Riding reckless, helmetless

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The figures are alarming : 97.75 per cent of the 446 two-wheeler riders killed in road mishaps so far this year paid with their lives for not wearing a helmet.

Even worse, most of those killed were in their prime, being merely between 24 and 45 years old. But the city traffic police continues to look the other way while most bikers blatantly flout the helmet rule.

Its reasoning is simple. The bikers are endangering their own lives and not that of others, says a police officer.

While additional commissioner of police, traffic, Sanjay Arora seems concerned that 436 of the 446 two-wheeler riders who lost their lives in accidents in the city in the first eight months of the year, had no protective gear for their heads, and stresses the importance of wearing helmets, when it comes to enforcement of the rule, the police seems deliberately lax.

“Those who don’t wear helmets think they are never going to meet with accidents. Although over 95 per cent of bikers killed so far this year were not wearing helmets, we don’t pay this offence as much attention as signal jumping and over speeding which endanger others’ lives too.

The bikers without helmets are only risking their own lives and so we try to deal with this by holding regular campaigns to create awareness,” says a senior police
officer.

Listing the other priorities of the police, he says it prefers to check overloading of vehicles and use of cellphones while driving as they too are a threat to other vehicles on the roads.

“Of course we do conduct drives against bikers riding without helmets periodically too,” the officer adds.

Not enough hands to rein in riders without helmets

Even as the state government has made wearing helmet compulsory for two-wheeler riders in TN, the enforcing authority, the transport department, lacks manpower in its enforcement wing to penalise riders without helmets.

Not only the enforcement wing, almost all regional transport offices are short-staffed, making it tough for them to even handle day-to-day work like processing and disposing of driving licence applications.

“Though we are duty bound to act against helmetless motorists, it is quite tough for the transport department to keep an eye on helmetless motorists with the meagre staff strength on hand.

The understaffed enforcement wing is more or less defunct even in Chennai wherein the two wings – south Chennai and north Chennai – have only four employees each in office, while other employees have been sent on deputation,” sources in the transport department told DC.

The vehicles in these enforcement wings remain unused as the post of drivers, who have to take the officials for field visits or surprise checks, is yet to be filled.

Pointing out inadequate strength as the reason for not enforcing rules against major tax-evaders like omnibuses, maxi cabs, tour operators, lorries and vehicles from other states, an RTO officer said, “We do not have enough manpower even to issue driving licences, vehicle permits and vehicle registration certificates, besides conducting field tests.

How can we concentrate on enforcement?” Only the police department is booking 99 per cent cases of helmetless riding, he adds.

An official said though the state has expedited the process for filling existing vacancies through TNPSC and employment exchanges, more than 20 per cent of the sanctioned 2,600 posts at various levels still remain vacant.

Jail better than hospital: Docs

A toothy 10-headed Ravana glares down at you, with a wry caption, “You have only one head. Wear Helmet”.

Another poster is not as cute; it shows the body of a young man lying crumpled on the road, his face covered in blood and skull cracked open, along with the warning to wear a helmet.

The Chennai traffic police has tried every possible approach to get bikers to don helmets, but it does not seem to be working.

Ask neurologists for an opinion; and pat comes the answer — they would rather have helmet-less riders arrested, than have them land up in hospital as ‘vegetables’.

Says Dr K Sridhar, head of neurosurgery at Global Hospitals, here, “We receive hundreds of young accident victims every year, who are brought in with head injuries after they crash on the highway.

They travel at such high speeds; and wearing a helmet strapped on properly will make the difference between life and death for these youngsters.”

“India has the highest rates of head injury — every day, at least 5,00,000 people are reported to suffer head injuries of some kind or the other. Head injury is the sixth most common cause of death in our country,” says Dr Sridhar.

Rajiv Gandhi GH in Chennai receives roughly 50-60 bikers in their trauma ward each day. Sixty per cent suffer some kind of head injury; and three to four patients sustain severe brain damage, that often proves fatal.

“When a bike-rider hits his head, he can either sustain an injury to the external skull, or the internal brain.

A helmet acts as a cushion and absorbs most of the impact, preventing direct injury to the brain,” says Dr Sundar, head of neurology at the GH.

“I never used to wear a helmet; someone told me that men who wear helmets lose their hair. And then, my classmate lost his life because he was not wearing a helmet.

It was not a serious accident — he dozed off while getting home after a night shift and hit his head against the median.

Since then, I never go helmet-less; I even carry an extra helmet for a pillion-rider,” accounts Aswin K, 26, an event manager in the city.

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