The law is surprisingly vague, when it comes to the issue of the compulsion to wear helmet on the pillion passenger(s) on motorbike, despite the fact that 48 percent jeopordise their own life and safety in the event of a road accident.
In 2005, the government enforced Section 69-A of the Motor Vehicle Ordinance 1965, and Section 239-A of the Motor Vehicle Rules 1969, which made it mandatory for a motorcyclist to sport a helmet. Interestingly, it does not bind the pillion passenger to use the headgear.
Road safety irregularities go on unchecked in city streets, leaving the bike riders vulnerable to any head injuries.
As per data available to TNS, received from the city traffic department, more than 120 motorbike accidents take place in Lahore daily, which result in a number of casualties. The victim often dies on the spot or is paralysed for life.
“Medical statistics reveal that injuries among the pillion riders, most of them women or children, have registered an upward trend over the past three years. None the injured were found wearing helmet,” says Dr Zeeshan Ahmed at the General Hospital.
When asked, Chief Traffic Officer (CTO) Tayyab Hafeez Cheema says that since helmet is often not used, 70 percent road accidents that occur lead to head injuries, mostly causing instant death.
“Riding the motorbike without wearing helmet is a punishable violation of the law. The same goes for the pillion passenger,” he adds.
However, Cheema fails to come up with a relevant law that legally binds the pillion riders also (to wear helmet).
He also shies away from explaining why the pillion riders are not challaned for flouting the rules. “We’ve issued more than half a million challans to motorcyclists, over the past four months, and also distributed 2,000 helmets free of cost among the bike users. All this is meant to ensure road safety.”
In the West, says Cheema, the pillion passengers are bound by law to wear helmet. In case of defiance, heavy fine is imposed upon them. This is because the motorbikes are of 200-250 CC.
Answering a query, Cheema says that people who sit at the rear of a 70 CC motorbike especially do not wear helmet because they think the (relatively) poor speed of the machine cannot harm them anyway.
It is surprising how under the Traffic Education Unit (TEU) of the City Traffic Police, as many as 45,130 people — including 22,300 students and 22,830 drivers — were educated during a campaign about traffic discipline and road safety.
The sensitisation campaign lasted a good few months, but it never discussed issues of the pillion riders, sources reveal.
It was during the tenure of the late General Ziaul Haq that helmet was made compulsory for motorbike riders for the first time in the history of Pakistan. The bar, however, was eased off because the motorcyclists defied, in spite of prosecution.
Rescue 1122 officer Jam Sajjad Hussain says that the law on one-wheeling treats motorbike riders and pillion passengers equally. Same is the case with the law on helmet. So far, the traffic police has not been able to ensure compliance.
A recent cross-sectional study that analyses the behavior of motorcyclists concludes that helmets are underused by motorcyclists or pillion riders. Tracking the reasons as to why people do not bother to wear helmet, the study claims that the youth find wearing a helmet annoying or because they will be ridiculed by their peers. Besides, they believe they are less prone to accidents when making short-distance travels.
In summers and humidity, helmets are often disregarded as causing suffocation. Traditional or religious headgear such as turbans is also considered as a hassle. Some say that wearing helmet will spoil their hairdo. Others feel it is hard to find a place to put their helmets when parking the bike.
A city traffic warden, requesting anonymity, claims that law is not clear on the imposition of penalty on pillion riders travelling without the helmet. “We have no any instructions from the high-ups to nab or slap fine on the helmet-less pillion passengers,” he says.
“The liability of putting on helmet has to be enforced by people themselves if they mean to be safe on the road. Otherwise, the law should be improved and imposed with a sterner hand.”