THE QUEENSLAND government have announced new changes to the state’s bicycle safety laws, creating an exemption to provide for members of the Sikh community that are unable to wear a helmet over their religiously-mandated turbans.
State Transport Minister Scott Emerson announced the changes today, describing the amendment to Queensland’s road rules as a “common sense approach” to the conflict between safety and religion. Emerson said that individuals would need to prove the legitimacy of their religious beliefs before being considered as a candidate for religious exemption.
Emerson said: “Let’s be very clear. Just because someone is going to come out there and claim they don’t want to wear a helmet for religious reasons, they have to do more than that, they have to demonstrate there is a real, long standing religious belief there.”
The amendment of Queensland’s road safety legislation comes after Jasdeep Atwal, a practicing Sikh, successfully challenged a $100 fine he was issued last year for not wearing a helmet. Atwal argued that it was impractical for a Sikh to wear a helmet over their turban, and as such any law requiring him to would contravene his freedom to practice his religion.
Atwal said: “The Sikh community has been working for a long, long time on this. And they’ve done a lot more work than I have.”
Practitioners of the Sikhism do not cut their hair for religious reasons, with most wrapping their hair in their turbans. According to the 2011, there are currently over 72 000 people living in Australia that identify as ‘Sikh’.
Queensland law currently requires that every cyclist must wear a helmet when using the state’s roads or bikeways unless they present a valid medical certificate. The religious exemption will come into effect at the end of the year, with Emerson emphasising the government’s continued commitment to bicycle safety.
Emerson said: “The evidence is very clear that bike helmets do make a difference. I would still say to anyone who might be trying to seek this sort of exemption to think about it long and hard because I think the evidence is very clear that bike helmets do significantly reduce brain injuries in accidents.”
Bicycle Queensland manager Ben Wilson said that his organisation supported the government’s proposed exemption despite it contradicting the group’s vocal advocacy of helmet-wearing. He said: “It seems a bit rich to have that law forced upon people, who for religious reasons, wear a headdress that makes wearing a helmet impossible.”
The minister said that the religious exemption was being implemented for purely practical reasons and that the amendment of the laws would not affect every religious faith equally. He said that, while the amendment would apply to Sikh’s wearing turbans, it would not apply to a Muslim woman wearing a full burqua due to the fact that the burqua would not prevent a helmet being worn in the same way that a turban would.