Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Compulsory Crash Helmets For Two Wheeler Riders:Reason Why I Left Riding Those Cute Machines !

I purchased my first scooter way back in 1981 and it was an yellow Lamby-150, which was a modified version of the good old Lambretta originally made by Innocenti of Italy. At that time, it costed me about Rs.8500. During those days, the other scooters in the Indian market were the bulky, imbalanced Bajaj scooters, following the designs of Vespa of Piaggio, Italy and the Indian version of the Lambretta made by the Public Sector company, Scooters India Limited, in the desi name , Vijay Super.  

Image result for lamby 150
My Lamby was similar to the one above!
Picture courtsey: Google Images

During those days, the common men of India were just experiencing the pleasure of motorized self travel. There were a few motor cycles as well such as the Royal Enfield, the Java and the Rajdoot, the latter being the most preferred means of transport for the farmers of North India.

All these models of scooters and bikes had their dedicated customers. Scooters were for the urban class and bikes for the rural folks used to be the unwritten rule. Perhaps, the rural roads were not good for the small wheeled scooters. 

Being in a well planned city with relatively good roads, it was a pleasure for me riding my Lamby and I liked it very much. It was a perfect, well balanced and sturdy one. The only problem encountered at times was its starting trouble. Perhaps, this one aspect made the unbalanced Vespa models of Bajaj, the most preferred scooter in India at that time. These scooters did not give much starting problems. All one had to do was to tilt the machine to one side for the petrol to flow to the carburetor before attempting to kick the start pedal. With such an advantage over the other few scooters, the common man at that time was ready to pay almost the equivalent of a new scooter as premium for a second hand one even when it was almost a decade old. The Vespa never failed in starting, though proud owners of these scooters tilting them to one side before attempting the kick starter, used to be a common sight on the roads in those days. My Lamby too was not so unreliable. Only thing needed was to know the trick of starting its engine without the petrol flooding its cylinder causing an embarrassing delay in starting. Somehow, I knew the trick ! 

The only harassment the two wheeler owners of India faced from their democratic government used to be the insulting manner in which the policemen stopped them on the road for checking  the 'papers' which meant the license, registration book and the insurance policy. What they gained by checking these papers used to be an unsolved question for most of the owners and the non-owners of these vehicles alike. Perhaps the ruling class wanted to show their existence and power to harass those not in power ! Perhaps, they wanted to show that they are with the genuine owners and not with those thieves riding these machines without the papers in proof of legal ownership in their possession. Frankly, I have no idea ! But, it is widely talked in private that these vehicle checks are for aiding another form of  forcible tax collection in the form of penalties specified in the motor vehicles act. It acted as a means of filling both the official and unofficial coffers!

I was fortunate that I escaped from these police men's traps during those many years when I owned my scooters, the Lamby and then the modern gear less Kinetic Honda. I normally avoided those routes and times where these policemen in groups wait and catch their preys. Yet, I was caught one day.

It was an evening. A friend of a friend came to meet him. At around 9 PM, my friend came to me with a request of dropping his friend at the railway station to catch the late night train. In those days, perhaps even now, this city where I lived, did not have any worthy public transport. Interestingly, this city is a modern city of 1.5 Million people in central India. During those days, the population was around 0.4 Million.

My friend too wanted to see off  his friend. Thus, it was inevitable that we three make the trip on my Lamby. Though my Lamby and I were capable of  doing that, the police did not allow such things. And I told my reluctance to break the law to my friend. But, the situation was such that there was no other way than to break the law. The police would not be there any where at this time, was the assurance given by my friend.

So, we three proceeded to the station on my Lamby. For the first five kilometers nothing happened. Then, suddenly on an unlit square, they appeared, stopping me. We three tried to plead, argue and beg with the officer. No use. My friends decided to walk the other 2 kilometers to the railway station in the night leaving me alone with the policemen. After harassing me for about half an hour, they agreed to leave me making me poorer by Rs.100, a good amount in those days. The money obviously did not go to the official chest as the uniformed men were kind enough not to give me a receipt. If they make it official, it would give me more trouble in the courts ! That was their reasoning ! With the ordeal over I felt relaxed and was happy even with the loss of the money. More than the money, it was the mean minded looks and talks that these government officials mete out to the public that is common knowledge to all. The policemen are not normal humans who can recognize other normal humans. That is what  I felt that day !

So, whenever I see these uniformed men on the road, a kind of panic sweep my whole body. I have not broken any law and I am no criminal. But, a law breaking policeman could easily make me one if he so desires. That is my worry. I have known senior police officers, many of them perfect gentlemen and I have known many policemen as well who are also good people. Just as there are good and bad people there are good and bad policemen. Yet, my worry remains. In these days of democracy, many people take the troubles of gaining power through their involvements in the so called politics and try clinging to such political powers for getting some influence over this tactical government machinery. All over the world, it is like this ! They make rules to create a vicious organization with whimsical powers thinking that it would do good and then keep amending it thousand times for controlling it, making it a double edged sword that harms the good and the bad equally and always. A ferocious dog might give a pseudo security feeling to its master, but when masters keep changing, the dog becomes confused and no more be willing to obey some of its masters any more !

It is the invisible power of God that has been protecting me from such visible and invisible forces. That is what I believe. Yet, it is not wise to get in to the traps of such dark forces, knowingly.

And that is the reason, I decided to sell off my last scooter and decided not to ride one any more. The authorities introduced a new rule which made wearing crash helmets compulsory for bikes and scooters. The authorities are wise men and women. They know better than common people like me. They introduce rules and laws for the benefit of people like me. That is what we are all supposed to believe! But in a society composed of a mixture of good and bad, semi-perfect and imperfect beings, perfect rules and perfect justice can never arise !

They have found that riding scooters and bikes cause accidents. A good percentage of accidents become fatal for the rider. And the major reason for fatality is head injury. So, wearing a helmet can reduce the head injury and the fatality. That is the simple logic. Scooter and bike riders should be happy to wear the crash helmets to save their own lives.

But, given a choice, most riders do not wear the crash helmets that are now available in the market. Initially, I too purchased one helmet.

To my horror, I find wearing a helmet enhances my chances of making and accident. Without a helmet I am clearly conscious of the surroundings and the vehicles nearby. There is little chance that I hit someone or someone hit me. But with the helmet, my vision is hindered, my hearing is tampered and my perception is lowered. My chances of making accidents enhance many fold. Besides, my perspiring head keeps me irritated always. If I do not make an accident, it is only the providence of God !

So, I considered it wise not to wear the helmet while I ride my scooter. For me, prevention was better than a cure. Wearing a helmet increased the chances of an accident and also improved the chances not losing life due to head or spinal injuries. But it will not prevent you from getting other injuries and fractures. You can still be in the hospital bed for days or months. So, how do you make the choice ?

I had experienced the difference of riding a scooter with and without the helmet and I took a considered decision that not wearing the helmet was better for me. Because in this case my chances of making an accident is reduced. Unfortunately, it is difficult to prove this, unless the researchers take honest feelings of the riders into consideration instead of relying on statistical accident data for conclusions.

Regrettably, the authorities go by the latter route and preferred to take  away the choice of the riders. They made it compulsory and empowered their police to harass those riders without wearing these helmets.

I did not want to get into troubles with the police again. You see, there are good and bad ones there. The latter in more numbers !

So, I sold off my last scooter and became a four wheeler driver instead for my personal movements in and around. I know, it is not an energy efficient decision. Nor it is one I enjoy much.

There are many like me and now the roads are no more good for any smooth traffic.

The wise authorities are perhaps thinking to empower their police with yet other restrictive rules !

I am waiting to leave my four wheeler and walk for good ! I do not know whether that too could make me safe !

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