Helmet Laws Discriminate Sikh Man
Last week, I was retained to advise Jasdeep Atwal who is of the Sikh religion and wears a turban. He is fighting for his right to not have to wear a bicycle helmet. For him, wearing a turban is an integral part of his religous expression. His actions do not pose a risk to any other person. Jas receievd a fine from police for not weariung a helmet and has taken the fine to court. See this ABC article .
The problem for Jas is that Queensland Traffic Laws require the wearing of a helmet with the only exception being medical grounds where a certificate from a dcotor is obtained. There is no defence of ‘reasonable excuse’. In my opinion, this law should be changed without delay.
Jas’ right to freedom of religious expression conflicts with the State traffic law. As a result, he is being discriminated against. I’m not suggetsing it is deliberate discrimination by police but rather, the practical effect of the law. The Commonwealth Racial Discirmination Act (at s10) states that, in effect, a law of a State or the Commonwealth must not result in a person of a particular race not enjoying a right to the same extent as others. This is what has occurred here for Jas.
Our constitution protects our right to any religion. Our consituttion also says (at s109) that where a State law (here, the traffic law requirring a helmet) conflicts with the Commonwealth Law (here, the Racial Discrimination Act requiring equality of rights), the Commonwelath Law must prevail.
Australia is one of the few countries in the world that requires people to always wear a helmet. We accept this too readily without questioning why???? For a few months in 2012, I lived in The Netherlands and happily rode a bike to work (without a helmet) every day. In The Netherlands, like most countries in Europe, very few people wear a helmet. It is a personal choice.
There are many groups within Australia campaigning for change on this issue. Check out the organisation “Helmet Freedom“. It is a diverse group including highly repsected doctors who assert that wearing a helmet can in fact be more dangerous. Their efforts for change should be acknoweldged. This is a case worth following…