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Ajay Canu v. Union of India (UOI) and Ors. - (Supreme Court) (29 Aug 1988)

Blame your hair fall on the helmet


Motor Vehicles

Given that India has some of the most unsafe roads in the world, it is indeed ironic that the struggle to coerce road users into adopting safety devices has been just that - a struggle.

Unconstitutionality, a curb on freedom of expression and unnecessary government meddling are just some of the barbs hurled at attempts to improve the survivability in two-wheeler accidents. Yet, the institutions have trouped to mandate helmet-wearing when riding a two-wheeled motor vehicle on public roads.

Especially after the 1977 amendment to the Motor Vehicles Act 1939, which ushered in the requirement of wearing protective headgear, courts were generally inundated - relatively speaking, of course - by an angered public being asked to cover up their noggin.

In this 1988 case, challenge was to newly instated Rule 498A in the Andhra Pradesh Motor Vehicle Rules, 1964 which prohibited driving of motorcycles and scooters in public places without a helmet. The petitioner, a student, claimed the Rule to violative of his fundamental rights under Articles 19 and 21 of the Constitution. He adduced an affidavit from a doctor stating that “continuous wearing of helmet can raise the pressure leading to irritation, confusion, headaches, giddiness, falling of hair”.

The court quashed challenge to the validity of the government notification, holding that States were empowered to institute rules to prevent danger and injury for road users.

Claims prefaced on constitutionality were also dismissed, with Justice Dutt observing “[a helmet] helps the driver of a two-wheeler vehicle to drive the vehicle in exercise of his freedom of movement without being subjected to a constant apprehension of a fatal head injury, if any accident takes place. We do not think that there is any fundamental right against any act aimed at doing some public good.” As for neuro-surgeon reports denouncing the “side-effects” of helmet-donning? The court simply brushed them off its visor.

Relevant : Om Prakash and Ors. vs. Union of India (UOI) and Ors. MANU/SC/0431/1970


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