It’s illegal to drive a motorcycle or scooter without wearing a helmet in India, but you wouldn’t know that from watching all the two-wheelers on the road. Only a few people wear helmets, the ones who have decided that their brains are worth saving.
The rest just shrug and say, “What are the chances I’ll be in an accident? And even if it’s my unlucky day and I’m in an accident and get thrown off my bike, what are the chances that I’ll land on my head? And even if I do land on my head and damage my brain, what are the chances that I won’t be able to continue doing what I do now – ride around helmetless without using my brain?”
With so many people exhibiting attitudes like that, it’s no wonder the District Collector of Indore, Madhya Pradesh, tried recently to enforce the helmet laws by instructing petrol pump operators to bar helmetless drivers from refueling. The “no helmet, no petrol (gasoline)” rule remained in effect for a month or so, compelling some drivers to wear anything on their heads that resembled a helmet: a metal bucket, the lid of a milk can, a hollowed-out pumpkin.
I’m not sure if the pumpkin wearer was involved in an accident, but if he was, he probably discovered what researchers have known for years: pumpkins save lives.
Granted, they mostly save lives through the nutrition they provide us, but wearing a pumpkin over your head is better than wearing nothing at all. And if you choose the right pumpkin, you might even look more attractive than usual. Strangers will take pictures of you, and tourists will ask whether your headgear has any religious significance.
The District Collector of Indore should be commended for his initiative, even if it ultimately failed. Not only did drivers find ways to circumvent the rule, the Madhya Pradesh High Court decided to suspend it, at least for the time being, perhaps until all the judges have purchased helmets.
I’m not sure why it’s so hard to enforce the helmet laws. Perhaps the police are just too busy with other duties, such as directing traffic around the body of the poor motorcyclist whose head met the asphalt.
But even with no enforcement, you’d think people would come to their senses and realize the importance of wearing a helmet. But they apparently have a number of reasons for eschewing a helmet. Here are just five of them:
1. Appearances. When you’ve just spent hundreds of rupees getting your hair styled, you don’t want to cover it up with a helmet. After all, no guy has ever turned to his friends and said, “Check out that girl. What a cool helmet she’s wearing.”
2. Discomfort. Until you get used to them, helmets may cause a little discomfort. But if you’re concerned about discomfort, wait till your head hits the pavement. When the paramedic asks if you’re feeling any discomfort, you’ll have a good mind to give him some.
3. Mathematics. In the sweltering heat of India, the discomfort you feel in wearing a helmet is often multiplied. But subtraction of helmet can lead to addition of risk, which can lead to division of assets for relatives to share.
4. Illusion of safety. In many cities, traffic often flows so slowly that motorcyclists have an illusion of safety, believing that they’re in no danger. It doesn’t help that they’ve watched lots of Bollywood movies. Even if another vehicle hits them and they get flung into the air, they’ll just land in the passenger seat of a convertible that happens to be going by, with an attractive driver smiling at them.
5. Obstruction of view. Some drivers believe that helmets impair their view. When they’re not wearing helmets, their visibility is much better and they’re able to see almost everything. They can even spot the tiny crack in the road, just as their head is about to meet it.