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Child helmets - a necessity?

Two-wheelers are the preferred mode of transportation for many Indians. They are certainly more affordable than a car. It is no wonder then that, globally, India has the highest number of registered two-wheelers and they account for nearly 75% of all vehicles registered in the country (Road Transport Year Book 2020, Ministry of Road Transport and Highways). 

The two-wheeler, which by law can carry only two people, is the family vehicle in India. If anyone on the two-wheeler is wearing a helmet, it is usually the rider. Sometimes the two adults may be wearing helmets while the children ensconced on the petrol tank or wedged between the adults are not wearing helmets.  

The Ministry’s report, Road Accidents in India 2022, ascribes nearly 30% of road crash fatalities to two-wheeler riders not wearing helmets. While helmets do not prevent crashes, they certainly reduce the risk of serious injury and death. The World Health Organization (WHO) notes that wearing a helmet correctly can reduce the risk of injuries by 42% and that of head injuries by 69%.

Children are vulnerable road users

Children fall within the category of vulnerable road users due to their limited physical, cognitive, and social development. In the unfortunate event of a road crash, children face a higher risk of sustaining severe injuries compared to adults. Since two-wheeler users are also classified as vulnerable road users, children travelling on two-wheelers are doubly at risk.

Recognising the vulnerability of children on two-wheelers, the Motor Vehicles Amendment Act, 2019 (MVAA 2019) calls for children over 4 years of age, on two-wheelers to wear helmets. This provision under MVAA 2019 is particularly pertinent given that a significant portion of our population relies on two-wheelers, often transporting two adults and a child, or even two children, making enforcement of Section 129 (which prohibits more than two people on a two-wheeler) challenging. As per standards, IS 4151 adopted by the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS), specifies that helmets should correspond to headform sizes of 500, 520, 540, 560, 570, 580, 600, and 620 mm. While there is no specific mention of sizes for children's helmets, the smaller sizes outlined in IS 4151 could potentially fit children's heads. 

In a country like India, where it is considered inevitable to find children, even babies on two wheelers, the Central Motor Vehicles (Second Amendment) Rules (CMVR 2022) calls for small children (between 9 months and 4 years) to wear a safety harness and either a crash helmet or a bicycle helmet adhering to European standards (ASTM 1447/European (CEN) BS EN 1080/BS EN 1078), until specifications are prescribed by the BIS. These are typical bicycle helmets that one can find in sports stores. It is unclear how effective these are for two-wheelers as they travel at much higher speeds than bicycles. In the event of a road crash, the impact would be much more.  Additionally, the two-wheelers transporting children under four years of age should not exceed a speed of 40 kmph. This is, perhaps, the first time in the world that such safety measures for children on two-wheelers are being brought in. In most countries, children are prohibited from being transported on a two-wheeler unless their feet can reach the passenger foot stand, with the rationale that if they are big enough for that, then they are likely to be older teenagers and therefore physically developed enough to wear a helmet as well. Under these conditions, they are treated like an adult pillion rider in terms of safety requirements. Smaller children (young teenagers or younger) are just not allowed on a two-wheeler since it is deemed there is no effective way to ensure their safety because they do not have physical and mental cognitive capacity to sit safely on a two-wheeler. Suitability of helmets for such young children is also a question mark as they may not be at a development stage where the body can support the additional weight of a helmet. 

The child helmet rules (in the CMVR 2022) came into force on February 15, 2023. The implementation and enforcement are yet to begin. This is often a common lag since practical difficulties may slow the process down. In this case, helmet manufacturers need to adapt to the new rules, citizens need to be aware of the rules and purchase the appropriate headgear for their children, etc. While the government, technical experts, helmet manufacturers, and the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) tackle this rather knotty problem, there is still the issue of citizens’ understanding and approach to child safety on two-wheelers.

Understanding parents’ perspectives

To understand the current market situation, Citizen consumer and civic Action Group (CAG) conducted a study over December 2023- January 2024 to assess the usage and availability of helmets for children in Chennai. 520 respondents, comprising parents with children aged 0 to 17 were surveyed by volunteers. Using the Intercept surveying technique, respondents were randomly selected from locations such as schools, parks, markets, and other public spaces, representing diverse income groups and socio- economic backgrounds. The survey spanned various locales in north, south, and central Chennai to ensure comprehensive coverage of the entire city. To determine the availability of helmets for children in the market, volunteers surveyed 145 helmet shops, including retail outlets and street vendors, randomly across north, south, and central Chennai.

Helmet usage is negligible

Adult compliance with helmet use is poor in India. In 2021, CAG studied helmet compliance in Chennai and found that strict enforcement results in improved compliance but if the focus on enforcement eases off, so does compliance. While citizens knew that as two-wheeler riders and pillions they were required to wear a helmet and that it enhances their safety, they still would not comply with excuses like excessive sweating, effects on their hair style, helmet cost, inconvenience, that they drive safe or the journey was  short and so on. 

So it was not surprising that their children wearing helmets (which only recently came into force as a requirement and is still not enforced) is not a priority. The current study on helmets for children found that of the 520 respondents, only 129 parents (25%) said that their children use helmets. Among these 129, 88% stated that their children possess their own helmet, while the remaining 12% mentioned that their children use adult helmets. The lack of seriousness was underscored by the fact that if the parent had more than one child, they invested only in one helmet. Of the 129 respondents (who said their child used a helmet), 86 had a second child. 72 parents said they had one helmet for both children.

Analysis based on the age groups of the respondents' children revealed the highest helmet usage to be among the age bracket of 13-17 years old (15%), while the lowest usage was observed among children aged 10 months to 4 years old (3%). Considering there is a lack of data on helmets for very young children, it is hard not to empathise with the poor usage for younger children. However, the global norm is not to allow young children on two-wheelers at all. The adult holding the child does not ensure safety in the event of a crash. What is worrying is that even within the age group where helmets are more easily available (13-17 years) only 15% of children are wearing helmets. Just like with adult compliance, this scenario needs to change.

Poor awareness

Although many respondents claimed awareness of the child helmet rule (373 respondents), around 70%, or 262 individuals, admitted to not utilising helmets for their children. The study also tried to understand what prompts parents to buy helmets for their children and what factors influence the choice of helmet. While 26% of respondents were unaware of the ISI certification for helmets, among those whose children wore helmets, 36% mentioned that ISI certification did not influence their purchasing decisions. It's imperative to note that ISI certification is mandatory for helmets in India, and wearing non-ISI-certified helmets is illegal and unsafe. Parents need to be educated about this requirement. Furthermore, the use of substandard helmets can result in breakage during crashes, rendering them ineffective. Studies indicate that head injuries are more frequent and severe among riders wearing non-standard helmets compared to those wearing standard ones.

The primary reason specified by the majority of respondents for using helmets for children was safety. Approximately 88% of respondents expressed the belief that it's necessary for children of all ages to wear helmets. However, around 73% of them admitted to not using helmets for their own children. Reasons for non-usage included difficulty finding helmets for children in shops, cost concerns, or the belief that their children were too young for helmets. Helmets for children in India are relatively affordable when compared to the cost of vehicles themselves. Parents should view investing in helmets as a long-term investment in their children's health and safety, as the burden of injuries and medical expenses far outweighs the cost of helmets. Additionally, efforts should be made by the Tamil Nadu Transport and Road Safety Commission to increase the production and availability of standard helmets for children in shops.


Graph 1: Reasons for non-usage of helmets for children

Helmet availability 

To assess if helmets for children with ISI certification are readily available, CAG surveyed helmet shops. Out of the 145 helmet shops surveyed, 70 were street vendors, and 75 were retail shops. Only 78 of these shops stocked helmets for children (for children between 9 months - 17 years), which accounts for slightly over half, approximately 54%. Among these, retail shops constituted the majority - about 71%.

The primary reasons cited for not stocking helmets for children were a lack of demand and difficulties in procurement. This cycle, where shops refrain from stocking helmets due to perceived lack of demand, while parents refrain from purchasing due to limited availability in shops, needs to be broken. Helmets for children aged 10 to 15 years old were the highest-selling category in the majority of shops. This corresponds closely with the parental survey findings, which highlighted the highest helmet usage among the age group of 13 to 17 years old.

Parents had indicated that cost was a factor in the decision to purchase helmets for children. 63% of shops reported that helmets for children were more expensive than adult helmets. 24% of shops surveyed reported that the average cost of helmets for children ranged from 800 to 1000 rupees, followed by the 500 to 800 rupees price range for 22% of the shops. However, the cost difference may vary based on factors such as brand, quality, and certification, and may contribute to the low usage of helmets by children. Families may hesitate to purchase additional helmets for their children, particularly if they have more than one child, as this would increase their expenses. Hence, it's not solely the expense of individual helmets that poses a barrier, but rather the cumulative cost of acquiring multiple helmets.

A total of 33 child helmet brands were prominently sold in the 78 shops surveyed. Popular brands included Steel bird, Vega, Active-Candy, and Saga, with prices ranging from 400 to 9000 rupees. Some brands offered helmets for children priced as high as 40,000 rupees, such as TVS, Asr, and Tru. The majority of shops indicated that the brand was the primary factor influencing parents' purchasing decisions, with an equal number also mentioning factors such as fit and price.


All shops possessed knowledge regarding ISI certification. However, among those shops which sold helmets for children, approximately 9% admitted to also stocking helmets lacking ISI certification. The Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) is tasked with ensuring that non-ISI helmets are kept out of the market. In a gazetted order issued in November 2020, the Union government mandated IS:4151 certification for helmets bearing the standard ISI marking, designating the BIS as the authority responsible for certification and enforcement.

Nearly 99% of shops sold helmets for children with international certification. A total of 32 helmet brands having international certification were available in the surveyed shops. Prominent brands with international certification included Vega, Steel bird, and Saga. Prices for these internationally certified helmets ranged from 500 to 90,000 rupees. However, it's important to note that international helmets must also possess ISI certification to be legally sold in India; otherwise, they are deemed illegal, despite some international certification tests surpassing ISI standards.

Addressing barriers and promoting safety

The government is trying to enhance the safety of small children on two-wheelers through a raft of measures. While the efficacy of these are largely untested, there is a burden on parents to prioritise the safety of their children over the convenience of using two-wheelers. Small children and babies on two-wheelers is an unsafe combination with high risks. For older children, it is incumbent on parents to ensure they are protected with properly fastened appropriate helmets, particularly because sub-standard half shell helmets sold in the market, which do not adhere to the IS 4151 certifications, might compromise children’s safety.  

The government, on its part, must be more stringent with enforcement of the law. The fear of penalties can be effective in improving compliance. In the long term, investing in and promoting public transport (along with walking and cycling) will contribute significantly to child safety. 

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