There are hundreds of them. You can’t ride through a busy city, and not notice these stalls, with stacks of cheap helmets lining their shelves. For many, the idea of wearing a helmet is to avoid getting fined by the cops, so these stalls have a steady stream of customers, looking for a helmet so that they don’t get fined. Are they brave, or are they foolish?
Helmets play a very simple, yet complex role. The lining inside helmets reduces the G-Forces that your brain has to deal, in the event of a crash. The helmet also takes care of the forces that your neck has to deal with upon impact. A good impact basically takes your chances from fatal, to a treatable injury/concussion. The difference is huge.
There has been a huge hue and cry over certifications and rules, what is acceptable and what is not, regarding helmets. The traffic police and transport departments across cities have been cracking down on riders not wearing an ISI-approved helmet, and that rule by default has also outlawed helmets made by overseas manufacturers. Is the top of the line Arai helmet illegal, just because it doesn’t bear the ISI mark? Should you buy helmets according to just the ISI mark? Well, we spoke to a biker to find out why the certifications matter and what a non-standardised helmet will do.
“My accident was a pretty bad one, I broke my teeth”, explains Urmez, who has been riding for more than a decade, and has traversed the country on two wheels. The accident was a result of a loose helmet, which broke and Urmez had to undergo extensive dental treatment to somewhat reduce damages.
It is not enough to wear a good certified helmet; it is important to wear a well-fitting one! Choose according to the size of your head, and always ensure that the chin-strap is secure.
“Certifications are important, yes, but safety matters most”, he says, when asked about the Indian ISI certification, and other international certifications like DOT, ECE, SHARP and SNELL.
Usually, those who ride bikes out of love will invest in a sensible helmet. The ISI certification is accepted, but some riders want more security. They want increased comfort, better impact resistance and more features. And they aren’t afraid of paying for it.
Premium helmets that are internationally certified, come for a premium price! You can expect to pay anything starting from Rs 5000, and the sky is the limit, with the cost of top-shelf helmets running into lakhs.
However, for someone who commutes daily, what is the best option?
Well, the Indian BSI (ISI mark), and the US DOT are both honour-based, according to this article in Overdrive. The article explains how a helmet-manufacturer is expected to be able to certify their own helmets to meet the standards, using their own testing lab. The article correctly points out that if business morals, ethics and liability laws are strong, the model works.
However, if that isn’t the case, a maker can add compliance stickers expecting that the probability of his lax attitude killing someone is small, statistically.
The independently tested standards are international. The ECE22.05, UK’s SHARP and the American SNELL standard are the most commonly discussed.
SHARP is the best, as it considers things like comfort, in addition to safety and impact-protection, while the ECE22.05 is the gold-standard.
ECE stands for ‘Economic Commission for Europe,’ created by a UN agreement in 1958. The 22.05 part refers to the specific regulation that the standards for testing are described in, according to Ultimate Motorcycling.
The ECE standard is accepted in 47 countries and has been tested in a number of ways. Impact absorption, a test of the retention system, shell rigidity and performance of the helmet visor, amongst other things.
“Any helmet must fit snug, and you must check carefully if the helmet has any issues in fitting your head perfectly,” Urmez said when asked about how one must go and choose a helmet.
“Buying a helmet or any safety gear online is a horrible idea”, he says, explaining that you have to wear the helmet and make sure the fit is secure, the air-vents work, the visor pops open smoothly, etc. You cannot ascertain this online.
There have been many instances where 2-wheeler riders were not even wearing the minimum ISI mark helmet, and they have all paid the price.
An Indian Express article reports that In Pune, in 2016, a 56-year old woman underwent treatment for a head injury for eight months at a private hospital. She was riding pillion and suffered an injury when she suddenly fell from the motorcycle.
Countless others aren’t as lucky. 29-year old Aditya, died because he wasn’t wearing a helmet. The accident took place in Khadki area, on a stretch of the Pune-Mumbai highway, when a tempo coming from the wrong side collided with his 2-wheeler. His sister told the Indian Express, that her brother might have survived, had he worn a helmet.
Resultantly, over the recent past, cops cracked down hard on helmets. Karnataka’s cops have outlawed all non-ISI helmets, only to backtrack, and decide that it is difficult to keep a track on riders wearing substandard helmets.
The question is, do we really need rules to look out for our own safety. Shouldn’t that come from within?
The riding environment in India is far from ideal. If potholed roads aren’t enough, there are errant motorists who are least concerned about the rules.
People need to practice riding for many years before the reflexes become subconscious. In case of an accident, you never see it coming. It takes a split second, before disaster strikes, and in that second, a helmet can make the difference between life and death.
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The perception of a ‘good helmet’ varies wildly. Usually, it is one that offers sufficient impact protection and does not come off/break in the event of an accident. While the ISI standard, the DOT standard, SNELL, and the ECE standards are there to signify various levels of safety, you must always take a well-informed decision when buying a helmet. There is no need to spend Rs 50,000 on a racetrack replica helmet. Spend around one-tenth of that money, and get a helmet that will prevent your head from getting bashed in when you crash.
Featured Image Credit: Urmez B
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)