Taking a leaf out of other state and local administrations in India and in the interest of public safety, the Pune traffic department will order petrol pumps to not sell petrol to people on two-wheelers not wearing their helmets from January 1, 2019.
However, the potential imposition of this order has riled up certain sections of the city’s populace, even though its stated aim is to limit the number of avoidable road accident deaths. Besides this step, beginning next year, commuters found without a helmet while riding their vehicles will be booked by the traffic police and heavily fined.
“Along with other violations, strict action will also be taken against those found not wearing helmets. At every chowk, our cops will be present to book motorists avoiding helmets. Also, we are going to ask all petrol pumps to not sell fuel to helmetless riders from January 1,” said Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) for traffic Tejaswi Satpute, in a conversation with the Pune Mirror.
In a bizarre turn of events, certain political and social activist groups have come together under the umbrella of the Anti-Helmet Compulsion Action Committee (AHCAC) and strongly opposed the move. In the coming days, they will reportedly conduct protests against this proposed move.
“In a city like Pune, where there are narrow roads, the upcoming Metro, and several other road projects going on, it is anyway not possible to drive over a speed of 40 kmph. Meanwhile, wearing a two kg helmet can lead to several spine-related issues. Earlier, I used to wear a helmet constantly over a long duration, and suffered because of it,” said one activist with the AHCAC, speaking to the Pune-based publication. Strangely enough, he also goes onto allege that the administration is imposing the move to support businesses involved the sale and distribution of helmets.
Citing ‘health reasons’ for not wanting to wear helmets seems entirely bogus, according to medical experts. In a separate conversation with the Times of India in 2014, Dr Ajay Kothari, a gold medallist orthopaedic spine surgeon from Pune, rubbished claims of those linking helmet use to back pains, and calling its association with spinal problems “a myth.”
“Every year, at least 15-20 cases come to me with complaints of back or neck pain with the patient conveniently associating their discomfort to use of helmets. However, a thorough examination of their condition and x-ray scans reveal completely unrelated reasons like a past or family history of back or neck problems, poor posture, excessive hours in front of the computer and even poor diet,” he told the national publication. He goes onto add that the link between spinal problems and helmet could have been possible 10-20 years ago when helmets were made of “crude and heavy plastic”, but today these helmets are made with a lighter material.
Further international academic literature on the link, or lack thereof, between helmet use and spinal injury, can be found here and here. Having said that, helmet sales in the city have surged in the past few days following the Pune traffic department’s announcement. Some have cited a 25% increase in the sale of helmets lately with better results expected in the following month.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)