The government of India recently sent a circular that all motorcycle helmets used in India henceforth will have to have the ISI certification. This circular about ISI helmets sent quite an uproar in the motorcycle fraternity which for long thought that our government barely cared about motorcyclists or automotive laws. After all, we wear helmets because we fear that the usually harmless cop may be on his month end target completion prowl. However, even then he will easily let you off with a bluish smiling Gandhi paper. This fear vanishes the moment we ride past the cop, with the helmet then protecting the elbow or the motorcycle’s mirror stalks.
So, let’s talk about the new upcoming law now. It requires that all the motorcycle riding helmets made in India should weigh less than 1.2kg. This is a reduction from the earlier 1.5kg limit. Kudos to the government for taking care of us motorcyclists. These new ISI helmets will also have a breathable liner inside, air vents to improve circulation as well as clear visors. The helmets will also be available in both half as well as full face configurations. The government also clearly says that the international helmets which are sold in India will be banned. These include the helmets certified by Snell, DOT or ECE.
The last reason is why most of the serious motorcyclists in India are concerned. These folks have brought international standard helmets which cost anything above Rs 10,000, going all the way up to Rs 1 lakh. What if the cop catches them once the new rules are in place? Will they get spares for their helmets – cheek pads, visors and the like? Can the ISI helmets be trusted to save one’s head in the unfortunate event of a crash? We have got answers to most of these questions and they have been answered by the president of ISI Helmets Manufacturers Association, Rajeev Kapur. He is also the managing director of one of India’s reputed helmet companies, Steelbird.
Lijo Mathai (LM): Can you please elaborate on the ISI standards for a helmet. What all are considered while making an ISI helmet?
Rajeev Kapur (RK): There is a 100 page guideline for the new helmets which will be made under ISI standards. This is available on the BIS website.
LM: In our country, it is easy to get an ISI sticker and slap it on to a helmet. What are the counter measures being done by the government to ensure this doesn’t happen?
RK: Around 130 products manufactured in India are on mandatory list of the ISI. A manufacturer cant make even non electric appliances which are non ISI certified. Helmets are also part of the strict ISI certification. It simply doesn’t mean putting on a ISI sticker on India-made helmets. The government agencies checks samples from a freshly made helmet lot. It is not conveyed to the helmet maker which lot will be checked. It is more of a surprise check. If the sample doesn’t pass the ISI standards, then the government ensures that it doesn’t allow the manufacturer to produce helmets anymore.
A cop can look at a helmet in India and easily identify if its genuine ISI or not. They have been trained to do so. Even he will know if its a good or bad quality helmet too.
LM: Are these ISI helmets crash tested to see if they hold good in real conditions?
RK: There are certain rigidity standards which have been maintained while making these helmets. Yes they are tested. There is penetration test, visor test, impact test, retention test and more. Most of the helmet making companies and there are 150 of them approximately, have their own crash testing facility. Some big ISI helmet-certified companies outsource crash tests since they do not have one of their own. The crash test facilities include BIS, ARAI and a couple of them in Delhi and more spread across the country. One can get the helmets tested at their individual facility but the government still insists on carrying out random sample tests at its own testing centre.
LM: What happens to the helmets which have already been sold and used by riders?
RK: The government has to bring out a lot of regulations with respect to the motorcycle helmets. However, just like BS II or BS III cars are still plying on the roads even after BS IV has been introduced, the old helmets will continue. According to the Motor Vehicle Act, there is already a challan on non-ISI helmets. For example, in Mysore, they recently crushed all the non-ISI helmets. The government has authority but doesn’t use it as often as it should. There is leeway given. The government however now is very serious about helmets and is working towards it. More than 1.5 lakh people in India die every year due to not wearing proper riding gear while on a motorcycle.
Some moves in the right direction by the government include not giving petrol to riders who come sans a helmet and RTOs refusing to register a motorcycle if the rider hasn’t worn a helmet. Insurance companies have also stopped processing claims if the rider wasn’t wearing a helmet at the time of the accident. Since we are a big nation, it is not humanly possible to ensure that all the motorcycle riders wear a helmet. It will happen slowly but surely. In Uttarakhand, helmets have been made mandatory for both the rider as well as pillion. In Maharashtra too the same thing is applicable.
LM: Shouldn’t helmet less travel be made a strictly punishable offence? Right now, it still is lax
RK: While the helmet rule will be a central blanket, it is based on the state jurisdiction to implement it. Different states have different methods to tackle a scenario. So the state chief minister or even the RTOs as well as transport ministers have to come together to get this implemented. Even WHO is putting a lot of pressure on the government for the same. By 2030, we have to comply with the global standards of safety. Every few months there is a meeting of the WHO with the central government to discuss this. Helmet, seat belts, zebra crossings and even highways have all to be in place by this time. However, this is still being in discussion state.
LM: CE, DOT and Snell are highly reputed methods of rating a helmet. We understand you want the ISI standards implemented but why ban these?
RK: All the European helmets or ones using DOT as a standard can pass Indian homologation. They have to take the approval from the Indian government. When we export a helmet to China, we have to take their homologation or approval. For Europe or any other country, we have to take their particular homologation. Just having helmets built to DOT standards will not get them an entry into a country. In the USA, European standard lids cannot be sold and vice versa. It is easy to gain entry into India legally. They have to apply for homologation and it will take maximum of a month for the certification to happen.
What happens otherwise is the same thing. Put in a DOT sticker and sell sub standard helmets. Tomorrow, if the government were to allow DOT or ECE standards in India, manufacturers will just slap on these stickers since there is no way to prove these are tested or not. China will start selling a massive bulk of helmets with DOT in India then. Since the foreign helmet makers are so sure of their quality as well as standards, they needn’t worry as ISI is one more standard they got to clear.
LM: You’ve said that future helmets will weigh less than 1.2kg and have air vents. What about the visors and chin straps? The former could be scratchless clear lens and the latter could be a D-ring for enhanced protection. Are you trying to implement these as well?
RK: The 1.2kg rule is for ISI helmets sans the visor. 75 per cent of the European as well as American helmets will easily pass this test. For the rest 25 per cent, they will have to make small changes. There is a complete standard for the visors as well as chin straps which are equivalent to what Europe propagates. ISI standards is similar to the standards in Europe except for the acceleration/impact value. Europeans have the luxury of enjoying 250-300kmph while here the speeds aren’t that high.
The future ISI helmets will have nose protector, proper chin straps, padding and all. For example, Steelbird helmets which are sold to A-style in Europe all are ISI certified. Carbon fibre helmets and open face helmets will easily clear the 1.2kg test. However, the full face helmets that come with a lot of gadgets become heavier. They can reduce weight by removing the heavy things. Even Steelbird does it and its not a complex job. Blauer Helmets with whom Steelbird has partnered with will also have ISI as well as European branding on them.
LM: What has been the feedback from the general public given that they have still got around 30 days left to give their views. What needs to be changed and the like.
RK: It’s been positive. Akin to buying fake medicines, no one wants spurious helmets. If there is an objection, then that person actually doesn’t care about his or others lives. Most of the times, the pillion rider is the one who faces the consequences of a crash. He/she isn’t aware of the speeds and what hit them. Ignorance is the key word here. India is the only country in the world where helmets haven’t been made mandatory by force.
LM: Since we are talking of safety here, why are half face helmets allowed to be made?
RK: In a half face helmet, you may get injuries on your face but the head or skull is still protected. The upcoming new ISI helmet standards in India will be designed with consultation from panel doctors from AIMS. They say that the skull has to be covered. The concept of open face helmets come from Europe where they prefer wearing these for inter city rides and for the highways, they have full face ones.
Helmets right now are classified into luxury products and hence attract 18 per cent GST. But a helmet isn’t luxury and is mandatory for motorcycle riders. Hence the GST should be just 5 per cent and not more. We are lobbying towards it too.