It’s a common sight in Bengaluru. There’s the rider and the pillion rider, usually a husband and his wife. And sandwiched in the middle, there’s a little kid, enjoying the wind hitting him from all sides.
But Bengaluru has strict traffic rules that specifically ban these kinds of scenes in an effort to prevent road accidents. Just this week, a 10-year-old boy riding pillion was killed after the bike’s rider slammed into a truck at Gavipuram.
The law states that the pillion riders must be aged 12 years or above to ride on a two-wheeler, meaning that children under that age cannot legally ride alongside their parents, said Dadapeer, a surveillance technician at Bangalore’s Traffic and Transit Management Centre (TMC).
Helmets are mandatory for riders, as well as pillion riders. Triple riding has been banned by the traffic police, so a two-wheeler can legally carry only one adult with a valid driver’s licence and another as the pillion rider.
While these rules have been created to keep riders safe, they often pose a problem for lower-middle class families who cannot afford anything other than a bike or a scooter, or even a helmet for themselves or young children.
“Unfortunately, these are problems the lower classes face in India. They don’t have enough money to purchase a car for their families, so they settle for a scooter or a standard bike. Most of them we tell them to be careful, inform them about the law,” a constable at Siddapura Police Station said. “We create various awareness campaigns to help inform people about the law."
Mallika, who works as domestic help in Bengaluru, said both her husband and son travel on two-wheelers, and that her son “has a two-year-old daughter and he takes her everywhere.”
When asked whether she was aware of the rule that children under 12 years old are not allowed on two-wheelers, she said, "I am not aware of any rule. My son cannot afford a car and he takes his daughter on the two-wheeler."
When Mallika or her daughter-in-law rider pillion with their husbands, or even with her granddaughter, they don’t wear helmets. "The helmets cost Rs. 500 and we cannot afford it. Anyway, we travel only show distances so we are quite safe".
On top of the expense, finding a helmet that’s small enough to fit a child’s head is easier said than done. E-giants like Flipkart do not sell children’s helmets. Amazon does, but at exorbitant costs. Small stores around the city only carry helmets that fit adults.
“The individual not using a helmet is fined Rs 100,” Dadapeer said.
When asked if that rate was too low for two-wheeler riders to take seriously, Dadapeer stated, “The central government has passed a bill in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha to increase the fine rate and is now pending approval from the president. Once this is passed and the fine amount is higher, two-wheel riders will think twice before committing a traffic violation.”
Despite the traffic laws, authorities often turn a blind eye to families who neglect these rules, Dadapeer said. “The traffic police, on most occasions, don’t fine parents riding with a small child. They just let them off with a warning. It is wrong, but they are also in a problem. On most occasions, [the family] can’t do anything.”
The Siddapura Police Station constable noted that, “For a child above the age of 12, helmet is mandatory. If helmet is not worn by either the child or the rider, then we fine them. If the child is young, and travelling with the rider, we fine on some occasions and let them off with a warning on other occasions.”
Harman Singh Sidhu, President at Arrive Safe NGO, noted that “maintaining a blanket ban on children below the age of 12 riding pillion is wrong. At least children aged 8 and above should be allowed”.
Sidhu offered a few simple ways that would help parents keep their children safe on the road. “Lightweight, yet sturdy helmets should be designed for children, so that they are safe on the roads. I also think that some kind of a harness or belt should bind the child to the rider, so that in the case of a sudden brake or move over a pothole, the child does not lose control and fall.”
“Also, I think the rider should avoid speeding. They should ride at an average of 40 km/h so that even in case there is an accident, the low momentum and intensity of speed will not cause a casualty.”