There is definite need for nationwide application of a recent order of the Karnataka High Court that directs insurance companies not to pay compensation to victims of two-wheeler accidents who had ignored the rules governing mandatory use of safety, or “crash”, helmets. While that order in itself may not ensure that all two-wheeler users wear helmets, it would certainly boost the campaign favouring their use by both the rider and those on the pillion. It is another story that it is shameful the strong arm of the law and penal provisions have to be invoked to make people protect themselves, but that is a grim reality.

And the direct and indirect costs to the exchequer in providing medical assistance is a huge burden, particularly when it is easily avoidable. The statistics are mind-boggling: India is one of most accident-prone nations, 29 per cent of the mishaps involve two-wheelers. The number of fatalities resulting from non-use of helmets is a blot on society. It is not that there is anything “new” to calls for using helmets, the exercise began decades ago but the results are unimpressive. The provision in the Motor Vehicles Act is not uniformly applied, each state interprets it differently.

Enforcement of the law is tardy, photographs of police personnel riding motor-cycles and scooters using only their uniform headgear have become common in newspapers across the country. Political leaders ~ Rahul Gandhi among them ~ have been seen disregarding the helmet-rule, and helmets are seldom visible at “motorcycle rallies”: our leaders can be relied upon to set bad examples.

Confusion abounds over the quality of helmets. Every now and then the police in one city or another launches a drive against the use of helmets that do not meet prescribed standards ~ people use the safety equipment only to comply with the letter of the law ~ but no action is taken against the sale or manufacture of sub-standard helmets, often sold on the roadside, as in the Capital. A grim picture is projected by a study conducted by the UN.

Pointing out how two-wheelers are one of the most unsafe modes of transport, the Motorcycle Helmet Study says, “Motorcyclists are 26 times more likely to die in a road crash than drivers of passenger cars. Wearing an appropriate helmet improves their chances of survival by 42 per cent and helps avoid 69 per cent of injuries to riders.” The study also makes a dire projection, “between 2008 and 2020, almost 34 lakh people might die of motorcycle crashes. A figure that can be halved with appropriate measures. As many as 14 lakh of those fatalities can be avoided with the proper use of safety helmets”. Yet who cares ~ else a High Court need not have had to intervene to enforce what common sense demands.