Hardly a couple of months back, the sight of a motorcyclist sporting a helmet was a rare one on the roads of Lahore. Cut to September this year, and things seemed to change — dramatically.
Helmet has always been compulsory for bikers, in traffic rule books; it’s just that nobody cared to follow it — or, as it appears now, it wasn’t implemented properly. The traffic wardens could be held guilty of being 1enient towards those taking liberty. There were occasions when the bikers were stopped, and ticketed or warned, but the drive would soon fizzle out and there would be business as usual. The general perception about such drives was that the traffic police had launched them just to achieve the target of challans given to them by their high-ups. It was assumed that this way they would make up for the shortfall they were facing.
Another common sight on the city roads used to be a motorcyclist trying to appease a traffic warden. He was ‘lucky’ if the warden would eventually let him go without the ticket. Basically, it depended on the whims of the warden.
All this changed considerably since September 24, 2018, the day the traffic police adopted a policy of zero tolerance for bikers without helmets. This came as a rude shock to most people who didn’t expect such strict enforcement of law. There was no letting-go for violators who were now fined up to Rs1,000.
The drive was launched on The Mall, and later spread to the whole city — from October 10, to be specific. In the beginning there was a lot of hue and cry from the public, and some of the bikers were even reported as getting into a scuffle with traffic wardens. But as time passed, people growingly understood the importance of the policy. And this, only in a couple of months’ time!
There is more to follow. The compulsion of helmet has now been extended to the “pillion rider,” as they call it. This rider, regardless of age and gender, is bound to wear a helmet. The rule came into force from December 1.
The public response to this extension in the helmet rule is varied. Some are calling it exploitative while others have termed it as one in the best interests of the pillion riders who are no less vulnerable to head and neck injuries, in the event of a road accident. TNS collected statistical evidence and observations of different stakeholders to reach a conclusion.
Rana Arif, Spokesman, City Traffic Police Lahore (CTPL), rejects the notion that the purpose of the whole exercise is to collect revenue. He insists that it is “purely focused on making the motorcyclists and others travelling with them on two-wheelers safe.
“The current drive is different,” he adds, “as it was initiated on the instructions of the Lahore High Court (LHC). The court is constantly seeking updates, and stands behind the traffic police enforcing the helmet rule throughout the province.”
Arif explains that under the Provincial Motor Vehicle Ordinance 1965, the minimum fine for a motorcyclist not abiding by the traffic laws is Rs200. “That means it is impossible to issue a ticket worth Rs1,000 for a single violation. If the fine is higher, it’s for multiple violations by the same person.”
He claims that the policy has received a favourable response from different segments of the society. For example, Dr Yasmin Rashid, Punjab Health Minister, recently wrote a letter of appreciation to the traffic police; besides, the Young Doctors’ Association (YDA), lawyers, trade unions, and journalist bodies have publicly praised the police role in creating a safe environment for motorbike riders.
Though the pillion riders not wearing helmets are being dealt with strictly, the wardens are so far lenient towards women who are only being issued warnings and told to use routes other than The Mall.
The freshly enforced rule has disturbed many working ladies and school/college-going girls who do not feel comfortable wearing helmet while sitting in the backseat of the bike. For them it either attracts stares of passersby or is a hassle. Some even say they aren’t comfortable carrying helmets around.
Rukhsana, a teenager, says she and her school fellows are forced to take the van to school. What’s more, the van owners are said to have jumped to the opportunity and jacked up their fare rates. However, she agrees that helmet is a must for one’s safety.
Dr Ammar Anwar, a neurosurgeon working at Mayo Hospital, Lahore, says the policy was much needed. “A strict enforcement [of the policy] has drastically reduced the number of casualties. I’d say there’s a drop of up to 70 percent in the number of trauma patients in the hospital.”
Dr Anwar says he can’t speak for the number of accidents on the roads but most of the injured people the hospital received in the recent past had minor injuries. “The emergency also looks normal, and the burden on doctors and staff treating trauma patients, especially those with head injuries, has come down considerably.”
He also believes the helmet for the pillion rider is equally important: “Most of the times the drivers are in a better position to gauge the situation on the road and make the necessary adjustments, but the second rider isn’t always on the alert.”
He suggests that the women should change their sitting position on the backseat; they must be facing the front. “The way women in our part of the world sit — traditionally, with both legs on either side of the motorbike — puts them in a more vulnerable position.”
The data of Lahore Rescue Service 1122 shows that the number of motorcycle accidents has reduced since September 24. Over the past 74 days, 9,767 crashes have been reported to Rescue 1122. The number was 11,911 earlier.
“It is obvious that people are becoming conscious of the utility of the traffic laws,” says Farooq Ahmed, Spokesman, Rescue 1122. “Though the number of road accidents is still high, those involving head injuries have vastly reduced.”
More recently, five motorcycle manufacturing companies appeared before Justice Ali Akbar Qureshi of LHC in connection with the writ petition filed by the YDA. The petitioner requested the court to order fixing of wheel cups on back tyres of motorbikes to save women from getting their drapes/duppatas entangled. It is believed that injuries caused as such are quite common.