Killing the proverbial Elephant

Every now and then, a journalist has a story dumped in his lap when he least expects it. For me, the official compulsion of a rider to use helmet is such a story.

Taking a critical look at the whole thing, the bye-law can be critiqued in two ways; either as another act of official hysteria that would soon pass away or a pursuit of permanent solution to the incessant head injury related deaths on motorbikes popularly called Okada.

Putting all these aside, and being happy for the time being, even if the bye-law will soon be thrown aside, I guess it is only proper to applaud the introduction of the compulsory usage of helmet for users of motorbikes for reasons I want to review here.

Comparison to a car, motorcycle is a very dangerous form of transportation, whether the rider thinks otherwise or not. In fact, it is believed in some quarters that it should be banned as a means of carriage, although some others think such action might be too extreme. Generally, those I spoke with canvassed the fact that government could make legislation to limit the excessiveness of Okada riders.

A particular study estimated that the number of deaths per mile arising from motorcycle accidents in 2006 was about 35 times the number involving cars. It’s quite alarming, those motorcycles deaths have been on the increase. The figure in 2007 actually doubled deaths recorded in 2006. Incidentally, as the death toll increases, so also the number of Okada purchased everyday. Now, this is beside the injuries consequent on Okada accidents like broken limbs, fractured skulls and spinal cords, to mention just a few.

Although, when the recent call for the compulsory use of helmets is considered, it is believed that the policy is justified, because commercial motorcyclists, with what have become their belligerent characteristics on roads, even as they find much pleasure in over-speeding and riding on the wrong side of the road anytime they feel the convenience of such law breaking act. All make them to be more prone to life threatening injuries or deaths from accident in their un-cased machine when compared to the relative security provided by a cased car.

Motorcycles are unenclosed, exposing riders to contact with hard road surfaces. And since deaths due to motorcycle accidents are associated with head injuries, the policy that enforces the use of helmet is then justified. It serves as principal counter-measure for reducing crash-related head injuries.

Several states government have made it the responsibility of government to foot medical bills of accident victims, it can be reasoned that by using helmet, which is designed to cushion and protect the head of a rider on impact with ground, the money expended on taking care of Okada accident victims can now be used in other meaningful ways.

Although, a 100 per cent protection from head injuries cannot be guaranteed with the use of the helmet just as safety belt doesn’t ensure the safety of a vehicle’s occupant in the event of an accident, it does reduce the incidences of injury. It is quite effective in preventing brain injuries, which often require extensive treatment and may result in life-long disability. According to a scientific finding, unhelmeted motorcyclists are three times more likely than helmeted riders to suffer traumatic brain damages.

However, despite all talks about helmets’ ability to protect your brain from scattering out of your skull, they still require certification of a federal body to okay the use of some particular ones. That is, even when the right motorcycle helmets are used, head injuries are much more likely with some helmets than with some. And this calls for urgent intervention by the Road Safety Commission.

The Okada riders in Kaduna recently protested the use of the helmets, either out of ignorance or they saw it as an opportunity to be recognized. Some, among other litanies of complaints across the nation, widely claimed that helmet obstructs rider’s vision, but studies show full-coverage helmets provide only minor restrictions in horizontal peripheral vision. It also found that wearing helmets restricts neither the ability to hear horn signals nor the likelihood of seeing a vehicle in an adjacent lane prior to initiating a lane change. To compensate for any restrictions in lateral vision, riders should increase their head rotation prior to a lane change. There are no differences in hearing thresholds under three helmet conditions: no helmet, partial coverage, and full coverage. The noise generated by a motorcycle is so loud that any reduction in hearing capability that may result from wearing a helmet, is inconsequential. Sound loud enough to be heard above the engine can be heard when wearing a helmet.

Another good thing about the use of helmet is the decline in motorcycle thefts, mainly because some potential thieves would not have helmets, and not wearing helmet would attract police notice. One thing is sure, with the introduction of the law, the rate of thefts would reduce drastically.

All said and done, one Yoruba (an ethnic tribe in southwestern Nigeria) maxim says that different knives are expected at the death of an elephant, this could be said of the different kinds of helmets now being exhibited on the roads. I think the riders should really be warned, because you would not imagine the kinds of eyesore of objects masquerading as helmets being displayed and forced on people to wear by Okada riders. These objects range from calabash type helmet, rugby football type helmet, military type helmet, space type helmet, knight-type helmet, and construction type safety helmet.

The standard should be either full-face motorcycle helmets like the X-11 and TZ-R, and open-faced motorcycle helmets, like the RJ Platinum R, St. Cruz, and J-Wing. Although any of these might set your pockets back at ten thousand naira (N10, 000.00).

There is no gain-saying that with the new law, high reduction in death rate by motorcyclist crash will be recorded, but then the different knives that are appearing at the death of this proverbial elephant should be regulated.

Written by ol’Victor Ojelabi

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