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Sikh community demands bicycle helmet exemption

Representatives from the Sikh community with MP Melinda Pavey, the Minister for Roads and MP Geoffrey Lee Source: Supplied by Jugandeep Singh

NSW’s turban wearing Sikhs are hoping to get an exemption from wearing helmets while riding bicycles.

The law in NSW requires all cyclists to wear a helmet which makes it difficult for Sikhs who wear turbans to ride a bike in accordance with the law.

Representatives from the Sikh community have conveyed their demand for an exemption to the NSW Minister for Roads, Maritime and Freight.

Jugandeep Singh, one of those who met the minister, tells SBS Punjabi that he is optimistic of a favourable outcome.

"We are aware that the other state authorities have allowed turban wearing Sikhs to be exempt from wearing a helmet and we want something similar in NSW,” said Mr Singh.

"We went to NSW Parliament to see the Hon' Melinda Pavey, the Minister for Roads, Maritime and Freight to share the concerns of turban wearing Sikhs in NSW."

“We are very thankful to the minister who has accepted our application for further discussions.”

"Hon' Geoffrey Lee MP from Parramatta has also been very kind to consider this issue on a priority basis.”

As per mandatory rules for bicycles riding in NSW, a helmet is a must. However Sikhs who wear turbans can’t do so as it’s not possible to wear a helmet over a turban, says Mr Singh.

"We understand that helmets play an integral role in bicycle rider’s safety. But I must mention that during World War I and World War II Sikh soldiers fought without helmets. All we want is an exemption based on our religious beliefs."

The turban is an integral part of Sikh identity,  says Mr Singh.

"We have a spiritual connection with turban. It’s an inseparable part of Sikhs. It’s a symbol of self-respect, spirituality and integrity."

"When it comes to safety, the suburban streets are not that dangerous. Most of the times the bicycles are driven on the footpath."

“We have cases where Sikh students want to use bicycles late nights while travelling from railway station back home. They’re stuck as there’s limited connectivity of buses at late night."

“We have people from Sikh faith who want to use bicycles to go to the Sikh temple (Gurdwara). There are a lot of old retired or semi-retired people who can’t drive and there are no buses so it’s easier for them to ride a bike to temple."

"We are not asking for something totally out of context. The states including Queensland, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia already have bicycle helmet exemption laws. If other states can have these exemptions then why can’t we have it in NSW?”

In 2013, Sydney-based Australian Sikh Association launched a campaign to get helmet exemption for Sikhs to be able to ride bicycles.

At that time, the Sikh community representatives presented a petition of over 400 signatures to Blacktown Council asking for an exemption to the law.

Jugandeep Singh says the issue was previously raised by the Sikh community in 2013 and 2014. But he is not aware of the outcomes of earlier representations.

"Everyone from the community wants to see this happen. We have for years been requesting every politician who visits the Sikh temple for this change, but the issue is far from over,” says Mr Singh.

When contacted for, the TfNSW spokesperson told SBS Punjabi that a request seeking an exemption is reviewed.

“Cyclists are some of our most vulnerable road users – they come off second best in a crash because they aren’t as protected. Bicycle helmets are the only protection that cyclists have in the event of a crash or fall and have been proven to be very effective in preventing brain injury.”

“Representatives from the Centre for Road Safety have met with members of the Sikh community in recent years to discuss their submissions seeking an exemption from the requirement to wear a helmet while riding a bicycle in NSW.”

“The Minister for Roads, Maritime and Freight, Melinda Pavey also met with the communities’ representatives and is reviewing their request," the TfNSW spokesperson told SBS Punjabi. 

If you have information on this story, please contact Preetinder Singh Grewal Preetinder.Singh@sbs.com.au

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