By the end of the year, if the Indian government has its way, then your expensive helmet may well save your life on a race track but it will offer scant protection from the traffic police in your city. Unless of course, it is certified with an ISI standard from the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS). While many of you will start moaning about it, not everyone would agree with you. Certainly not Rajeev Kapur, the president of the ISI Helmet Manufacturers Association (ISIHMA). We got talking to him to understand why he supports the move and thinks it’ll be great if it happens.
Fast Bikes India (FBI}: What do you think is the government’s motive behind the move?
Rajeev Kapur (RK}: “I think it’s a great initiative by the government. India has one of the highest road fatality statistics in the world. We have an unnaturally high and completely unacceptable quantum of road traffic accident related fatalities in our country. A large part of these comprise of motorcycle riders and pillions who weren’t wearing a proper helmet at the time of the crash. Additionally, a disproportionate number of fatalities and injuries happen when the rider or pillion is wearing an uncertified helmet that doesn’t offer any protection in reality. Instead they offer the rider and the pillion a false sense of being protected.
The government’s decision to ban the sale of non-ISI helmets will ensure two things. First, it will ensure that motorcycle riders will have access only to helmets that have genuine protective qualities. Second, it will effectively put a stop to all those who are selling the promise of safety with their sub-standard products.”
FBI: What exactly is the BIS standard for a helmet. Can you shed some light on that?
RK: “An ISI certified helmet is capable of withstanding an impact where the force of the impact is able to accelerate at 300g (g = acceleration caused by gravity). In fact this standard set by the BIS is higher than some of the standards set in other countries. For instance Japan uses a lower standard for certification. The DOT certification that happens in the US, is also not up to the BIS standard for 300g. In the old days the certification was based only on impact force. Now however, with modern technology at work, the certification standard is based on acceleration of the impact force. To put it simply, a helmet certified in the old days would only account for the force at which the helmet would shatter. But today, the certification also accounts for how quickly the shock of the impact will travel from the point of impact to the brain.”
“In the old days the certification was based only on impact force. Now however, with modern technology at work, the certification standard is based on acceleration of the impact force.”
FBI: How exactly does a helmet provide the protection it does?
RK: “When you buy a helmet what you see is the outer layer. But that’s not really what protects you. It’s actually the inside layer, usually made of thermocol, that provides the protection. So when an impact occurs, the sudden release of energy caused by the impact is distributed throughout the inner layer. As a result, the head actually receives only a part of the shock and not the full shock of an impact. Our ISI certified helmets are built to achieve protection for the user by distributing impact energy like this. In the case of the inexpensive non-ISI helmets being sold by the roadside, the vital inner layer is often packed with foam and sponge. As a result, in an impact the material is completely incapable of offering any protection at all. In fact, very often we have seen that it is the helmet that has shattered on impact and penetrated the rider’s head like shrapnel does.”
FBI: What about helmets that are imported into the country and offer a much higher level of protection and are already compliant with even more stringent international regulations like Snell or ECE?
RK: ”Once the ban comes into effect, all commercial importers of helmets will need to get their products homologated by the BIS and get them ISI certified. It’s not even a particularly expensive proposition and requires an expenditure of US$ 10,000 (Rs 6.5 lakh), which isn’t a huge sum of money for a commercial importer. In fact companies like THH and LS2 have already applied for the ISI certification to continue doing business in India. Besides, it’s only a fair practice that an importer should have to comply with the rules and regulations prevalent in the country. When we export our products to international markets we too have to comply with their norms and get our products certified as per the standards of the country we are exporting to.”
“Once the ban comes into effect, all commercial importers of helmets will need to get their products homologated by the BIS and get them ISI certified.”
FBI: But is it not true that Snell and ECE certified helmets offer better protection than ISI certified ones?
RK: “Those helmets are designed to offer safety at a much higher speed. Speeds that are part of regular riding conditions in those countries. In India, the average speed of travel is far far slower. So an ISI certified helmet that will protect the rider by absorbing an impact force that accelerates at upto 300g is more than enough. In any case, the government’s policy does not say that you can’t get your helmet certified. What it says is that if you wish to sell in India then your product has to meet the requirements stated by the BIS. The intent is not to ban safe helmets, the intent is to ban the sale of uncertified and unsafe helmets.”