New California Helmet Law for 2024
Religious discrimination is real, and it can happen in places you might not expect. In fact, religious discrimination can even occur unintentionally through laws passed to increase Traffic Safety. At least, that is the argument made by California’s Sikh population, a group who has struggled to follow the law while honoring their faith and customs.
Wearing a motorcycle helmet affects the observant Sikh male population, who are required to wear a turban to cover their hair. For many Sikh motorcyclists, this makes it impossible to wear a helmet while riding, which is a violation of California motorcycle helmet laws.
A new proposed law that has already passed the California Senate could change the motorcycle helmet for observant Sikhs in this state.
What Does the Turban Signify – Understanding the Issue At Hand
The turban holds significance for the Sikh community. For practicing Sikhs, the turban is more than a religious symbol; it is a mandatory article of faith. It serves the practical purpose of covering and keeping in place their uncut hair, another tenet of the Sikh faith. Removing the turban is inconceivable for observant Sikhs, as it is deeply intertwined with their religious and personal identity.
The turban is carefully tied every day and worn at all times, both indoors and outdoors. Sikhs choose turbans of different styles, sizes, and fabrics based on personal preference, further expressing their individuality and cultural heritage. Forcing a Sikh to remove their turban is seen as a significant humiliation, akin to a strip search, as it is an integral part of their identity and beliefs.
What The New Law Proposes
Stated as simply as possible, this new law seeks to recognize and adhere to the faith principles of the Sikh community. The text of this bill would amend the current California vehicle code that requires helmets for every motorcyclist, as well as those for motor-driven cycles and motorized bicycles. If the bill is passed as written, members of the Sikh faith would have an exception to the helmet rules in the state.
The current California Vehicle Code Section 27803 states, “a driver and any passenger shall wear a safety helmet meeting requirements established pursuant to Section 27802 when riding on a motorcycle, motor-driven cycle, or motorized bicycle.” The new law seeks to add an amendment that says, “This section does not apply to a driver or passenger who wears a turban or patka as an expression of the person’s religious belief and practice when riding on a motorcycle, motor-driven cycle, or motorized bicycle.”
No other states across the country have granted exemptions from motorcycle helmet laws for Sikh communities. This bill has passed through Senate committees and three readings on the Senate floor for consideration. On May 31, 2023, this bill passed the Senate with overwhelming support. The next step is for the California State Assembly to pass the bill so it can be signed by the governor.
As of the time of this writing, this bill has not become law. Members of the Sikh community are still required to follow California’s motorcycle helmet law in order to remain legal on the roadways.