Thursday, January 22, 2009

Pumpkin On Your Head?

Do I need to put on a helmet when I ride a motorcycle in Singapore?

It certainly sounds like an odd or random question to ask. Isn't that so obvious? Ya, indeed it is so. In fact, it is so very obvious to us here that the Singapore Police Force website couldn't be bothered to say a word about such a requirement. All of us are expected to know.

The idea of wearing a helmet while riding a motorcycle is so entrenched in us that it will be totally insane not to do it. Well, not everywhere in the world makes that part of their rules on the road. Even if they do, not everyone follows the rules.

In Nigeria, motorcycle taxis are a common mode of cheap transport for the locals and the Nigerian road safety authorities say almost every collision in Nigeria's cities involves a motorcycle taxi. They have obviously had enough. From 1 Jan this year, they want to see every motorcyclist puts on a helmet.

Many are furious even though the rules are set to save their lives.

First of all, the price of the helmet is hefty as each can cost up to US$29. So, some riders try to dodge the law by wearing dried pumpkin shells instead. The local authorities are not amused by their improvisation and they have impounded many motorcyclists.

Besides the cost, those who were caught have other reasons for not using a helmet. They claimed that passengers often steal the helmets once they reach their destination. Interestingly, the passengers too were not keen to wear the helmet provided by the taxi driver. They fear that the taxi drivers may put juju (African black magic) in the helmets to cast spells on them, making it easy for them to be robbed.

The situation in Nigeria certainly sounds quite amusing to me but losing lives due to the lack of headgear protection is certainly not a laughing matter.

When I travel in Malaysia, it is not uncommon to see motorcyclists going around the rural roads without a helmet. Those who do may just be wearing beat-up ones loosely over their heads, obviously not offering any protection. Occasionally, I do see motorcyclists carry more than one pillion passengers with some of them going around without any helmets.

The level of compliance there may not be perfect but neither are the local authorities obsessive about getting a perfect score. Instead of just going after those without a safety headgear, the Malaysian authorities are now thinking if they should make it mandatory to stamp expiry dates on helmets.

This is triggered by a study which suggests that helmets more than five years old may no longer be safe as the materials used to make them may have already deteriorated.

In Singapore, our law does not stipulate any mandatory expiry date for helmets. However, all such safety headgears must be certified by Singapore's TUV SUD PSB testing board.

In Oct 08, a pillion rider died after her helmet broke into two in a road accident. Although the helmet apparently met safety standards, it failed to save her life. I suppose having the right headgear alone is not good enough. Wearing it correctly is important too.

I find the idea of 'expiry date' on helmet refreshing. In the name of safety, should we also start to impose expiry dates for electrical appliances, safety belts, safety boots and the like?

I am used to seeing expiry dates stamped on consumable and probably some skin care and beauty products. I need to get used to the idea that every other thing too needs to be given an expiry date.

Once I was buying a pack of traveling toothbrushes and I found it strange to see an expiry date on the package (a rather long one though). What is likely to happen to my teeth if I use them after the expiry date, I wonder.

I guess the whole issue about helmet and mandatory expiry date is about protecting lives. Sometimes, though it may sound strange, people have to be forced to take care of themselves.

Life is precious but not everyone realizes that.

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