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A trivial response to curb crime

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A trivial response to curb crime (Pic by Chandana Wijesinge)

Banning full face helmets

The focus of the Police has once again turned on full face helmets which became a contentious issue last year with many criminals donning such helmets in a bid to conceal their identity. While the Police were determined to implement the law prohibiting such helmets, this decision was, however, met with much opposition from many parties.

According to Police Spokesperson SSP Ajith Rohana, however, implementing the law has now become the need of the hour due to the sudden rise in crimes committed by criminals wearing such helmets. As of January 1, five robberies have taken place with the helmeted suspects being able to get away with millions in cash and other valuables. In the most recent case, two brazen criminals entered a bank in Bokundra on Monday wearing helmets and made away with one million rupees in broad daylight.

Legality
The Motor Traffic (Amendment) Act (No. 21 of 1981) Section 70 (2) (2) states that every person who drives or is carried on a motorcycle shall wear securely on his head a protective helmet of a type approved by the Minister. Thereby in 1991, the Minister of Transport and Highways through a special gazette notification specified that individuals cannot wear a helmet which covers his face which conceals his identity. Under the said law, visors of any helmet also cannot be tinted making it difficult to identify the rider or the pillion rider.

While this is the current law to date, it is not unusual to see tinted and full face helmets being commonly used with years passing without the Police making a move to crack down on such riders. It is also questionable how such sellers of such helmets were able to import full faced helmets to the country when the law has clearly ruled them off as being illegal. Many sellers that were approached were either reluctant  to or could not answer this question.

However, while the legality of the matter is clear, the Police since last year have struggled to implement it and SSP Rohana puts it down to the false propaganda created by certain individuals and even some media outlets. “They accused us of helping helmet importers and their interests when we tried to implement the law,” he said adding that others claimed they do not have the means to purchase a new helmet within the set criteria.

Visiting a few shops in Maradana that sold headgear, however, The Nation noted that full face covered helmets are generally more expensive than face open helmets. While a full face helmet could cost 3,000 rupees and above, face open helmets could be purchased for even 1,500 rupees perhaps invalidating the claim of not being able to afford a new helmet to suit the law.

However, perhaps as an effect of the said law and it cropping up time to time sellers in Maradana confirmed that now majority tend to opt for face open helmets and are their best sellers than full face helmets.

Matter of safety
However, to many riders of the non-criminal kind a full face helmet is a matter of safety rather than money. Speaking to The Nation two riders Nuwan Sri and R. Dhammika said they have chosen the full face helmet due to their concerns of safety. “If I fall face down, this helmet will minimize the damage to my jaws and face,” said Nuwan Sri adding that he along with Dhammika opposes any law prohibiting riders wearing helmets that cover their faces. According to him, the Police are unable to stop these robberies and therefore trying to implement such laws while sacrificing the safety of other riders.

According to SSP Rohana, however, safety is not an issue as the Police has analyzed accidents in Sri Lanka. He claims that open face helmets are just as safe and will protect a rider in the same manner.

But according to a research done by Department of Surgery, Sinai Hospital, Baltimore, USA to evaluate the efficacy of helmet types it was found that victims of motorcycle crashes who are wearing full face helmets have a significant reduction in facial and skull fractures when compared with those wearing open helmets thereby making the concerns of many informed riders in Sri Lanka valid and understandable.

Heightened security
Chairman of Black Hawk Security Syndicates, Major Dissanayake is of the opinion that banning of full face helmets can be beneficial to ensure security and ensure protection from robbers but however according to him, buildings and companies can themselves improve their facilities to heighten their security. According to Major Dissanayake, first a counter should be in place in the parking lot where riders will be required to remove their helmets and jackets before entering the business premises. He then suggests while two doors should be in place, the second must be one that cannot be forced open, ideally made of metal that can be locked in an instant. “The trouble today is society thinks more about the beauty of a place rather than security,” adding that therefore many institutions are not enthusiastic about a second entrance made of clunky metal while opting for the more aesthetically pleasing glass doors which robbers always manage to shoot and force entry through.

Today, due to tight economies many companies work on a skeletal staff. “Sadly, when it is time for cost-cutting many places start with the security which is actually the most important aspect to any individual or company,” said Major Dissanayake. According to him, increasing the number and quality of the security officers provided along with enhancing security facilities in premises can easily stop such robberies from occurring by discouraging robbers. “There should be an armed officer at all times monitoring CCTV footage of the building entrance and inside,” he said adding that this is one way to step up security as well as prevent an incident before it occurs through constant vigilance.

According to many security firms, despite the Police asking financial institutions to retain armed guards there appears to be reluctance in the matter. Many were of the opinion that companies prefer claiming the stolen cash from their insurance rather than risk the lives of their customers in case of a shoot out.

Clearly there are many other alternatives to curb robberies than by simply banning full face helmets. In France, while it is legal to wear full face helmets while riding, those wearing it in public places, when not riding, can be stopped by the Police and heavily fined. This is perhaps a more suitable law for Sri Lanka and is a much needed introduction than risking the lives of riders by banning it altogether. Or like Major Dissanayake suggested companies themselves need to understand the importance of security and enhance their security measures. Speaking to him one realizes there are those in Sri Lanka who has the expertise to assist and ensure better security in our society.

Police too can improve on their response time as though said average time of response is five minutes, it is clear from many incidents that even in Colombo suburbs they take a much longer time to respond and react. According to Major Dissanayake, this can be rectified by having an emergency response unit solely for that purpose in every police station.

The Police claim they are taking many other steps to prevent such robberies from occurring other than simply focusing on the ban of full face helmets. Perhaps rightly so as concentrating on the big picture banning a helmet is clearly the most trivial step to take towards better security and safety.

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(File Photo)

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