The ACT Government has amended their mandatory helmet laws, providing an exemption on religious grounds to people whose religious convictions require them to have headwear.
Under the regulation, a person is not required to wear a bicycle helmet if they are a member of a religious group that requires the wearing of headdress where wearing the headdress makes it impractical to also wear a bike helmet.
The law came into effect in December after Jagdeep Singh, a member of Canberra’s Sikh community, wrote to the Minister for Road Safety, Shane Rattenbury, asking for the exemption.
“I always loved to ride bicycles and I used to live in Melbourne and I got the exemption. But when I moved to Canberra, there were no exemptions up here,” Mr Singh said.
“I wrote the email because I wear a turban and love to ride bikes but I could not fit the helmet on my head.
“I believe that many more people in my community will be able to ride bikes without the fear of getting a fine.”
Mr Rattenbury said that the law would only apply to a small part of the community and make Canberra a more inclusive city.
“It is part of ensuring that Canberra is an inclusive city and that we can make life a bit easier for one part of our community here in Canberra,” Mr Rattenbury said.
“The Territory supports individuals practising their religion or belief and this regulation ensures that sections of the community are not excluded from active forms of transport.
“This will not be a wide-applying rule. The mandatory helmet rule will still be in place for the rest of the community except for those that have a very specific religious conviction and headwear is an important part of that.”
However, the laws will not include motorbikes because of the high risk of serious injury or death, and Mr Rattenbury stressed that individuals should still be wary of their own safety.
“We have been very clear that this does not apply to motorbikes from a risk assessment point of view because of the speed a motorbike can travel. We have drawn the line at bicycles and e-bikes,” Mr Rattenbury said.
“This is an individual decision. Clearly there is research that shows that wearing a helmet does reduce trauma injuries when someone has an accident.
“I think people who do choose to ride without a helmet because of their religious convictions need to exercise their own care. I would say to them to stick to footpaths and bike paths and keep your speed down.”
The laws bring the ACT in line with other Australian jurisdictions; however, there are no plans at the moment to expand the regulation to other members of the public.
“The changes bring the ACT into line with Queensland, Victoria, Western Australia and South Australia which already have similar exemptions in place,” Mr Rattenbury said.