Life & Style

These hand-embellished helmets are changing India’s road safety attitude (and style)

Rakel Karls with her customised helmet

Rakel Karls with her customised helmet

Neils Peter Jensen, a German motorcyclist and designer, started Helmets for India in 2019.  Being a first-hand witness to a  road accident on a Mumbai street, was a turning point. “That child had a chance of walking away unharmed if only he had a helmet on,” says Jensen. Since then, Helmets for India has distributed over 482 specially designed helmets to riders and young pillion riders across Maharashtra and Goa.

Wearing a helmet is a life-saving decision. According to a report on Road Traffic Injuries by the World Health Organization published in September 2021, correct helmet use can lead to a 42% reduction in the risk of fatal injuries and a 69% reduction in the risk of head injuries. 

According to the report, Road Accidents in India  2019, published by the Ministry for Road Transport and Highways Transport Research Wing of the Government of India, non-usage of helmets caused  44,666 deaths — 30,148  riders  and the 14,518 passengers,  accounting for 29.82% of total road accident deaths in the country.

At a gathering of bikers at The Farm, in Chennai, Jensen sounds excited about his 2022 trip. “For me, the children are the best vehicles to absorb this message. Each conversation has a ripple effect. Once you get teens and pre-teens to wear helmets on a bike, you can ensure they will spread that message to their families“ he says.

Helmet art by Vincent Kamp

Helmet art by Vincent Kamp

Sourcing helmets is not the issue, attitude is, explains Jensen: “There are so many companies making reliable helmets for children and adults, it is a question of making that investment and following through.”

Initially, Jensen sourced helmets from manufacturers across Europe, and would ship them to artists for their design, and back to India for distribution. “I spent out of pocket, which was a drain on my resources, and coordination was so difficult. Then the pandemic hit, and income sources dried up.” Through the lockdown in Europe, Jensen reached out to motorcycle companies: Royal Enfield entered the fray in July 2020. “Now sourcing helmets and logistics has become much easier. I don’t have to worry about it,” he says.

Messaging is of paramount importance in The Helmets for India campaign. “We need to create a positive image about wearing a helmet, stressing safety, instead of bombarding riders with negative images from accidents. Our purpose is not to distribute free helmets, but to permanently impress their importance on the road,” adds Jensen.   

Kaustav Das’ customised helmet

Kaustav Das’ customised helmet

Meet the artists

Kaustav Das, a motorcyclist-artist based in Assam and co-founder of Moto Machao, has been associated with Helmets for India since its infancy, designing two helmets for the campaign. “Neils and I rode from Pune to Goa, following coastal roads. We stopped on the way when we saw families on two wheelers, with just the rider wearing a helmet. We would try to reiterate that the use of a helmet is not just to avoid a fine, but protect your life.”

Like Das, artists from the UK, the US, Sweden, Italy, Canada, Spain, Denmark, Germany and India receive their helmets through Royal Enfield. They design them, and the helmets then make their way across Europe. Jensen explains, “Before we hand over these helmets to riders, we use them to raise funds. This year we will be showcasing our helmets in Berlin in August, and I will return to India to hand over the funds to NGOs and hospitals who work with children who’ve suffered injuries due to road accidents.”

Malou Kalay, a former policewoman-turned-artist from the Netherlands, hands her monochrome helmet over to Jensen in Chennai. Black crows juxtapose the pristine white background on the helmet, “crows are a reminder of India, to me,” says Kalay.

Malou Kalay

Malou Kalay

She adds, “ Being a former cop I have worked with traffic safety and this message is very close to my heart. I ride motorcycles across my country, and wearing a helmet is the simplest and single most important riding accessory.” 

While the Helmets for India campaign looks to spread its wings across the country, impacting riding communities across states, Jensen says, working with local law enforcement is an important way to drive the message home. “When we rode through Goa and saw cops handing out fines to riders who didn’t have a helmet, we asked them if we could hand out a helmet, instead of the ticket. They obliged and that day we distributed our gear to happy riders.”

Jensen has seen some recipients look to sell their free helmets, but that doesn’t faze him.  He concludes, “Even if someone sells the helmet, it cannot be used for anything else but to protect you.”


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Printable version | May 19, 2022 2:32:03 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/these-hand-embellished-helmets-are-changing-indias-road-safety-attitude-and-style/article65377977.ece