Home / Politics / Policy /  Helmet regulation: who will take the responsibility to protect riders’ head?

Mumbai: Who is responsible for the protection of a two-wheeler rider’s head?

The issue has preoccupied executives at two-wheeler makers, bureaucrats at the Rajasthan transport department and dealers as state transport officials look at amending a notification issued last week.

The notification had made it mandatory for dealers to throw in two helmets approved by the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) free of cost to buyers of scooters and motorcycles. One’s for the rider and the other for the pillion.

While dealers say providing free helmets will reduce their margins substantially, the industry says getting a helmet at the shipping level will escalate costs manifold due to various taxes and duties that have to be paid.

Two-wheeler makers will meet transport department officials to discuss an alternative on Thursday. After the meeting, a revised notification, which shifts the onus on the manufacturer from the dealers to offer helmets, along with details on billing and other modalities, is expected to be issued in a week’s time.

Other states too are in the process of implementing the helmet regulation. Last month, the transport department in Kerala issued a similar circular, asking two-wheeler dealers to provide a helmet, number plate, rear-view mirror, sari guard and a handle grab for pillion riders, free of cost to every two-wheeler buyer.

The directive by the state governments is only an enforcement of the Central Motor Vehicles Rules (CMVR), 1989. Rule 138 (4) (f) of Central Motor Vehicles Rules, 1989 makes it mandatory for the manufacturers of two-wheelers to supply protective head gears at the time of purchase of the two-wheelers.

The step can help cut the high number of road fatalities in India.

An analysis of road accident data of 2014 reveals that on an average, 56 accidents take place on Indian roads every hour, claiming 16 lives. The share of two-wheelers is the highest -- 27% -- among all vehicle types, according to data from the ministry of road transport and highways for 2014. Although there’s no data to substantiate it, a majority of accidents involving two-wheelers are linked to inadequate protection of the head and laxity in compliance, according to experts.

Dealers opposed the move and downed shutters on 22 April claiming that with wafer thin margin on the two-wheeler business, providing a free helmet will eat into their earnings substantially.

They said that it is the manufacturers who should take on the responsibility and offer helmets as a standard accessory with the vehicle, the way they offer a toolkit and first aid box.

On an average, a dealer earns a margin of Rs2,200 on each scooter or motorcycle sold. Typically, half the volumes sold by the dealer are retailed by a sub-dealer or secondary channel. After sharing the margins with the secondary channel, the margins are whittled down to around Rs1,600. If the dealers offer a pair of helmets, the cost of which could be between Rs1,200 and Rs1,500, all they will take home is a measly Rs600 or so.

“The idea is to implement the law effectively. We are in consultation with dealers and manufacturers regarding the same. Eventually, it will be on them to work out the finer details regarding how they are going to bill it to the customer," said Mukul Raj, additional commissioner of transport, Rajasthan, on phone.

K.K. Gandhi, executive director, technical, at Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (Siam) said that though the industry lobby supports the regulation, shipping the helmet as a standard accessory along with the vehicle from the factory will escalate the cost of the helmet by at least 40% as it will attract value-added tax (VAT), excise and other duties. Hence, Siam has recommended that the government allow the manufacturer to source the head gear locally and let them get billed under a separate head instead of folding it in the cost of bikes and scooters.

To be sure, the issue of offering a protective head gear has had its share of controversies even in the past. In July 2010, a Supreme Court bench upheld a 2009 Delhi High Court order to sell helmets along with new two-wheelers and said that the vehicle would not be registered by the authorities without it. It dismissed a petition filed by Siam which challenged the order of the Delhi High Court. The apex court said the manufacturers would have to give BIS certified helmets as “original equipment".

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