Don’t head for trouble

Use your head and wear the right helmet

April 28, 2017 04:34 pm | Updated 04:34 pm IST - Thiruvananthapuram

A friend accused me of ignoring him on the road. “I smiled at you, but you turned away.” Stung by the charge, I protested, “I’m sure I didn’t see you!” “You saw me all right, but didn’t recognise me, hehe,” he chuckled. “I was on my bike, wearing a full-face helmet.” “Very funny,” I said, but it set me thinking.

Anonymity could be one reason prompting some people to don helmets but more often than not, two-wheeler riders have this thing about wearing protective headgear.

It’s a curious case, the case of the helmet. By rights it should be on the rider’s head but it seems to be worn just about anywhere. When helmets were made compulsory, riders protested. True, it had everything to do with their safety and nothing to do with enhancing their aesthetic charms, but they felt reined in by the helmet and went about devising ingenious ways of circumventing the law.

If one has to wear the helmet, so be it, but the rider would have the last word on where to sport it. And so you see it worn on the crook of the arm, like an arm guard, as if the rider’s brains nestled in his elbow and needed armoured protection. Some actually manage to dangle it about the wrist while a stylish few prefer to sling it between wrist and elbow like a hep handbag. I have seen helmets buckled about the knees and miraculously staying there or balanced precariously on thighs. I once saw a motorcyclist whizz past, helmet bobbing behind his head, strapped to the neck like an odd-shaped, portable headrest.

Anywhere, but the head, opines the helmet, taking its solid position over the tank in front or hooked to the rear-view mirror.

Some generously endowed riders rest their headgear on overflowing tummies that serve as mini tables. Helmets loll on the flat floorboard of scooters or hide under the seat.

Working as a team, a pillion rider cradles the helmet, ready to slip it over the rider’s head should they chance upon a policeman. It is fear of the police and the fine that guides them, not the good sense that a fatal accident could be prevented by a helmet. Why is there such reluctance to wear the helmet?

“It stinks!” exclaimed a friend, sniffing into her helmet and screwing up her face in disgust. “But it’s your own stink,” I reminded her.

“A stink is a stink,” she stated, and I agreed. It’s no use getting possessive about your own aroma.

It’s too heavy, say some. There’s truth in that for my husband, a stickler for rules, went in for a solid, full-face helmet, believing it would keep the dust out and his wheezing in check.

It did neither and gifted him spondylitis as bonus. Wiser now, he discarded the visor version for a lightweight piece that made him look like a timid fire-fighter.

Many object to the discomfort of wearing it; it makes them sweaty, they find it stifling and it often renders them disoriented. Some complain it impairs hearing, others believe it gives the rider a false sense of security that tempts him to over speed. Besides, say the helmet-haters, in the event of an accident, the head might be safe but what’s the use? The helmet can break the neck.

But without doubt the helmet plays a huge role in reducing fatalities and the government has, for long, been on a valiant, helmet-wooing drive.

Wear the helmet and win prizes of free petrol at petrol pumps, riders were once told in the same breath as the threat that petrol would be denied them if their heads were not adorned with it. This experiment was slated for a few cities in Kerala but before it could be implemented, the proposal caused such a furore, it was hastily abandoned. Ditto with the order to cancel the licence of defaulters.

Rules making helmets mandatory for pillion riders are made one day and revoked the next. You can’t blame the authorities, for when the riders resist the idea so emphatically, why would pillion riders comply? Though, of course, it doesn’t make sense that the rider wears it while the pillion rider doesn’t. And what about children? Parents don’t want them to bear the addition burden on the head; the spine-breaking bags on their backs are bad enough, they say.

So the traffic policeman collects a fine of ₹ 100 for every transgression or sends a notice to the culprit, and the cloak and dagger game goes on…

(A fortnightly column by the city-based writer, academic and author of the Butterfingers series. The author can be contacted at

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