CHENNAI:The widely hailed order of the Madras High Court making wearing of helmets mandatory for both two-wheeler and pillion riders in the State has definitely seen an upswing in helmet compliance.
But while the order is being actively enforced, questions about the quality of the helmets being worn, and bought, have left officials stumped. There is no body, not the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS), the police or the transport department, that has a blanket jurisdiction in regulating the quality of helmets on the market.
In fact, helmets are not in the list of 92 items that require mandatory certification from BIS. This means that a manufacturer need not produce helmets that conform to ISI standards, even though the State, police and High Court have made wearing an ISI-certified helmet mandatory.
The Motor Vehicles Act of 1988 too makes no bones about the fact that all helmets need to conform to standards set by the BIS. “In theory, those not wearing an ISI-certified helmet might as well not be wearing one and the police can fine them for the same,” said advocate Suresh Souli.
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“The BIS cannot simply go, pick up a helmet and check its quality if it doesn’t carry an ISI mark,” confessed H Ajay Khanna, deputy director for Consumer Affairs, BIS.
“We are only empowered to check helmets of manufacturers who have applied for ISI,” said H Ajay Khanna, deputy director for Consumer Affairs, BIS.
Asking ‘why’ brings to light a crucial divide between the existing law for enforcing helmet wear and monitoring helmet quality. “Helmets are not part of the list of products which have to get ISI certification mandatorily. We can only check and monitor the spurious use of the ISI mark. If a helmet doesn’t carry an ISI mark, our hands are tied according to existing BIS rules,” said Khanna.
If not the BIS, then who monitors the quality of potentially sub-standard helmets on the the market? Apparently, no one. Sources in the transport department say that they only make sure that manufacturers give helmets along with a two-wheeler purchase. The police, while empowered to check whether helmets worn are ISI-certified, are “awaiting clarification” on sub-standard or non-ISI helmets on the market.
“We can check whether helmets are ISI-certified, however, we are not currently examining that aspect now. On vendors who sell non-ISI helmets, we are awaiting clarification,” a senior police source told Express.
The situation is dangerous, say mainstream helmet manufacturers, especially when the order of the HC has given rise to an immense spurt in roadside vendors of helmets. “They are sub-standard and dangerous. Even some of those which carry the ISI mark are fake and carry spurious marks,” said Shailendra Jain, Head, Sales and Marketing, Steel Bird HiTech Ltd. The fact that they are cheap compared to branded helmets and easily available is a major factor in driving sales of these helmets. “It doesn’t have an ISI mark, is very light and made of plastic. However, it cost me only Rs 400,” said Joel Mark, who bought a helmet during last week’s rush.
The implications of being in a mishap wearing such a helmet can be serious. “Depending on the impact, it can cause grievous head injury, from brain swelling to internal haemorrhaging,” said Dr K Sridhar, Director, Neurosciences and Spine Disorders at Global Hospitals.