The ban on full face helmets was temporarily suspended recently by the new government on a directive issued by Minister of Public Order John Amaratunga.
“As a Parliamentarian representing the public we should always listen to their woes and the ban was lifted as a result,” the told the Dailymirror. He went on to add: “However, the decision to impose the law will be reconsidered in the future, concerning the on-going crime pattern committed by wearing full-face helmets.”
According to SSP Ajith Rohana, the police spokesman at the time the ban was announced, it was brought about to help curb crimes committed by persons wearing full face helmets.
The police spokesman said that the crime report from Jan. 1, 2014 to Dec. 31, 2014 reveals that 127 crimes were committed by men wearing full face helmets. The report lists 1 case of grievous bodily harm, 4 cases of death and 122 cases of theft, all committed by persons wearing full face helmets.
SSP Rohana went on to explain that this was not a new law as these regulations on helmets were enacted by the January 11, 1991 Gazette number 644/26 issued by then Minister of Transport. Accordingly, the Motor Traffic Act (No. 21 of 1981), Articles 158 (2) and 237 state that motorcycle riders or is pillion passengers should wear a protective helmet of a type approved by the Minister. The Act also clarifies that, while the helmet and the chin strap should protect the head and face of the wearer, the face should remain open between the eyebrows and chin area for the ease of identification.
Under the ban, the police were authorized to produce in Court those individuals found to be wearing full face helmets while riding motorcycles, and they were to be fined Rs.1000 in the first attempt, Rs. 2000 in the second attempt and Rs. 3500 and temporary cancellation of licence if an individual commits the offence on a third occasion.
However, as the confusion over the helmet debacle deepens the public appear to be irritated with authorities. Many have criticized the move on social media. They argue that because of 127 criminal acts, a ban is imposed unfairly on thousands of motorcyclists, putting their safety at risk. The Daily Mirror spoke to a number of motorcyclists on this issue.
‘A full face helmet saved my life!’
Father Suranga de Mel met with a grave accident in 2010 while riding his motorbike which almost cost him his life. Speaking to the Daily Mirror, Father De Mel insisted that the full face helmet was the reason why he is still alive. “My recovery from the accident was miraculous. The impact on my head was largely barred by the full face helmet; the impact was so big that a part of the helmet was crushed to pieces. I spent some time at the intensive care unit and my recovery took 5 months. Despite this incredible recovery, I still have a 3 month lapse in my memory. You can imagine the extent of damage the accident caused.”
Father De Mel fervently advocates the use of full face helmets. “The regret in this case is that a few wealthy men with power who make use of comfortable and safe vehicles have the privilege of making decisions on our behalf.” He added that he would voice his opinion on behalf of hundreds of motorbike riders in the country.
“You have to understand that we ride these motorcycles not because we don’t like safer vehicles. It’s the most cost-effective and economical vehicle we can use. The helmet I used at the time of my accident cost me Rs. 11,000. We use such expensive helmets because we are well aware of the severe dangers that come along with riding a motorcycle.” he added.
“So why are we being punished for the failures of the police?” questions Father De Mel.
Udesh Hettiarachchi, another motorcyclist, recalled a similar experience.
“I met with an accident in 2013 while riding my motorcycle. I have no memory of the accident but onlookers told me that I rode into a transformer at the Nugegoda-Nawala junction and I was stuck inside the transformer. People had not attempted to rescue me because they thought I was dead.”
“A concrete slab of the transformer had come crashing on to my head. Thankfully I was wearing a full face helmet. Despite the protection it gave me, my skull is cracked into so many pieces. I spent one and half months in the hospital where brain fluids started coming out of my nose. I am alive, thanks to progressive and experimental surgery my doctors performed on me. If it wasn’t for the full face helmet I was wearing at that time, I wouldn’t have survived the accident,” Mr. Hettiarachchi added.
Asked of his opinion on the full face helmet ban, Mr. Hettiarachchi bluntly said the ban makes no sense. “It’s really silly to implement this ban on account of thefts reported around the country. Banks should have the ability to protect themselves adequately and it is the responsibility of the government to take effective measures to curb crime,” he added.
According to a World Health Organization study, motorcycle riders can cut the risk of death by fatal injury almost 40% and the risk of severe injury by 72% if they wear proper helmets.
However, Dr. Vernon Jayaweera believes that present helmet designs cannot always prevent injury and could even aggravate injuries to the brain.
“In 1986, I presented a paper on my research regarding brain damage in boxing at the WONCA (World Organisation of General Practitioners National Colleges and Academe) conference in UK. This led to my invention of the helmet named the “Brainguard” patented locally in the year 2000,” Dr. Jayaweera explained.
This invention is based on laws of physics governing momentum created by a moving object. Helmets used presently rest on the head forming one unit. By adding the weight of a helmet onto a rider’s head, momentum created in motion is increased, thereby increasing risk of brain damage. The Brainguard however doesn’t add weight as it only surrounds the head being fixed to the waist and torso. All forces directed at the helmet are transferred to the waist and torso.
“I predicted in 1995 that using the boxing helmet used then and now will cause more brain damage than not using one. 30 years later the helmet was banned by Amateur International Boxing Association on similar grounds.”
Dr. Jawayweera also noted that his design could be used for boxing, skiing, racing, soccer and even cricket.
Despite inventions of this nature, a great number of motorcyclists die of head injuries every year while hundreds more are permanently injured. With the emergence of all terrain vehicles (ATVs) that can be driven at very high speeds, it is expected that deaths from motorcycle accidents will increase further. The ability of motorcycles to zigzag through thick traffic at high speeds, too, increases the chance of accidents. Thus, a motorcyclist’s desire to equip themselves with the best possible protective gear is perfectly understandable as it is the primary responsibility of the person subjected to risk.
So why are lawmakers stripping motorcyclists of their right to protect themselves? While the initial benefit of wearing a helmet is the absorption by the impact of a crash or fall, it also provides protection against strong winds, dust and smoke. Will the new ban also mean that motorcyclists are unable to wear face masks under medical advise?
Most motorcyclists respect the law as is evident at any bank ATM where riders respectfully remove their helmets before entering the premises. So why punish a majority of law abiding citizens because of a minority of criminals remains the question of the hour. While it is understood that the measure was taken keeping the public’s benefit in mind, this move could backfire by causing more deaths and public disgruntlement without actually curbing any crime.