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Police in Canberra will no longer issue traffic infringements to cyclists not wearing a helmet, but only if the cyclists belong to certain religions.

The new road safety regulations came into effect in December after pressure from religious groups claiming helmets are impractical for people whose religion requires them to wear a headdress.

The amendments to the road safety regulations only apply to people of these religious groups, and persons caught riding a bicycle or mobility device who do not fall within these religious groups will still be fined for not wearing a helmet.

Canberra now joins all other states, apart from News South Wales, with exemptions for religious cyclists. In New South Wales, those who fail to wear a helmet will be slapped with a $344 fine. In Victoria, the fine is $207, while in Queensland, $126.

During an interview with Ben Fordham on 2GB, ACT Greens Road Safety Minister, Shane Rattenbury stated that this all started when he was contacted by a member of the Sheikh community.

“We had a look around and a number of other states have a similar exemption for a person if they are a member of a religious group,” Rattenbury said. “So, it’s a very narrow and specific exemption for a specific community.”

When asked which specific religious groups apply for the exemptions, Rattenbury said the legislation was written in such a way that it wasn’t specific to any particular religion but was open to the discretion and interpretation of the law and whether the headdress makes it impossible for the helmet to be worn.

In the case of injuries sustained in accidents involving persons exempt from wearing a helmet, Rattenbury suggested the onus would be on the cyclist for making the choice not to wear head protection.

But what would these laws look like in practice? Supposing police were to attend an accident involving a motor vehicle and a cyclist. If the absence of a helmet resulted in the death of the cyclist, then the incident would move from a ticketable-offence to a chargeable, criminal-offence. The severity of injuries sustained in a motor-vehicle collision determines the severity of the criminal offence police would charge the person deemed at fault. Has the new legislation allowed for this grey-area?

Furthermore, is this a path we want to go down, where certain actions are punishable by law if the person committing those actions does not subscribe to a particular ideology? For instance, if a Sikh and a Christian were both caught riding without a helmet, only the Christian would be fined based purely on his ideological views. Will this set a precedent for further exemptions to legislation based on religious and ideological grounds?

Australia and New Zealand are currently the only two countries in the world to enforce helmet laws.


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