One Helmet, Motorcycle Passengers in Bangladesh

IMG_20131003_142135In the United States, my favorite way to get around is by motorcycle. I cut through southern California traffic and get to my destination easily. I take the precaution of wearing denim pants, ankle-protecting shoes, a padded jacket, riding gloves, and most importantly a certified helmet. My passenger always has their own gear for riding as well. We cruise knowing we took the right measures to eliminate the risk of injury.

Of course, comparing transportation in the U.S. to Bangladesh is like comparing apple to oranges—but in Bangladesh accidents and fatalities occur on a daily basis.

Statistics report that Bangladesh has the deadliest roads and highways in the world. Hit the streets anywhere and you will see the obvious. Bangladesh is notorious for its irrational drivers who weave in and out, accelerate and brake unexpectedly. Cars, buses, trucks, rickshaws, bicycles, motorcycles, and anything else that’s on wheels share the roads. All this chaos occurs with very little enforcement at all. It is no shock that accidents claim over 12,000 lives annually and cause more than 35,000 injuries.

I remember one day sitting in the backseat of a car in Dhaka watching a family of four stacked on a motorcycle wiz by. It is a spectacle when multiple people cram on to a 150 cc two-wheeled machine. It’s like watching trained acrobats. It’s even more eventful when they are carrying luggage with them.

You have a dad at the controls, baby number 1 on the gas tank, wife behind the husband, sitting sideways (this is the modest way for a woman to sit in Bangladesh), and another child dangling on the back. This arrangement is not what shocks me though; it is the fact that the only one wearing the safety helmet is the dad who is piloting the motorcycle.

This man has his whole family hanging from the motorcycle as he cuts off other vehicles in an aggressive race against time without strapping a helmet on anyone else but himself.

I asked my father why men neglect to put helmets on their passengers, especially family members. His answer was sarcastic, but does it hold true? He said, “The man wears a helmet because if he loses his wife or children he can replace them.” I laughed hysterically, but then it started to subside as I realized that, this man has forfeited spending a little bit extra money to keep his family just that much safer.

According to Bangladesh’s national legislation, there is a motorcycle helmet law that applies to all riders. On a scale of 0 -10 this law is enforced at 3, which might as well be 0, as even law enforcement officers do not use helmets. Even if you are wearing a helmet, who is to say that it will do its intended job since there are no mandated helmet standards.

My ride in the United States, a Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6r.

If I had one helmet and my significant other climbed on the back of my motorcycle, I would definitely protect their cranium. Their life is important to me. If I had children I assume that their lives would be more important than mine. If the motorcycle is my primary mode of transportation for my household I think an investment in helmets for all is a wise one. I cannot see any justified reason not to take those considerations for my passengers. What I see are acts of pure selfishness on the streets of Dhaka.

3 Replies to “One Helmet, Motorcycle Passengers in Bangladesh”

  1. You have so vividly described an experience that still amazes me – the site of entire families balanced on little motorbikes in Viet Nam. I hope your entry will inspire even one man to spend a little extra to protect his family.

    1. Thank you so much for the kind words. I know the dangers of riding motorcycles in California from having my own accident, witnessing friends have horrible accidents, and even dying. I hope globally more people value life, especially their significant others and children.

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