While NSW Sikhs have pleaded to ride motorcycles on streets posted up to 60km/h while wearing a turban instead of a helmet, another Canadian province has allowed the exemption.
On April 12, Canada’s Alberta Province joins Manitoba and British Columbia in allowing an exemption for Sikhs to ride with a turban rather than a helmet.
Sikhs are also exempt from helmet laws in India and the UK on religious and civil rights grounds, while only 19 states in the USA have mandatory helmet laws, anyway.
Alberta Transportation Minister Brian Mason says the exemption only applies to Sikhs over 18 and he believes the number of riders who will choose a turban over a helmet would be very small.
“So we decided on the balance that this was the right thing to do,” he says.
The Sikh Motorcycle Club of Edmonton has been lobbying for the exemption for over 30 years.
Spokesman Gurpeet Pandher described the exemption as a “milestone”.
“This change will bring some new opportunities / businesses to bike repair shops / after market accessories shops and Motorcycle Dealerships etc,” he wrote on Facebook.
Meanwhile, the Central Coast of NSW Sikhs last year campaigned to Coffs Coast Council for the right to not wear helmets on city streets signposted up to 60km/h.
However, council communications officer Jan Rooney says she can find no record of Council having been contacted by Central Coast of NSW Sikhs in relation to the matter.
“They may have contacted a councillor directly,” she says. “Council has no authority to alter road rules.”
The matter would have to be decided by the NSW Centre for Road Safety.
However, a Transport NSW spokesperson says the CRS has “still not received any submissions seeking an exemption from the requirement to wear a helmet when riding a motorcycle”.
CRS executive director Bernard Carlos says protection is important for riders.
“A helmet could be the difference between life and death in a crash,” he says.
“People who ride a bicycle or motorcycle are vulnerable in a crash as the unprotected body can only tolerate so much force.
“There is overwhelming evidence that wearing an approved motorcycle helmet reduces the risk of death and serious injury.”
The Central Coast of NSW Sikhs did not reply to a request for comment.
However, the Sikh Motorcycle Club of Australia told us last year that it is a discriminatory law and agree that Sikhs should be exempted from wearing helmet at low speeds.
Founding member Daljeet Singh told us that while initiated male and female Sikhs must cover their hair with a turban, Sikh Motorcycle Club members wear a bandana-style scarf underneath their helmets.
“We were actually fined riding out of a temple celebration with turbans on instead of our helmets,” he told us.
“But that’s not the reason why we started wearing helmets. It’s how we feel. We respect wearing the turban, but because the law doesn’t allow it we wear a little scarf underneath the helmet.”
American helmet laws
There is no exemption for Sikhs in the USA, but there are only 19 states that require all riders to wear helmets, anyway.
US helmet laws were introduced in 1966 when the feds withheld 10% of states highway construction funds unless they introduced certain safety regulations, including helmet laws.
Within a decade, 47 states had complied.
But in 1975, Congress amended the Highway Safety Act to prevent the use of federal highway funding as leverage against states.
Despite evidence of helmets protecting riders form death and severe head injury, 28 states have repealed their helmet laws with more set to follow. Nebraska recently started debating repeal legislation.
However, most states without mandatory helmet laws do require riders without helmets to have a certain amount of health insurance and have appropriate eyewear, while riders under 21 are not exempt from wearing helmets.