Ian Sanderson was involved in a nasty accident more than a decade ago.
That accident was not his fault.
Sanderson, now 88, was heading to work on his motorbike when he was hit from the back by a car at the intersection near the TEM Store in Tupapa Maraerenga.
The impact was big: he was knocked off the bike and hit a concrete pole near the Paradise Inn.
He remembers looking down on his body, as if from above, after the crash.
“While lying there after my accident I had an out-of-body experience, I was up there somewhere looking down at remains of me, which was funny,” he says.
“Everybody thought I was dead. They didn’t get an ambulance, they got a fire brigade. The fire brigade girl realised I was still alive then they got the ambulance.”
Luckily he was wearing a helmet.
“The helmet saved my life, if it wasn’t for the helmet I would have surely died. Actually it was my wife who made me get a helmet. If I had not listened to her, I wouldn’t be here today.”
Instead, all he suffered was a smashed nose and some gashes to his body which needed to be stitched. He spent about a week in the hospital.
“My nose was broken, the only major damage that was done. They asked me if I wanted to fix it up but I said it’s not affecting my breathing and I don’t look too ugly with it so they said let it go. It’s broken to this day.”
Sanderson spoke to MPs ad police about the importance of helmets – but it was only this year that the push for compulsory helmets finally got results.
Last week the Cook Islands Parliament passed the ground-breaking Transport Amendment Bill, making helmets compulsory for all motorbike drivers and passengers.
The new law also lowers the legal breath alcohol limit from 400mcg to 250mcg, and bans the use of mobile phones and earphones.
Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna told the Parliament that the road safety reforms were driven by too many tragedies.
Helmets would have saved lives in almost all of the 24 fatalities on Rarotonga roads in the past five years, he says.
The final momentum for change was the deaths of 14-year-old Mona Ioane Jr and Amit Kumar in a head-on smash this year. Neither was wearing a helmet.
“The challenge posed at the time was accepted, and the result was the bill before this house,” Henry Puna told the Parliament.
Twelve MPs voted in favour of the law change, and eight against.
Among those who voted against the helmet law were the outspoken Cabinet Minister George “Maggie” Angene and Matavera MP Vaitoti Tupa.
Angene earlier said the existing law requiring 16 to 25-year-olds to wear helmets was sufficient. “Why should we be punished for the mistakes of others? I speak for my constituency when I say we need to talk more with our people about this.”
Ian Sanderson says wearing a helmet isn’t much use on its own; it’s also important that people don’t drink and drive and speed.
“Helmet are funny things, they make people that much more vulnerable by thinking they are indestructible. Some people think ‘I got my helmet on now, nothing can kill me’ and they go reckless.”
His sentiments are echoed by Danny Mataroa, the chairman of the Cook Islands Road Safety Council. “The helmets only increases the chance of survival. The helmet doesn’t stop the stupidity and drunkenness of some people.”
He says people had the opportunity to oppose the law through their MPs; the passage of the Transport Amendment Bill confirms that most people are behind this law change.
The Prime Minister says the compulsory helmet law will not take effect for a minimum of three months from the date of passing due to the need to acquire certified helmet stock. And with the Covid-19 crisis, that could mean an extension of five to six months before it becomes law.
Ian Sanderson welcomes the compulsory helmet law but says it has taken too long, and too many more lives have been lost in the past 10 years.
“I think it has taken a hell of a long time to get this far,” he says.
“There has been a lot of accidents and deaths that have occurred after my accident. A lot of them were head injuries, because when you get smashed up, your head hits the ground first.
“I’m surprised the government has been so delayed on even contemplating a law against this.
“What I think is the problem is the grandmas and old ladies go to church with their lovely eiand so forth and they don’t want to have helmets. “But you have to put this aside and make it even for everyone in order to make the law effective.”
It’s not just reckless young men who face injury and death. It’s the old mamas and papas, too. Sanderson is the living proof of that.
If he hadn’t been wearing that helmet, he could have been the dead proof.