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Shoddy helmets put ride-sharing passengers at risk

  • Published at 12:45 am February 11th, 2019
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Cost comes first? The motorcycle owner often wears a heavy helmet but provides a thin plastic one for the passenger Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

Inexpensive, fragile helmets lack safety, mainly used to avoid cases

Helmets used by riders and passengers of ride sharing services are fragile, poor in quality, and lack defensive material to avoid injury in case of accidents, which is raising eyebrows of passengers and road safety campaigners.

The helmets are brittle and are basically used cosmetically to evade traffic police cases, said riders and passengers.

Currently a number of companies including Pathao, Uber, Obhai, and Shohoz, are providing low quality helmets to their riders, in the absence of any guidelines for use.

On July 4 last year, a passenger of ride sharing service Pathao lost his life when the biker sustained injuries after a double-decker bus hit the bike on Airport Road in Dhaka.

In September the same year, both passenger and rider of a ride-hailing service were killed as a lorry ran over their motorcycle in Dhaka’s Motijheel area.

Motorcycle registration skyrocketing

The number of motorcycles has increased in Bangladesh significantly, particularly in the last two years, with the introduction of ride-sharing services.

Industry insiders say bikers and riders are mostly unaware of the use of a proper helmet.  However, the situation improved notably after the students’ movement demanding road safety rang alarms for traffic police, on the need for mandatory use of helmets.

Although the number of motorcycle and helmet users is rising, the use of a good quality helmet is ignored.

Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) data shows the number of registered motorcycles has doubled over the last nine years in the capital.

About 179,315 motorcycles were registered between 2017 and 2018 in Dhaka.  There are 722,153 registered motorcyles in Bangladesh.

The number of registered motorcycles in Dhaka stood at 616,641 in 2018, while it was only 210,000 in 2010. The number has risen significantly since 2017 when ride-sharing services, including Uber and Pathao, were introduced.

What riders feel, how companies defend

Although the companies claimed to provide helmets for both riders and bikers, they are allegedly not maintaining any standard due to lack of any proper rules.

Bangladesh’s traffic laws make it mandatory for both riders and passengers to use helmets, but there is no mention of any quality measures.

A rider of Pathao, preferring anonymity, said the helmets provided by ride-sharing companies are so light they cannot provide protection against injury.

“Not only me, but riders of almost all companies use such helmets because the full proper helmets are uncomfortable for whole day use, but the light ones are comfortable, though not protective,” he said.

A passenger of ride sharing services, Urmi Haq, told The Dhaka Tribune that whenever a traffic signal comes close, the bikers insist on using helmets to avoid the filing of a case.

“It is a good sign that they at least insist on using helmets, but I am unaware of any safety protection measures,” she said.

Road accidents, especially those involving two-wheelers, cause a lot of deaths in the country, every year. A majority of them are caused by riders without helmets.

Ride sharing companies said though most bikers use full helmets, the half helmets which are like caps, are used by pillions though they cannot prevent any major injuries.

Shohoz.com officials claimed they are providing helmets free of cost to their users which are basically available in the market.

They said that they are in contact with some companies in Malaysia, China, and India for better quality helmets which can be delivered to users by the middle of this year.

Shezami Khalil, Marketing Director at Shohoz, said they do ensure riders are well trained and follow regulations.

“We are providing standard helmets which are available in the market. We ensure that our riders must carry the passenger helmet with them. Helmet hygiene is another growing concern among  passengers which is also our focus. We issued instructions to riders to change faulty helmets immediately (if there are any),” she said.

Another ride sharing company, Obhai, operating their service in 6 districts including Dhaka, claimed that over one lakh riders are registered with them and a few thousand of them have received helmets.

“We do appreciate and understand the need for helmets and as such provide good quality helmets to both our bike riders and passengers. These helmets are tested by our in-house team to ensure their quality. Awareness of the importance as well as proper usage of helmets is necessary in order to fully utilize the safety features offered by helmets,” said an official of the company.

The company is now providing full helmets for bikers and normal half helmets for pillions or passengers,, based on the system followed in other countries, he said.

Will we ever have a guideline to protect users?

Although many countries, including neighbouring India, do have standards for helmet use, there is no such law yet in Bangladesh.

In July last year, the Bureau of Indian Standards issued guidelines under which new helmets should not weigh more than 1.2kg, at least 300gm lighter than the previous limit of 1.5kg.

The initiative was taken to reduce the number of accident injuries, and bringing down the sale of low-quality helmets.

World Health Organisation (WHO) says injuries to the head and neck are the main cause of death, severe injury, and disability among users of motorcycles.

WHO says a helmet can absorb the shock of a crash if the crushable liner is between 1.5 cm and 3.0 cm in thickness.

DMP Joint Commissioner (Traffic – South) Mofiz Uddin Ahmed said they cannot take any action against the use of substandard helmets, as the law allows action against only those who do not use helmets.

“If they do not wear a helmet, we can file a case. If there is any government instruction to file case based on the standard of helmets, we may do that,” he added.

Bangladesh Road Transport Authority director, Sheikh Md Mahbub-e-Rabbani, said they are expecting to add a provision on quality and standard of helmet use in road safety rule., However he could not give a timeframe for how long it may take.