How to ensure the safety of children on Two-Wheelers
All occupants on a two-wheeler, including children, are at a high risk of sustaining injuries in crashes.
In terms of sheer numbers, India has the highest number of youngsters in the age group of 0–15 years. This is a positive sign for our country as these youngsters will ensure a prosperous future for the country. Unfortunately, India has the highest number of child deaths in road accidents too. As of 2019, we lose more than 10000 youngsters below the age of 18 every year. That is around 30 deaths a day. And this number is increasing each year.
To address this issue, the Indian government recently drafted some additional rules for the safety of children on two-wheelers. The rules have a big impact on our country’s future as more than 70% of vehicles in India are two-wheelers and many in our country use a two-wheeler to travel with their children. If you are someone who has a young child and carries your child around on a two-wheeler, you need to know how the new rules affect the way you travel. However, the new rules themselves may not be enough to ensure the safety of children on two-wheelers. In this article, I would like to discuss the new government rules and would like to add some points on the safety of children on two-wheelers based on my experience of investigating road crashes in India.
What are the new rules for the safety of children on two-wheelers?
The Indian government amended Section 129 of the Motor Vehicle Act 2019. The following rules have been added:
- The minimum mandatory age for wearing head protection has been brought down from the age of 4 years to just 9 months. This means that every child from the age of 9 months old and above should wear a helmet.
- In addition to the helmets, a safety harness is to be used for attaching any child up to the age of 4 to the driver.
- Any motorbike that is carrying a child up to the age of 4 must travel at a maximum speed of 40 kph.
Naturally, the new rules have received a mixed reaction from two-wheeler riders across India (at least those who have come across the rule). On one side, we have those who have welcomed the rules stating that the rules will contribute to making our roads safer for our children. On the other side, some feel that the rules are a new nuisance for two-wheeler users as the rules will be exploited by the authorities.
Personally, I feel that the new rules are a positive step towards the safety of children on two-wheelers. However, the rules are not full-proof.
Before we look at the rules in detail, let us look at why the rules were made in the first place.
Why do we have rules for the safety of children on a two-wheeler?
Every person traveling on the road needs to be protected. However, two-wheeler occupants need additional attention.
When it comes to road safety, the term “Vulnerable Road Users” or VRU is associated with motorcycles, bicycles, and pedestrians. The reason why these road users are called VRU is that in the occurrence of a crash, it is always these VRUs that are more likely to get severely injured. The primary reason for this vulnerability is because pedestrians or riders on any two-wheeler are always exposed to the surroundings. If a car impacts a two-wheeler or a pedestrian the occupants in the car might sustain some injuries. But it is unlikely for the cap occupants to fall out of the vehicle. However, the same cannot be said for the two-wheeler or pedestrian. Not only are these road users likely to get seriously injured due to the impact of the car, but they can also be thrown off anywhere on the road. The two-wheeler rider or pedestrian is highly likely to hit a stone, electric poles, trees, buildings, other vehicles…literally anything that is present on the road. Since the two-wheeler is also traveling at some speed, the likelihood of getting a severe injury is increased exponentially! Now, imagine if the same two-wheeler is carrying a child…
Children, especially children up to the age of 15, are still in the phase of rapid growth. Their bones, organs, and even their brains haven’t developed fully. Any road crash injury at this age can lead to a lifetime disability, if not something worse.
Nobody wants that to happen.
That is why our country has made laws that ensure the safety of children on two-wheelers. The laws aren’t new. The original Section 129 of the Motor Vehicle Act 2019 mandated the use of head protection gear for anyone who is driving or riding or being carried on a motorcycle and is above the age of 4. But, considering that we have many riders who carry unprotected infants on two-wheelers, the government extended the law to include infants from the age of 9 months.
But, are the new rules enough?
How effective will the new rules be?
The new rules given by the government are definitely a positive step in ensuring the safety of children on two-wheelers. By reducing the age for mandatory helmet usage, the government has tried to ensure that the safety of infants is also looked at. But, I feel that each rule does have its shortcomings. Let us look at each rule in detail:
The minimum mandatory age for wearing head protection has been brought down from the age of 4 years to just 9 months.
On paper, it seems obvious that this rule will be beneficial. Children, no matter their age, need their heads protected from injuries. But there are some risks involved. The lower age limit for having children wear a helmet is set to 9 months. Anybody who has seen infants that young might have noticed that the infants have weak necks that barely hold their own heads. Now, imagine that you place a helmet on their heads. The increase in weight might make it very difficult and uncomfortable for these infants. It can lead to some neck issues down the line. A lighter helmet is advisable. My suggestion would be to get bicycle helmets that have been approved under a testing standard such as the European EN 1078 for infants and younger children.
A safety harness is to be used for attaching any child up to the age of 4 to the driver.
The image below shows what a safety harness looks like.
A safety harness can be a useful tool in ensuring that children do not fall off the vehicle.
Looks safe, doesn’t it? In the photos, you can see that the child is securely attached to the adult and safe from falling. Such safety harnesses are definitely beneficial for children who are either not able to hold on to their parents or sit in one place. The harness will also do away with the risk of the child falling accidentally due to a sudden jerk caused by going over a pothole or a sudden steering
However, what will happen if the parent also falls from the two-wheeler, as we observe in most crashes? The rider will go rolling or sliding on the ground. This can be extremely dangerous for the child since the child is likely to get crushed under the weight of the parent after the fall. This is where the safety harness might be riskier. In addition, there is no research nor standards for these safety jackets to judge their effectiveness. It’s always better to have your child wear a helmet even though you are using a harness.
A secondary point related to the harness is that the age limit for the harness is limited to the age of 4. This age limit should be increased to at least 10 years. I am not sure if a 5 or a 6-year-old child is more capable of traveling without a harness than a 4-year-old child.
Any motorbike that is carrying a child up to the age of 4 must travel at a maximum speed of 40 kph.
This is another rule that I am not completely convinced about. After reading the rule, I had two immediate questions in my mind:
- Why is the speed limit set at 40kph? Why not lower? Even a speed of 40kph can prove to be very dangerous for children in crashes that involve a head-on or side impact.
In fact in the hundreds of two-wheeler crashes that I have studied, I have seen many crashes in which even adult occupants have sustained serious or fatal injuries at speeds of even 20kph or 30kph. I feel that if the government does want to set a speed limit, the limit should be lower. However, if the government has data that indicates that a speed limit of 40kpmh is safe for children, it will help all of us make an informed decision
- Why is the speed limit set only for when the child is up to the age of 4? As we discussed earlier, children up to the age of 15 at the least are very vulnerable to both short-term and long-term injuries caused during crashes. So why should the speed limit be set only for children up to the age of 4? The age limit of 4 seems arbitrary.
Overall, I feel that the draft rules declared by the government are a bit arbitrary. My suggestion would be that the wearing of the safety harness and the speed limit of 40kmph should be implemented for children of all ages.
However, the biggest issue for the rules, just like all the road safety rules in India, is going to be the implementation. Does the government or the police force have enough manpower to check if the rules are being for followed child safety on two-wheelers? I don’t think so.
So, in this scenario the duty of keeping your child safe on the road is always going to fall on you, the parent. As I have mentioned in my article on the Stoic Approach to Road Safety, Your family’s safety is always in your hands. Based on my experience of studying hundreds of two-wheeler crashes in India, I have some additional suggestions.
Steps you can take to ensure your child’s safety on two-wheelers
Although the steps I am about to mention are to be compulsorily followed when you have a child with you on the two-wheeler, most of them even apply to adults.
- The most important step a parent can take to keep their child safe is to get their child a helmet. This is non-negotiable. The brain is the most important part of the human body. Broken bones can heal over time in children. A damaged brain will not. As I mentioned earlier, for infants it is best to stick to bicycle helmets. You can buy a dedicated child helmet for older children. Also, don’t go for the toyish helmets you get in shops. Go for a helmet that has been tested and certified.
An important point regarding helmet usage: Your child will not wear a helmet if he or she does not see you wearing it yourself. Children learn from their parents. You will have to be a good role model for your child.
- Also take extra care for the child’s legs. I have come across many instances where the child’s feet got stuck in the spoke of motorcycles leading to the crushing of the feet. Either fit a higher footrest for the child or have the child seated in such a way that the feet are away from the rear wheels. The same applies to clothes. Ensure that no cloth or string is hanging that can get stuck in the rear wheels.
- Do not drive at a high speed if you have your child with you. And by high speed, I mean that you should not ride over the speed of 30 kph. Helmets are good. But, for children, they are not enough at even moderately high speeds. Thankfully, I have seen many people in India ride at a slower speed when they have a child occupant. I hope this continues.
- Drive carefully without taking any unnecessary risk. This is something I have rarely seen people do even when they have a child with them. Many parents take risky maneuvers such as driving on the wrong side or overtaking near bigger vehicles. Stop taking such risks. Learn to ride defensively. Always remember that you are a vulnerable road user. If anything goes wrong, it is you and your family that will get injured.
- Be extra careful when passing or going along heavy vehicles such as trucks or busses. I have seen hundreds of crashes in which two-wheeler riders lose control over the vehicle after coming too close to the heavy vehicles. In most cases, it resulted in the two-wheeler occupants falling on the road and coming under the wheels of the heavy vehicle. To no fault of their own, the drivers in these vehicles are not able to see a smaller vehicle such as a two-wheeler approach them. They might hit your vehicle and they won’t even know it.
- Do not have your child in front of you, either on the petrol tank of a motorcycle or standing in the foot space of a scooty. Also, do not carry the child in your arms. This is the worst place you can keep your child. Even though there are some limitations, the safety harness suggested by the government is much safer than both the earlier options.
- Do not use the phone while riding. Self-explanatory.
- If your child is older, do not let your child ride a two-wheeler without your supervision if he or she does not have a valid license.
A final note on traveling with children on two-wheelers
All the suggestions I mentioned above will go a long way in keeping your child safe while traveling on a two-wheeler. But, to be honest I feel that children younger than 10 years should not be taken on a two-wheeler if it’s possible. My primary reason for suggesting this is because children will always be at a high risk of getting seriously injured on a two-wheeler. A helmet is useful and will limit injuries to the head. However, younger children are at risk of sustaining severe injuries to other parts of the body also.
If you have a car, always consider it to travel with your child. But taking a child in a car without a child seat is almost as risky as taking the child on a two-wheeler. Coming from a middle-class family myself, I do understand that buying a car may not be possible for most of us in India. If this is the case, use a cab or a bus if you are traveling in a city. Even an autorickshaw is safer than a two-wheeler.
If you really have no option but to take your child on a two-wheeler, make sure you are taking all precautions possible. It is your child’s safety after all! Make sure your child is always wearing a helmet. This applies to children of all ages. If your child is older, continue following the use of helmets. By doing this you will ensure that your child will wear a helmet when driving independently. Older children can also be introduced to some road safety rules that I have discussed in this article.
But, remember! all the steps that you take to keep your child safe will fail if you don’t follow these rules yourself. Children look up to their elders for guidance.
If you found my suggestions useful, please go ahead and share this article with your family and friends. We need to spread awareness if we want our children to be safe on the roads. This is how we can contribute towards road safety in India.