The latest notification from the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways says that helmet manufacturers will no longer be able to manufacture, stock and sell helmets that do not comply with Indian Standard Institute (ISI) safety standards starting 1st January 2019. Now, this new law will have a two-part effect. The first one is rather welcome because the cheap roadside helmets, which a majority of two-wheeler users in India opt to use just to avert a police challan, will be no longer be available. These cheap helmets provide safety next to nothing, so bravo, now that only ISI certified helmets will be available we can expect safer two-wheeler commutes for people who chose roadside helmets before.
However, the second part of the new helmet law will include ban on manufacturing, stocking and sale of helmets that adhere to international safety standards, for example, the American DOT, European ECE, and Japanese JIS, along with independent test standards like Sharp and Snell, all of which are higher standards than ISI.
There is so far no confirmation on whether this notification will translate to a law yet. Besides, in response to an inquiry sent by some media folks, Abhay Damle, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Road Transport & Highways did clarify that the Ministry is only interested in removing the spurious and non-standard helmets from the country. Here's what we think of the notification.
If international helmet brands like Arai, Shoei, HJC, AGV would no longer be legal on Indian roads, the riders who could choose a higher safety standard for themselves would no longer have the choice.
While the overall scenario of motorcycles in India has seen a rise in engine displacements and power figures, reduction in helmet safety does not go hand in hand. Buyers are now more and more interested in motorcycles above 250cc which pack more power and better performance. While enthusiasts will not give up on their AGVs and Arais while on racetracks, but India will have highways that allow speed limits of up to 100 km/h.
Another factor is that that the new legal safety standards for helmets require them to weigh less than or equal to 1.2 kg, which is lower than the current norm of 1.5 kg. Considering that a lot of helmets manufactured by brands like Arai, Shoei, AGV weigh over 1.2 kg and these are the safest helmets used by the biggest names in motorsports around the world, reducing the weight of ISI standard helmets without compromising safety may be a tall order. Reducing weight could force manufacturers to compromise on the strength of the shell.
Also, homegrown helmet manufacturers in India have not been able to get sizing right yet either. As surprising as it may sound to some, but the correct size of a helmet can be a deal maker or a deal breaker. One universal size cannot work for all head sizes.
According to the new law, manufacturers or people engaging sale or stocking helmets that do not adhere to ISI standards will be liable to be arrested without a warrant and the penalty for first-time offenders will be a two-year jail term or a fine of Rs 2 lakh.
Banning DOT, ECE, Snell and the likes is like saying these safety standards not good enough for India, which is a grave accusation. These are the helmets that are used in races like MotoGP and Isle of Man TT which is the world's most dangerous race. Such race platforms have been a learning ground for these international brands.
Watch video: How are helmets made? Hammer test for fake vs ISI helmet
There has been a raised level of awareness when it comes to riders choosing better helmets for their safety with brands like LS2, and this new law is regressive for a trend that was moving in a positive direction.
The new law is said to be for the benefit of local manufacturers, but taking away a person's right to purchase a higher safety standard helmet is ignorant. I have a question: big hospitals in India these days are equipped with the Da Vinci, which allows remote surgery. Now, this machine is approved by the FDA, which is American. We can't have an Indian alternative to it because we don't have the expertise or the technology yet.
Similarly, brands like Studds, Steelbird, Vega, etc, have not had any experience or history in motorsports, which means there expertise in the field of high-speed crashes and shell strength is limited. But, these brands may eventually match their safety standards to ECE or DOT or Snell, because some of the helmets they're currently producing are not bad. Considering that they've come a long way from producing feeble plastic caps to these, tells us that they can improve.
However, until then, accepting international safety standards will only ensure the safety of a rider who consciously makes a decision to invest thousands of Rupees to buy one of those helmets that adhere to globally accepted safety standards.