SINGAPORE: The Singapore Motor Cycle Trade Association (SMCTA) has called for a review of the local motorcycle helmet safety standard after the Government proposed increasing penalties for selling or importing non-approved helmets.
The Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill, introduced in Parliament on Monday (Apr 5), seeks to raise the maximum fine for that offence to S$1,000 for first-time offenders and S$2,000 for repeat offenders.
Under the current law, first-time offenders could be jailed for up to three months and/or fined up to S$500. Repeat offenders could be jailed for up to six months and/or fined up to S$1,000.
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Motorcyclists and dealers told CNA that non-approved helmets are widely worn and sold in Singapore, as these helmets are of established brands that already comply with international safety standards.
This includes helmets from brands like Arai, AGV and Shoei that might not necessarily be locally certified and can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars.
Dealers continue to import these helmets without sending them for local testing to save costs and to meet demand by riders who continue to buy them for their exclusive nature, striking looks or perceived high standards of safety.
Nevertheless, the stakeholders recognised the need for a local safety standard to tackle counterfeit products and potentially unsafe helmets that can be easily bought online.
However, they urged authorities to review the local standards and perhaps align them with international standards to prevent duplicate testing.
SMCTA, which represents more than 170 motorcycle dealers and workshops, told CNA that it was “surprised and taken aback” by the proposed raise in penalties.
“Indeed we feel this (the local standard) is something that needs to be reviewed,” a spokesperson said.
“Helmets that meet international standards such as ECE should be accepted in Singapore as they have test requirements that supersede PSB's tests and standards.”
DIFFERENT SAFETY STANDARDS
ECE refers to the Economic Commission for Europe safety standard, which is used by more than 50 countries in Europe and recognised by international racing bodies.
PSB refers to Singapore’s Productivity and Standards Board, now renamed as SPRING (Standards, Productivity and Innovation Board) Singapore. It is based on the Singapore Standard 9 : 2014, which lists specifications for motorcyclists’ protective helmets.
Other world safety standards for helmets include the US Department of Transportation (DOT) and SNELL standards.
But according to motorbike websites, it is hard to say which standard is the best, as the tests are administered differently and according to local conditions.
“We are disappointed that destructive testing is still required (in Singapore) despite the helmets already being tested by manufacturers and certified to several other international standards,” the SMCTA spokesperson said.
SINGAPORE’S HELMET SAFETY TEST
Singapore’s test is conducted by the German testing, inspection and certification firm TUV SUD. It involves one drop test on the front, back and side of the helmet, a penetration test using a sharp object falling on the helmet, and a chin strap test using a weight pulling on the strap.
These tests are conducted in batches, meaning dealers put about 1 to 4 per cent of each batch of helmets they import through this test.
Helmets that pass the test will be affixed with a sticker showing a blue tick and the words “batch inspected”. This is the only indicator that the helmet is approved for sale or use in Singapore.
According to the SMCTA, the price of testing open face helmets is S$1,283 for a minimum of four pieces, with the next five pieces costing S$194 each. There is also an additional stamping fee of S$110.
HELMET DEALER DETERRED
A helmet dealer who declined to be named told CNA that he does not send his helmets for local testing to save costs, especially as he only imports a small number each time.
He sells ECE-certified Biltwell and Felix helmets online and in a shop located in the southern part of Singapore.
But with the proposed increase in penalties, he said he will “most probably” stop importing these helmets as his small business cannot risk being hit with the heftier fines.
“There is no point going against the law,” the 38-year-old said.
The dealer said he understands the need for a local safety standard due to the cheap and sometimes counterfeit helmets made in China that “flood the market now”.
“I think these are the types of helmets the Government should look into, more than established Japanese brands like Arai or Shoei that meet international safety standards,” he said.
Nevertheless, the dealer said there is continued demand for non-approved helmets in Singapore, highlighting that riders are looking for something more sturdy than the approved helmets usually given as free gifts when buying a brand new motorcycle.
“These non-approved helmets meet the standard that even MotoGP racers are using as they travel 200km/h to 300km/h,” he said.
RIDER FEELS SAFER WITH NON-APPROVED HELMET
One motorcyclist who only wanted to be known as Andy told CNA that he has used either an Arai or Shoei non-approved helmet for the past five years. He has also used other non-approved helmets since he started riding in 1996.
“These helmets are of better fit, internationally certified, as well as being of a nice colour and design,” said the businessman who is in his 40s.
Andy said he is confident that his current helmets are safe as they meet both the SNELL and ECE standards, noting that he has had his fair share of accidents on the roads and the track.
“I was wearing a Singapore-approved helmet that cost S$90, and during one particular slow fall, the visor shattered and sent a shard through my eyelid. It almost blinded me in the eye,” he said.
“My Japanese makes never did so despite several high-speed spills in Pasir Gudang in the 2000s.”
When asked if he was afraid of getting caught for wearing a non-approved helmet, Andy said he has always understood that he could be fined S$50.
“I was never fined for it, although I was slapped with one for the helmet’s tinted visor,” he said. “The enforcement officer would recognise my helmet brand, remind me to have one with a sticker, and wave me off.”
Despite that, the most recent amendments to the Road Traffic Act in 2019 also has increased penalties for riders who get caught for wearing unapproved helmets.
Those who wear unapproved helmets could be jailed up to three months, fined up to S$1,000, or both. The previous maximum fine was S$200.
The SMCTA spokesperson advised riders to comply with local laws and choose helmets that meet requirements.
“Unapproved helmets may be unsafe, and although there are helmets which are extremely safe that may not have been certified locally, you would run the risk of running afoul of the law,” the spokesperson said.
REVIEW OF LOCAL STANDARD NEEDED?
Like the association, Andy said he feels the local standards should be reviewed to be more aligned with international standards.
“Helmets certified to several international standards are approved for competition events worldwide, and are chosen by nearly every professional motorcycle racer,” he said, adding that these standards are updated “almost regularly”.
The helmet dealer CNA spoke to said authorities should implement model testing instead of batch testing to reduce costs. This removes the need to test the same model of previously approved helmets from different batches, he said.
An alternative would be to introduce a standards conversion scheme that allows importers to apply for a renewable waiver for helmets that already meet certain international standards, he suggested.
“The Government should look into different aspects of (international standards) and not just the local safety standard,” he added.
Additional reporting by Liang Lei