India has been registering 1.5 lakh road accident-induced deaths annually over the last three years, with a whopping 40 % of road accidents involving two- and three-wheelers. Various consumer goods like electronics require mandatory certifications from the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS), but ironically India still does not have life-saving helmets under the ambit of the national standards body. The Indian market is largely dominated by presence of low-cost, fake certified head protection gear – startlingly, only five percent helmet manufacturers actually roll out genuine products.
Road safety continues to be a worry point for all stakeholders in the automotive industry. According to a World Health Organisation (WHO) report, only 30 % of riders and 10 % of pillion riders wear helmets in the country. There is no lack of government intent as it has been issuing instructions to all two-wheeler companies to provide helmets along with the two-wheelers they sell, and has also been religiously working on banning non-ISI marked helmets. The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) had last year issued a draft notification for the implementation of ISI 4151:2015 regulations, starting January 15, 2019 that were to replace the existing IS 4151.1993, banning fake helmets from the Indian market. Implementation of the latest ISI regulations, unfortunately, has twice witnessed three-month extensions.
One of the leading Indian helmet manufacturers, Steelbird Hi-tech India Limited, is ramping up capacity to roll out a range of high quality helmets. Auto Tech Review recently caught up with Rajeev Kapur, Managing Director, Steelbird Hi-tech India Limited, to know about the company’s plans to drive India towards a safer ride.
Steelbird had started rolling out BIS standards-compliant helmets in January 2019 with a firm resolve of zero compromise on safety. As per the new standards, helmet manufacturers need to adhere to regulations for four parts of helmets – shell, expanded polystyrene (EPS), chin straps and visor. The ISI standards also specify requirements for materials, construction, workmanship, finish (with or without lower face cover) along with the helmet performance.
The new test norms now include the front impact test under varied conditions, temperature and humidity alongside impact absorption test with additional impact points. Additionally, the new tests will stimulate the abrasion of the helmet during an accident and the effectiveness of the retention system. Another test for the retention system’s quick release mechanism has been added under the new guidelines, with an additional micro-slip test and abrasion test for the chin strap. The objective is to help the country move forward from a non-regulated market to a new era, which is governed by regulations and principle of reciprocity, said Kapur.
The new range of helmets are being designed to distribute energy generated due to the impact on the outer and inner shells, because of which the head tends to receive a fraction of energy rather than the full shock. The BIS mandates that its ISI-certified protective headgear should be capable of accelerating at 300 G’s (g-force) and not exceed 1.2 kg in weight. Steelbird has a team of 50 people spread across Italy and India that is engaged in R&D activities for developing a range of products. The company’s engineers are currently developing helmets that can withstand acceleration of up to 400 G’s, using high impact acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) thermoplastic polymer to remain intact at the time of impact and minimise the shock transferred to the head. The regulatory-driven 1.2 kg helmet gets expanded polystyrene (EPS) thermocol and polyester webbing (rather than polypropylene) inside the helmet to further reduce the shock as well as reduce weight.
Steelbird is currently using extrusion grades instead of injection grade polymers for improved stiffness and imbibe scratch-resistant properties, while developing high quality visor. The company subsequently tests helmets for 4 h each for high and low temperature variations, UV chamber test, salt spray test as well as a water dip test to maintain product robustness. Kapur said with such heavy costs involved in developing genuine products, any helmet costing less than ` 450 will be a fake one.
With as many as 213 fake helmet manufacturers rolling out ISI-marked fake helmets in the country, Kapur anticipates a huge surge in demand for quality helmets once the new regulation kicks in. Steelbird currently operates three state-of-the-art plants equipped with a combined manufacturing capacity of 22,000 helmets a day. The company is going flat out in doubling its production capacity at its Baddi plant to 44,000 helmets a day and has earmarked a phase-wise investment of ` 150 cr, while also mulling setting up a new plant in Rajasthan.
Over three percent of the country’s GDP is spent on accidents, which is a cause of concern for the government and the MoRTH is focussing a lot on safer roads for everybody. While Tamil Nadu and Kerala governments have already mandated new vehicle sales associated with BIS-certified helmets, various dealers across Maharashtra are also providing helmets with new two-wheelers. Kapur stressed that the government should resort to a GST cut in life-saving products like helmets from the current 18 % and allow input credit claim to stakeholders, as such initiatives will further speed up the adoption of genuine helmets across the country.
TEXT: Anirudh Raheja