Saturday, August 25, 2018

The ISI Helmet Stories

Its a no brainer. Helmets are bloody important if you ride or are a pillion on a motorcycle period. If you think otherwise then well you are a fool.

I remember my first helmet ever. I didn't even own a bike but the promise of getting the family trusty old warhorse of a Kinetic Honda kept my teenage dreams of freedom alive. But all my friends got motorcycles way before I did. There was one RX 100 which we all learned to ride on and we all fell off many times and then there were like 5 new Suzuki Shoguns with KRP exhausts the real mad motorcycle of our youth. I remember when my friends went to but helmets for their madly fast bikes I went along and bought my first Vega - state of the art and the best you could get all for a princely sum of Rs 1200. When I eventually got my own Machismo 350 years later the Vega was in tatters so I moved to a Studds Tourismo. The Tourismo was the bees knees. I had to have the helmet ordered from the Studds showroom in Chandigarh and wait a few days for it to show up. It complemented the way the bike looked and was uber cool. I loved that helmet so much that when I need a change I got another that was identical to the last. 

As I started to ride more and more the helmets changed and got better and better. Its now twenty odd years later and I have a whole collection of helmets I am wearing at the moment. Depending on what I am riding, where I am riding and just how I am feeling at that point of the day I choose what goes on my head to keep me safe. I am not the only one in the family who is like that. Dad has a collection of helmets that makes mine seem sparse and the eight year old child has two already. 

What I am getting at is that even thought we are a little crazy in this family about Helmets its the law  to wear one when you ride a motorcycle. Obviously you cant just wear any helmet and pass it off as a motorcycle one. They have to pass some regulations and get some certifications to prove they are safe so when I buy it I know they will help keep my pea size brain and watermelon sized head safe.

Buying a helmet is a tough job there are lots of variables involved to find the right helmet for one self. The most important being safety. Now unfortunately the Indian Standard helmets are not the best I mean there are some helmets out there that look like they are made out of Papier-mâché and have the Indian Standard on it. So its safe to say I would rather invest in something for my head I know will work when I need it to like a helmet with an International Certification.

Now there seems to be some new hullabulloo about a new law being passed making non ISI (The Indian Standard) Helmets Illegal. That means Helmets like Arai, Shoei, AGV, Icon and their ilk that have DOT and ECE standard certification will soon be illegal. I am not going in to the detail of this as Shubhabrata Marmar of Overdrive has written am informative piece about it here and he has explained and said it far better that I could ever.

What I am going to do is ask all of you to help do something about it because as usual this will effect us and not the people making the rules. 
The government gave us 60 days to respond with feedback to the Helmet Quality Control Order posted on the 2nd August 2018. What we need to do is write an email to telling them how we feel. Tushar Burman has been awesome and sent a well articulated letter you can copy paste and send Abhay Damle the Joint Secretary of Transport telling him how we feel. The more the emails he receives the more chances they will hear us and do something about it. (Do what I have done and send an email from every email account in the family because it eventually effects all of us.)


Abhay Damle     
Joint Secretary (Transport), 
Ministry of Road Transport and Highways,
Transport Bhawan,
Parliament Street,
New Delhi - 110001


I write to you in regard to a recent notification, reported widely in the media (F. No. RT-11012/07/2012-MVL) bringing Protective Helmets for two wheelers rider under compulsory certification under Bureau of Indian Standards Act, 2016. I welcome this initiative. It will compel manufacturers to adhere to quality standards for helmets, and riders to buy/demand higher standards for their own safety. However, in the process, I anticipate some problems and have concerns:

1. A vast majority of ‘premium’ imported helmets ranging in cost from Rs 5000 to Rs 1,25,000 conform to international standards such as DOT, ECE, JIS, SNELL, SHARP etc. Our own IS 4151 is based on ECE 22.05, with some additions. These imported helmets do not conform to ISI 4151, and would therefore be ineligible for sale once this notification is in force, despite being made to the highest standard and used in the most demanding situations world-over. These standards have been developed over years of research and real-world experience in the spheres of motorsport as well as on the street. Such helmets are either imported privately, or sold by importers. Our own national motorsport authority -- the FMSCI -- requires the use of SNELL or ECE-rated helmets for use on the racetrack.

Requiring ISI certification for helmets already compliant with international standards will effectively reduce the choice of safe, high-quality helmets in the market. To this end, I would request you to make relevant exemptions for established international helmet safety standards (DOT, ECE, JIS, SNELL, SHARP etc), so that we in India may continue to choose helmets providing maximum safety. Such exemptions are already in place for fully-imported vehicles, which can be registered by furnishing homologation certificates from other countries. Certainly, this can be seen as a precedent.

2. Reports quoting the PTI indicate that there is a proposal to reduce the maximum weight of an IS 4151-compliant helmet from 1.5kg to 1.2kg, achieved by making relevant changes to the testing methodology. As in many types of manufacturing, achieving light weight is a demanding, expensive process. Worldwide, a standards-compliant helmet that weighs 1.2kg or less is typically made with exotic materials such as carbon fibre. These helmets are reserved for race use and are extremely expensive, putting them out of reach of the average rider.

Most top-rated, proven international helmets conforming to SNELL, ECE, JIS etc will be above 1300g. Putting an upper-limit of 1200g for IS 4151 compliance seems infeasible. Certainly, modifying long-established and respected standards simply for a lighter helmet does not seem to be beneficial. I would request that due notice of established international standards, as well as compliant helmets and their weights be taken, before this weight limit is enforced.

3. On-ground enforcement of this notification is also unclear. Thousands of safety-conscious riders in India have chosen to pay premium prices to ensure their helmets meet international standards of safety. Will these riders now be forced to buy ISI-marked helmets? Once again, reasonable exceptions for international standard helmets will achieve the greater goal of eliminating spurious helmets, as well as promoting safety among the two-wheeled population.

I appreciate your initiative in ensuring quality standards for helmets in India. For too long have we been victims of spurious materials, and low enforcement. Arguments against wearing of helmets such as lack of visibility or greater injury due to low speeds/heavy weight are deflections and easily proved false.

From what we can understand from the information available, this regulatory change will change the business dynamics of the helmet marketplace, by requiring homologation of imported helmets. This is a tiny percentage of the market, and the requirement will likely make selling internationally-acclaimed helmets unfeasible or impossible. The greatest hit will be the customer -- who will now have less choice. As it stands today, one can buy an ISI-branded helmet for as little as Rs 300 from a local manufacturer. If this proposal passes, those helmets will be legal, while the best helmets in the world costing hundreds of times more, will be verboten. It is not unreasonable to ask who exactly is being benefited here.

I request you to take cognizance of these points in your final decision.



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