Riding to the store around the corner to get groceries? Wear a helmet. Dropping your kid off at school early in the morning, when there is no traffic? Wear a helmet and make sure your kid has one too. Riding pillion? Wear a helmet.
Studies over two decades show wearing a helmet reduces the severity of injuries by 72% and the likelihood of death by 39%; a recent IIT-B study found for every 10 fatal road accidents in India, three people died because they were not wearing helmets or seat belts.
But, studies and analyses apart, the advantages of wearing a helmet are obvious and the rules making them mandatory are clear. Every year, however, hundreds die on our city’s roads because they thought protecting their heads was not important enough.
In the second of the three-part series, ‘Say Yes to Helmets’, Hindustan Times talks to experts and doctors on how dangerous not wearing a helmet is and why you must not leave home without protection.
“A patient of mine a few months ago was a 24-year-old man. He had stepped out of home to buy groceries in a nearby market, met with a severe accident and sustained multiple injuries to the brain. He didn’t feel it was necessary to carry his helmet because he was so close to home,” said Dr Sunil Kutty, a neurosurgeon at Fortis Hospital, Vashi. Kutty said most of his patients were young, between 20 and 40 years, and were earning members of their families. “A fatal accident shatters the entire family.”
Experts and doctors have said using a helmet halves the risk of death in road accidents. Neurologists from the city’s largest municipal hospitals said 90% road accident victims they attended to were motorcycle riders, and most fatal ones involved riders and their pillions who were not wearing helmets.
“The brain, made of soft tissues, is smaller than the skull and is surrounded by a layer of blood and spinal fluid. In the case of an accident, a jolt to the head results in the brain moving inside the skull. This leads to multiple injuries,” said Dr Atul Goel, head of neurosurgery at KEM Hospital, Parel.
“The helmet acts as a barrier for the head and brain to prevent it from being affected by the impact.”
Skull fractures and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) were the most common cause of death in road accident cases that involved helmetless riders. But for those who survive a brain injury, life is much harder, as such injuries affect a number of bodily functions. Facial injuries are also common, doctors said.
Dr Charulata Sankhla, consultant neurophysician at PD Hinduja Hospital said, “We come across cases where riders were injured even though they were wearing helmets as they didn’t strap them well.”
And then comes the issue of pillion riders in India seldom wearing helmets. “Six months ago, we had a case at this hospital where a young woman, riding pillion, was injured because the motorcycle went over a pothole and tipped over. She was not wearing a helmet,” said Dr Sankhla.
An analysis of 245 cases of deaths in road accidents done by Dr R Ravikumar, professor and head of the department of forensic medicine and toxicology in Rajarajeshwari Medical College, Bangalore, found 23.7% of the total deaths were of pillion riders.
Forensic experts said they found the statistics and severity of the accidents from not wearing a helmet to be true from the bodies they analyse. “An injury is sometimes not even visible to the naked eye, but during forensic analysis, we come to know about the damage to the brain tissues, blood clotting and nerve damages. In 27 years of experience of conducting postmortems, I have seen that a majority of the cases that missed golden hour treatments landed in mortuaries,” said Shivaji Kachre, a senior forensic expert from Nagpada Police Hospital, which governs the four postmortem centres of the city.
Experts agreed that the only way to reduce mortality among two-wheeler drivers is a public campaign promoting the importance of wearing helmets, and wearing one that is certified.