When Amar Srivastava, an IIT student, lost a group of seniors who were out celebrating their job placements in prestigious companies, he decided to dedicate his life to road safety. And thus was born the Indian Road Safety Campaign (IRSC), a trust with the objective of doing just that. Today, Srivastava has graduated, but he continues his work, along with a team of students across the country, to work towards safer roads. The Delhi team is 150-strong, with 1,700 volunteers working in the rest of India.
A recent survey done by IRSC, in tandem with the Transportation Research and Injury Prevention Programme (TRIPP), IIT Delhi, threw up some startling facts. Amongst two-wheeler riders in Delhi-NCR, 75% to 80% wore helmets. Before you ask about the rest, there’s some bad news that negates the good: almost half don’t strap it on. The survey, with over 87,000 participants, was conducted over two months.
Prof Puneet Mahajan, an IIT professor and a member of TRIPP, puts the actual buying and wearing of helmets down to “strong enforcement of the law in Delhi.” However, “it is the fear of challans and of being caught by the traffic police that pushes people into wearing one, not a concern for safety”. And there lies the nub: that the traffic police don’t penalise those who don’t put on the buckle. “There’s just too much traffic to put the onus solely on them to uphold the law,” he says. It’s upto us too.
Dr Sushma Sagar, a senior surgeon in the Department of Trauma Surgery in AIIMS, Delhi, says that “the whole point of wearing the helmet is nullified and all minor injuries are eventually converted to major ones”. Concussion, severe brain damage, seizures, maxillofacial injury, cervical spine injuries are some of the major injuries caused if the helmet is not worn the way it should be. Especially affected are pillion riders, 50% of whom don’t wear helmets at all. “Seizures are common with those who ride pillion, as they have no clue even a few seconds earlier, that a collision is about to happen,” she says.
Then there’s the problem of quality. “In India, a large number of people use helmets sold on the pavement. These usually do not go through any sort of testing; that is, they are not approved by the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) that certifies products safe for use,” says Prof Mahajan. Their material and design are often suspect. Which means there’s no way of knowing how they will fare in an accident.
Typically, a helmet must have a 20-25 mm thickness and have quality foam. “This is what cushions the head, on impact,” says Prof Mahajan. To change the way things are, IIT, in tandem with AIIMS and IRSC, is working on a Helmet Designing Project. Most riders revealed in the survey that they disliked the heaviness of the helmet.
The aim is to solve many problems together: to design a helmet that is light-weight, has self-strapping technology and is as safe as possible in case of a crash. The initial design is ready and being tested, and Srivastava hopes to be able to keep it low-cost for maximum access. Next up: a project to design children’s helmets that don’t feature anywhere on the road or in stores.