Kamal Hosen with Ariful Islam
Even though the practice of helmet use during riding motorbikes has significantly developed recently among the bike users in the capital, the protective gears being provided by different ridesharing services to their riders raise a very serious question about their standard and safety.
The enforcement of law regarding the helmet use by the bikers following the students’ ‘Safe Road’ movement in July-August last year ensured the development of the practice; yet most of the helmets provided by some ridesharing companies, including Pathao, Shohoz Rides, Uber and Obhai, are just protective caps used by the construction workers, according to experts.
Experts also said these caps are unsafe and below the standard, thus they might not protect the riders from risks of injuries in case of an accident.
In this regard, experts opined that the government should set certain criteria for safe helmets and also impose a ban on importing poor quality helmets and their use by bikers to ensure riders’ safety as the number of users of the two-wheeler is growing very rapidly.
According to official data, around 60 per cent of the total vehicles in the country are motorbikes.
Alleging that the helmets are not up to the standard, some passengers in the capital, while talking to Bangladesh Post, said these also do not have the capability to protect the passengers’ faces and heads during an accident.
It is good that the ridesharing companies are providing helmets but the ones given to the riders are often inferior in quality to those used by the bikers themselves, they said, also alleging that these ordinary helmets are only for a show that the bikers are abiding by the traffic law.
“In fact, they are not [abiding by the law]. On the other hand, it is happening on the nose of traffic police who mostly remain indifferent to the quality of those helmets,” said Mirazul Haque, a banker in profession and resident in Mirpur’s Pallabi area, who often uses bike services of Pathao and Shohoz Rides.
Asked whether he made any complaint to the police, he replied in the affirmative.
“I have made several verbal complaints to the duty officer of traffic police on the road, but every time they ignored my complaints,” he added.
Shariful Amin, another user of ridesharing service from Dhaka’s Jatrabari area, said the helmets the bike drivers give them are of low quality and often dirty.
“It stinks at times as it is used by many in a day but finds little time to get dried in the sun,” said Alam, adding that these are light-weight so they are name-only helmets and should not qualify as safe for the passengers.
“I wear spectacles, and it is often difficult for me to put on the helmets given by the bikers. I think these helmets are unsafe for people like me. Drivers keep these helmets to avoid punishment only and also they are cheap,” he said.
He also said the ridesharing companies and their bikers do not understand the importance of passenger safety; or else, they would not provide these caps.
Rejoanul, who is a biker sharer on Uber service, said, “Truly speaking, I usually keep the second helmet to avoid the cases from traffic police.”
He said, “Ordinary helmets are unsafe for people and cannot protect them from uncertain accidents.”
Another biker Momenul Islam said, “Actually, most of the pillion riders are not interested to use heavy helmets. That is why, I keep ordinary ones.”
When contacted, higher authorities of the ridesharing companies acknowledged the issue and said providing appropriate helmets is necessary.
“But, it is not our responsibility to provide the same,” they said.
A spokesperson of a ridesharing company seeking anonymity said, “If the government sets a specific guideline in this respect, we will definitely follow it.”
Founder and Managing Director of Shohoz Rides Maliha Quadir said, “Deaths from road accidents have been on the rise and we are working towards the solution to it.”
“We are giving imported helmets as they are effective in reducing the severity of head injuries,” she said.
According to World Health Organization, wearing a motorcycle helmet can reduce the risk of death in the event of a crash by up to 40 per cent and the chance of a serious injury by up to 70 per cent, she mentioned.
“We are expecting that campaign on giving helmets to riders will raise awareness about road safety,” she added.
The Traffic Division of Dhaka Metropolitan Police recently said to the media that they are thinking of launching a strong drive against the use of unsafe and low quality helmets and force the bikers to use standard ones.
DMP deputy commissioner (traffic-west zone) Liton Kumar Saha said they are seriously worried over the safety of the passengers of ridesharing services as they use toy-type low-quality plastic helmets.
“Most of the helmets the passengers of the ridesharing services use are made of plastic which usually wear the construction workers. The poor quality helmets can’t protect the passengers in case of any accident,” he said.
Liton Kumar said they have so far worked for bringing a change in people’s habit of not using helmets while riding motorbikes. “We’ve got success in this regard as most bike riders now use helmets.”
He said they are now planning to carry out a massive campaign to create awareness among bike riders to use standard helmets for their own safety. “We’re also thinking of setting the criteria for quality helmets.”
After the campaign, he said they will go for drastic action, including filing cases, against those who do not use quality helmets.
Professor Dr Md Shamsul Huq, former director of Accident Research Unit of Bangladesh University of Engineering Technology, and a transport expert, told Bangladesh Post that most of the bikers, especially pillion riders, use ordinary helmets to dodge the traffic law.
“It is very risky for the young generation because this type of helmet cannot be used as safety gear to protect them from accidents,” he said.
Prof Huq also said, “The Western world has set standard measures for safe helmets for bikers. The authority should strictly follow that in Bangladesh too.”
Even, Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution (BSTI) and also police can provide guidelines to the helmet importers, he added.
In order to denote a safe helmet, the government can set several standard measures like giving a BSTI seal on helmets.
However, Shamsul Huq said as most of the bikers are young their safety should be ensured as soon as possible.
Kamal Hosen with Ariful Islam