Residents of Pune are up in arms about a new rule that mandates the use of helmets by two-wheeler users in the city. The rule, which was announced by Pune’s Police Commissioner K Venkatesham, will go into effect on January 1, 2019, for all citizens of the city, though government employees will have to follow it starting today.
Pune, which has long been known for helmetless riding, has seen 211 people die in road accidents on its streets, which has forced the new commissioner to announce the mandatory implementation of the rule from the 1st of January. This is the fifth time a new police commissioner will be trying to enforce the mandatory use of helmets in the city by two-wheeler riders.
Unfortunately, like every attempt before this, Pune’s citizens are for some inexplicable reason opposed to this new rule. They have banded together to form a group called the Anti-Helmet Compulsion Action Committee (AHCAC). Its members include Activists, politicos, businessmen, and NGOs and many of the people involved have some rather hilariously lame excuses to avoid wearing a helmet, which they have relayed to the Pune Mirror.
Ankush Kakade, a member of AHCAC and a leader of the NCP cited the city’s slow speed limits as an excuse for his opposition to the upcoming mandatory helmet rule. Mr Kakade said,
“We are strictly against the imposition of this helmet compulsion. This will create huge inconvenience to the riders. Why is there a need for helmets when the speed of vehicles within city limits is not more than 20-25 kmph? We will first urge the commissioner to withdraw this directive. If he does not agree, then we have no option but to use other remedies in a democratic way.”
He is wrong, of course. Low speed accidents and impacts on the head after a minor fall could be highly dangerous. And while we often ride at 4-5 kmph at some places in a city, there are also other spots where people accelerate to much higher speeds for shorter distances.
Vivek Velankar, an RTI activist and president of Sajag Nagarik Manch stated that the authorities could not provide the number of helmets required for the use of the owners of the 24 lakh two-wheelers in the city and that the people in charge needed to solve the basic traffic issues plaguing the city first. According to Mr Velankar, the city authorities should first solve issues like the jam-packed and narrow roads of the city before making helmets mandatory.
This too is a pretty easy way of postponing the implementation of the helmet law indefinitely, as we all know that traffic and issues like potholes are not going to be resolved to anyone’s satisfaction, anytime soon. Agree to this, and no one would have to wear helmets in Pune for a decade or two, perhaps. And that too is being optimistic.
Sandeep Khardekar from Creative Foundation stated that they were not opposed to the use of helmets on the highways. He also stated that wearing helmets would limit riders who are suffering from medical conditions like spondylitis, due to the weight of the helmets. He also said that helmets also cut down the ability to hear in those wearing them. This again is also wrong as there is no direct connection between helmets and issues such as spondylitis or the fact that it aggravates such conditions and is once again just a way to postpone the implementation of the helmet law without any basis.
Businessman Balasaheb Runwal, who is the founder of the NGO Mere Apane claimed that ‘the man in the uniform was taking the citizens hostage’ by making helmets mandatory. Mr Runwal wants the cops to first lead by example before implementing the rule stating,
“The man in uniform is actually taking the citizens hostage by launching the helmet compulsion drive. First, the police and their pillion riders should start using helmets without fail for three months, then citizens should be forced.”
This is the kind of argument that works at street corners or at home drinking with buddies. That does not have a leg to stand on in a court of law.
Pune police commissioner Venkatesham, on the other hand, just wants a safer city for the riders of Pune. He told the Pune Mirror,
“So far, 211 people have died in fatal road accidents this year. We have to think about the families of those who lost their lives due to the absence of helmets. The situation has to change. We are not against citizens but want to ensure their safety. We are just implementing the rule as safe and smooth riding is our aim. We will try to change the perspective of the people who are opposing this move. We will focus on awareness for the next few days.”