Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Ok... as a 'biker' (ie: someone who loves motorbikes) of nearly 40 years, I freely admit that when the government in England made wearing helmets compulsory in England, I was up there with the rest of them screaming 'Education NOT legislation'... but... over the years (maybe it IS a case of 'getting older') my attitude has changed... and, since coming to Thailand, and particularly since starting to work with Samui Rescue, I now firmly believe that anyone who doesn't wear a helmet when riding a motorbike is foolish and is taking a huge risk with their lives!
Yeah... I KNOW that this kind of statement - in a kind of way - supports the 'nanny state/interference/personal choice' thing, but I really don't give a monkey's doo-daah about that. I am NOT a fan of the nanny-state principles, and I do believe that too many governments infringe on people's freedom of choice, but I also believe that - sometimes - laws are absolutely required to compel certain behaviour patterns etc... and the wearing of helmets is, I believe, one of those times!
Let me try to explain why...
... about a month ago, at 2 am in the morning, we (my son and I) were called out to an accident on the main road, only a kilometre or so from where we live, in front of a well known resort.
We arrived there within 2 minutes of the call - about 4 minutes after the accident. There was a 'felang' (non-thai)lying face-down on the road, and, nearby, 2 motorbikes that had obviously been involved in a collision. As we grabbed the medical bag and oxygen from the car and ran over to the scene I was looking for the 'second' injured person... the rider of the other bike. There were a couple of people sitting on the edge of the pavement... one of them a ketoy (Lady-boy), and looking closer I saw that he/she was crying and had some superficial grazes.
My son went over to check-out the ketoy, and I went over to the unconscious felang. He had some superficial grazes on his arms and face, and nothing obviously broken... but he had a serious head-injury, with blood coming out of both ears, nose, and mouth. He was breathing - just - but totally unresponsive, and with massively dilated pupils... didn't look good for him at all.
I got an airway into him, the oxygen mask on, and was just in the process of covering-up the head wound when the Samui Rescue ambulance arrived. The unfortunate chap was put on a board and taken to hospital by the ambulance (driven by 'Rescue 29').
I heard he later died... essentially due to the massive head trauma he received when his head hit the ground.
The ketoy was treated 'on-site', didn't feel she needed hospital treatment, picked up her motorbike, and went home.
It appears that there was a relatively low-speed collision between the 2 bikes... one ridden by the ketoy, the other by the felang (an Englishman as it turns out). The ketoy was wearing a helmet... the English guy wasn't. The ketoy went home with superficial grazes, the Englishman went to hospital and later died. (My sincerest condolences to his family and friends... I never get immune to the tragedy that surrounds an incident like this).
A couple of months ago I went to the scene of a fatal accident in Choeng mon... essentially in my capacity as 'recorder/photographer' for Samui Rescue. There was nothing to do in a medical sense.
When I got there, the police were just finishing up their official duties... recording the scene, interviewing witnesses etc. The body of a Thai man in his 50's was still where it fell after the motorbike he was riding was struck a glancing blow by another bike. The dead man's son was standing by his father's body holding incense and a small posy of flowers... tears rolling down his cheeks. He wore the same security-guard shirt as his father. (See the last photo above).
The other motorbike was doing approx 20 kph when it hit the older man's bike (which was only just moving... maybe 5 kph?)
The young boy had a nasty case of 'road-rash' on his arms and back... treated 'on-scene', but went to hospital for a check-up. He was wearing a (very cheap, plastic) helmet.
The older man died instantly when his head hit the ground with enough force to break-open his skull... he wasn't wearing a helmet.
I have been to similar scenes at least 20 times over the last year or so... and I am just talking about accidents/incidents where people have died purely as a result of NOT wearing a helmet! I have been to numerous others where a helmet would have made little or no difference to the outcome.
When you get this close to the tragedy... so close you almost feel it personally - and realise that many people would still be alive if only they had worn a helmet.
And then there are the sad cases of those people left alive, but brain-damaged in various ways... so sad, so tragic, and so unnecessary. At the risk of sounding 'twee', I wonder (if they could have their time again) if they would opt to wear a helmet? I am sure they would.
So... what about personal 'choice'? What about personal 'freedom'?
Well, when your personal 'choice' involves and/or affects other people (family, friends, rescue/medical workers, police, the unfortunate people who witness your accident/death, other people's tax monies that pay for all the officials involved, etc) then I think that it is time to legislate.
Here on Samui there actually IS a law that says the 'driver' of a motorbike must wear a helmet. It says nothing about passengers, or how many people you can have on a bike (I have personally seen 3 adults and 3 kids... ALL on one bike!)... and the helmet law is only sporadically enforced anyway... so... it boils down to individuals making their own decision... and many choose NOT to wear one... and, sadly, many die because of that choice.
Samui is a crazy place to ride/drive at the best of times... and sometimes it could appear to an outsider that there actually aren't ANY traffic rules! It is, simply, incredibly dangerous here, so is it worth dying just for a matter of principle... I suppose it depends on just how important that principle is. Yes... there are some principles that could well be worth sacrificing your life for... but for wearing a f**king crash helmet?
Sorry for the rant here... it's the family and friends that are left behind that I feel for.
Hey ho... such is life/death on Koh Samui.
The photos above are shots of some of the 'head injury' accidents that I have had to record.