (23) says, “When I first started riding a bike, I never used to wear a helmet. But one incident changed my perspective about helmets forever. I was going to Lonavla on my bike and for the first time wore biking safety gear. I was going at a very high speed and suddenly a tempo started switching lanes and moved closer to the left of the road, where I was. As the tempo moved closer, I wasn’t able to judge the distance and I applied the brakes. This made my bike skid on the road; I fell and rolled to the side of the road. I was very grateful that I was wearing my helmet that day. For a moment I was scared for my life and I sincerely believe that I am alive today because I was wearing a helmet. That’s when I realised how important it is to wear a helmet.”

Engineering student Chintan Engineer feels that bikers, who ride without a helmet, are the ones who should be scared. “Mumbai roads are highly unsafe today. It doesn’t depend on what kind of bike you are riding, or at what speed you are riding. Look at the conditions of our roads. We have pedestrians walking everywhere, potholes, rash drivers and loose paver blocks. In our city, we can’t just concentrate on our individual riding. You have to be able to judge how other people are driving on the roads. Wearing a helmet is just one of the many basic measures one should take. No matter how I ride my bike, as long as I am wearing my helmet, I am not scared of getting hurt. I feel safe and I recommend that everyone should wear a helmet.”

Section 129 of the Motor Vehicles Act (1994)
Wearing of protective headgear

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; provided that the provisions of this section shall not apply to a person who is a Sikh, if he is, while driving or riding on the motor cycle, in a public place, wearing a turban; provided further that the State Government may, by such rules, provide for such exceptions as it may think fit.

Explanation: “Protective headgear” means a helmet which
(a) By virtue of its shape, material and construction could reasonably be expected to afford to the person driving or riding on a motor cycle a degree of protection from injury in the event of an accident;
(b) Is securely fastened to the head of the wearer by means of straps or other fastenings provided on the headgear.

Guidelines for motorcyclists
Always wear helmets

>> Carry driving license and important documents such as your vehicle registration certificate, insurance certificate, road tax & PUC certificate
>> Never drink and drive
>> Adhere to traffic signals, boards and signs
>> Avoid using the cell phone when driving.
>> Do not ride at high speeds. You may lose control and your life in the bargain
>> Do not ride or wheel your vehicle on to the footpath
>> Use your lights when riding at night
>> Understand the signals given by other road users and use signals yourself when riding
>> Never stop abruptly in traffic
>> When passing a stationary vehicle allow sufficient clearance for the car doors which may open suddenly
>> Do not try and weave your way through stationary or slow-moving traffic. It may cause accidents
>> Slow down at zebra crossings and if need be stop
>> Always ride with both hands on the handlebar except when signalling
>> Don’t sit children on fuel tanks or stand them in front of the rider
>> Avoid using brakes at turns. If needed, ensure both brakes are applied gently

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