Alerts and other info from the MRF
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RIDING FREE FROM DC:
Your Weekly Biker Bulletin from Inside the Beltway
Your Motorcycle Riders Foundation team in Washington, D.C. is pleased to provide our members with the latest information and updates on issues that impact the freedom and safety of American street motorcyclists. Count on your MRF to keep you informed about a range of matters that are critical to the advancement of motorcycling and its associated lifestyle. Published weekly when the U.S. Congress is in session.
NEWS FROM THE HILL – Progress on Infrastructure, Ethanol Wheeling and Dealing
Months (and months and months) after the Administration pitched a $1 trillion infrastructure package, White House officials met with key players (i.e. Committee Chairman John Thune) this week to discuss what the proposal could look like. Details from the meeting were kept quiet except for a vague comment from another power player, Senator Dan Sullivan from Alaska, who said the bill would address roads and transit, (gee, thanks). Though no one has been willing to discuss timing, my insider’s opinion is that several things will have to happen first. Congress will have to pass a budget which is likely to eat up the remainder of the time before the holidays and then there is that pesky minor issue of MAJOR COMPREHENSIVE TAX REFORM. Many in Washington are saying that you have to check that box first to free up some $$$$ to help offset the cost of the infrastructure package. My take? Don’t hold your breath. Still, I’ll be keeping a close eye on discussions and especially when pen goes to paper. That’s because wide-ranging and far-reaching packages like what is being discussed with infrastructure are notorious for being loaded with seemingly innocuous safety provisions that get stuck in at the very last minute, but give riders a lot of grief…
This week, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Scott Pruitt met with Senators from Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and Kansas. What do those states share a common bond over? CORN. And lots of it. Senators Ernst, Grassley, Fischer, Rounds, Sasse, Thune and Pat Roberts met with Pruitt for almost an hour where they discussed the issue of ethanol and campaign promises that were made they want the Administration to make good on. That’s a pretty bitter pill to swallow for Scott Pruitt who has VERY close ties to the oil industry, which (not surprisingly) isn’t a big fan of corn on the cob. Though there has been no shortage of meetings on the subject, (and congressional bills to fix it), this meeting sticks out for me. Several of Trump’s picks to head various departments and positions within the EPA were slated to be confirmed in the Senate this week. Then, just hours after the ethanol meeting, the vote for these confirmations was postponed. A close source says that Sen. Grassley is threatening to hold up several EPA nominees if the EPA doesn’t start providing more support for ethanol. I’ll keep you posted as this develops. It doesn’t look great for those who are concerned about the proliferation of ethanol in the market…I’ve already heard from several folks that a bargaining chip might be to allow consideration of a bill that would permit year-round sales of ethanol.
EXECUTIVE & REGULATORY UPDATES – NHTSA STUFF
Our buddies at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (aka NHTSA) have been busy as of late. They’ve certainly been keeping my schedule jam packed…
Last Friday I attended the one-year anniversary party of the NHTSA “Road to Zero” initiative. (And yes, for the record I was invited because I get along with *mostly* everybody). They even had a damn cake...But I digress. They wanted to gather everyone in a room so we could pat ourselves on the back for all the good work we did. When they said this (yes, they really did say it) I looked around the room to see if anyone was smirking like me. (there was possibly one guy in the back but I think he might have wandered in from the streets). Truly, I’m not entirely sure what “we” did. They’ve given out some grant money, they drafted ONE policy statement, and “raised awareness.” Yeah…among themselves. Seriously though, I love the idea…zero traffic deaths…that’s admirable. But its sort of like communism…great idea on paper, f***ing disaster in real life. I’m honestly not sure where this coalition is going, but I’ll continue to stay vigilant, attend their meetings, eat their celebratory cake and question them as to why their logo doesn’t include a motorcycle:
If you’re reading this on Friday October 20, there is a good chance that at this exact moment I am sitting at DoT headquarters wanting to gouge my own eyes out. Why? I am at all day public workshop listening to “entities” discuss potential challenges with a Voluntary Safety Assessment. What’s that you ask? It’s an element in NHTSA’s latest document, A Vision for Safety which addresses testing and deployment of automated vehicles. Click here for more info: https://www.nhtsa.gov/sites/nhtsa.dot.gov/files/documents/13069a-ads2.0_090617_v9a_tag.pdf
But back to the issue: I’m not sure why a voluntary safety assessment would cause automakers so much heartburn. For Christ sake, its VOLUNTARY. Which, in the opinion of the MRF, is the biggest problem with the whole thing. How can you expect corporations to do the right thing when something is only voluntary? You can’t. Which is why your MRF has been pushing lawmakers to make this mandatory and ensure that riders are an important element and consideration when assuring a self-driving car’s safety.
NHTSA will take comments on the proposal for another month. Check your inboxes in the next few weeks as I am beginning to draft comments that we can all send to NHTSA telling them what we think of this.
STATE NEWS – The Turban Victory
Please don’t blow up my phone, I know Australia is not a state and this section is reserved for state news. BUT, we have a good friend, Trevor at Motorcycle Minds, who has shared his recent article about a group of motorcyclists who are seeking an exemption from the mandatory helmet law for religious reasons in Australia. It’s an excellent (and lengthy) piece but it has a solid rundown of the global efforts that Sikhs have undertaken to avoid helmets infringing upon their religion. Take a look:
Australian - Sikh Helmet Exemption
Australia – A group of motorcyclists in the Australian state of New South Wales are seeking an exemption from the mandatory wearing of motorcycle crash helmets.
The group who are Sikh motorcyclists are asking for the exemption in the helmet wearing law that states:
From various reports – ABC News – Daily Mail – Motorbike Writer - and from the Sikh Motorcycle Club Australia the exemption that is being asked for would apply to travelling under '50 or 60 kilometers an hour.
We contacted the Sikh Motorcycle Club Australia and Jagmeet Singh Mangat from the club responded:
“Almost all turban wearing Sikhs face the same issue in Australia. We are not asking for full exemption but only at low speeds for e.g. under 60km/ph. There are safety concerns among the Sikh community as well and there will be few turban wearing Sikhs who may still choose to wear a helmet whilst riding their motorcycle even if they get the exemption. So our aim is to attain that freedom of choice where a turban wearing Sikh can choose whether to wear a helmet or not.
We love riding motorcycles and have been riding them safely back in India for decades wearing turbans but the riding speeds vary between 40-60km/ph there hence we are not asking for exemption for highway/freeway speeds.
But in Australia due to strict law about helmets, our turban wearing members forced to wear helmets which we feel is discriminatory as they have to remove their turbans to wear helmets.
Australian Law Reform Commission states under Freedom of religion 4.38: "Freedom of Religion is infringed when a law prevents individuals from practicing their religion or requires them to engage in conduct which is prohibited by their religion." Sikhs with uncut hair are prohibited to remove their turban in public or when they are on the move.
The current law requires them to remove their turban to wear a helmet, hence the issue has been raised.
We have had lots of local Sikhs contacting us to raise our voice against this discriminatory law.
Traditionally and historically all Sikhs wear turbans but the helmet law in Australia takes our freedom of religion away from us.
Similar laws were changed in parts of Canada and UK and we do seek the exemption here in Australia as well although we haven't challenged the law yet.”
The exemption would allow Sikhs wearing the Turban to attend Sikh functions, marriage functions, ride inner streets and roads around their farms, slow riding charity fund raising events that require riding on public roads.
The UK Exemption
As mentioned by Jagmeet Singh Mangat, similar exemptions are in place in the UK and parts of Canada. We think we need to look back at history as regards helmet exemptions for Sikhs in countries outside of Australia, which starts for us with the Sikh exemption in 1976 in the United Kingdom.
Both of us at Motorcycle Minds come a background of riders’ rights from a riders’ organization – Motorcycle Action Group (MAG) - that was formed and campaigned in the UK against the introduction of the mandatory wearing of helmets, which was passed into UK legislation in 1973.
Although the MAG campaign against the helmet law does not appear to have featured in any detail, the issue of exemption for Sikhs (recorded history is what we are relying on) the Sikh community in the UK were campaigning for an exemption.
The exemption for Sikhs is simply stated in the UKs Highway Code
Although a simple line in the Highway Code the arrival to this exemption went through the full procedures in the Houses of Commons – Introduced as a 10 Minute Rule Bill - Private Members' Bill - The Lords – Parliamentary Committee – Royal Assent.
This route to the amendment in the Road Traffic Act for the Sikh exemption the parliamentary procedure was introduced by Labour MP Sydney James Bidwell (Ealing – Southall) - (14 January 1917 – 25 May 1997) a backbencher in the then Labour Government which saw the Motor-Cycle Crash Helmets (Religious Exemption) Act passed by the UK Parliament.
The Turban Victory
Thankfully you can read the full parliamentary procedures in the online book – The Turban Victory – with forewords – acknowledgements – messages of support – Hansard text of the debates etc. We were able to track down a paper copy via Amazon, so reading a paper copy gave us a better feel of the issue.
That lets us look at the negative and positive sentiments at that time, similar comments to these are appearing in present day Social Media that were answered back then, as the exemption took around three years to achieve.
So, we can use the book to answer today’s questions and hopefully if your opinion is one that is opposed to a Sikh religious exemption, on whatever grounds or road safety concerns it will help you at the very to understand any Sikh exemptions. N.B.: All the following quotes are taken from the online book which does not have page number, however the quotes are sequential.
In a foreword to the book the Rev. Michael Hollings said, “Here is recorded the process by which his bill to exempt turbaned Sikhs from wearing motor-cycle crash helmets went stage by stage through the British Parliament.
We live at a time when there is much anxiety about the situation of different ethnic groups in the British Isles. It will be good for the study of race or community relations to be able to see how this bill went through both Houses, the Commons and the Lords, finally to emerge as part of the Law of this land.
It is not easy for people of different backgrounds and persuasions to understand what exactly is important for people who have another culture and another religion from their own. This calls for listening, patience, understanding and openness. Such is the essence of community work which strives to work within a society pledged to freedom, justice and peace.
The right to wear the turban is very dear to members of the Sikh nation. It has been challenged in other areas of our society, and the success of this bill will hearten Sikhs throughout the world.
The victory of the bill's passage through Parliament is a victory for toleration, and especially for religious toleration among all peoples.”
A message we think that as relevant today as it was over 40 years ago.
It is hard to relate safety to personal freedoms, for whatever reason and a debate with the "safety lobby" is always a fraught one, our opinion is that road safety has to stand aside amongst the reasoning of personal freedom and liberty.
As Sydney James Bidwell emphasized that seeking the exemption the bill was to enable turbaned Sikhs to ride motorcycles, to ride to work or ride a motorcycle as part of their employment. As times change we would add to enable to take part in social and leisure activities when using a motorcycle on the highway.
Exemptions in Other Countries
Certain jurisdictions in Canada have a helmet wearing exemption for Sikhs - British Columbia, Manitoba – Alberta(1) – with an ongoing challenge in Ontario. Also Hong Kong allows an exemption(2).
The exemption is worded differently in the British Columbia Motorcycle Safety Helmet Exemption Regulation going beyond the simplicity of the UK wording:
In the United States we asked Megan Ekstrom from the Motorcycle Riders Foundation (MRF) that assuming in the U.S. where there are helmet wearing exemptions that this applies to all, with certain caveats on age/insurance? But in states where it is mandatory to wear a helmet we would also assume that this is for all, with no exemptions - medical - or religious - as per the Sikhs?
Megan replied, “I did some quick research and the only thing I can find of consequence is that here in the U.S. a legal challenge was posed in 1993 which disputed California’s mandatory helmet law based on religious reasons (in this case, a practicing Sikh). The California court sided in favor of the state suggesting that the mandatory helmet law was “not rendered unconstitutional just because it incidentally impacts a person’s religious practices.”
More recently in Northern Ireland, as part of devolved government in the UK a new regulation was introduced only in Northern Ireland that extended the wearing of helmets to those who ride motor quadricycles, the exemption for Sikhs was retained.
Part of this regulation proposed that all riders of motor trikes and their passengers in Northern Ireland would also be mandated to wear a helmet.
Although this proposed part of the regulation was not included in the final amendments to the regulation it had retained the exemption not to wear a helmet to any follower of the Sikh religion while he is wearing a turban. Incidentally the government Department concerned is to keep the proposal to the regulation to provide an exemption on medical grounds under review.
As for India it would appear that when a mandatory helmet law was introduced Sikhs where exempted from wearing a helmet.
Australia - Failed Previous Exemption
Although the Sikh community are exempt from wearing helmets when riding a bicycle in Queensland, South Australia and Victoria, this is not the first time that a motorcycle helmet exemption for Sikhs has been put forward.
In 2013 in the state of Tasmania Sikh Harpreed Singh put forward a legal challenge for an exemption, this was not successful. Unfortunately, just because we ride motorcycles it does not mean we always agree.
The Australian rider organization M.R.A. Motorcycle Riders’ Association Of SA INC in an article by Harald Lindemann in its Centrestand newsletter in 2013 stated, “The issue of road safety is simple. Either the law is good for all citizens or it is a bad law. With regards to helmet laws the balance of opinion and evidence says that it is a good law.” also stating, “If our religious law is in opposition to the civil law then a compromise is demanded as we are not entitled to force others not of our own religion to live by those rules. Neither of these situations is the case here“, further stating, “the right to ride a motorcycle comes with conditions attached. The law makes it clear under which conditions we will be allowed to ride a motorcycle. In this case it is clear that the religious restrictions make it impossible to both ride and obey the law. That is something that has to be lived with. You can’t have it both ways.
The present Chairman of the Australian Motorcycle Council Shaun Lennard has previously been quoted in 2013 that while he, “empathises with Sikhs, he does not support their call.”
We would assume that these positions would not have changed from 2013.
We have tried to be as accurate as possible in this article which includes some anecdotal statements but our overall conclusion - the way we were brought up – is that motorcycle riding Sikhs should be exempt from wearing a motorcycle helmet at least at slower speeds.
Feel free to discuss this but take into consideration that these Sikhs are practicing their faith and have been put in a quandary – to follow their religion and not ride a motorcycle or ride a motorcycle and be a less devoted Sikh. A difficult choice and we would guess that in the statistics – the number of Sikhs injured or killed in Australia on a motorcycle would be less than of being struck by lightning.
In other words, the legislators and other non-Sikh motorcyclists should take in consideration a more tolerant view regarding this request by the Sikh community.
Sometimes at Motorcycle Minds we can be somewhat eloquent and flowing but we will leave this with thoughts from Helmets.org - although it is about push bikes, the sentiments are the same:
“Turbans may vary according to regional styles, and can differ considerably in size, shape, density and other characteristics, so it would be difficult to design a helmet to fit over or under them. A turban-shaped helmet is probably not a viable option even if it were acceptable to Sikhs, because the traditional Sikh turban is meticulously wound, and it would be difficult for a turban wearer to remove their turban, ride in the helmet, and rewind the turban after the ride. Winding a turban over a helmet would eliminate ventilation and result in a very large headgear, while still requiring that the normal turban be taken off to ride.
Our conclusion has been that lawmakers should either grant Sikhs a formal exemption, as some have, or expect that a law-abiding Sikh covered by the law will not be able to ride legally unless they compromise their religious precepts and remove the turban to put on a helmet. Law enforcement for most helmet laws is sporadic at best, and if the law does not provide an exemption for turban-wearers it is likely that law enforcement officers will simply let them ride on without interference. That is not the same thing as a legal exemption, but it preserves the Sikhs' ability to use bicycles at their own risk of head injury.”
Our own final thought which should cause no surprise is that we support and wish the Sikhs in New South Wales all the success in achieving an exemption from wearing a helmet.
Sikh Motorcycle Club Australia - On Facebook
(1) The Alberta Traffic Safety Act and Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) Regulation was enacted in May, 2017 and states that compliant helmets must be worn by Off Highway Vehicle users when riding on public land. Public land means Crown land, including areas that have been designated for public OHV use, public roadway and highway rights-of-way. In the definition of vehicles this includes motorcycles, when specifically designed for such travel. An exemption was included that the wearing of a helmet would not be required, “Helmet use is not required by individuals who are a bona fide member of the Sikh religion wearing turbans. This means that someone self-identifying as a member of the Sikh religion and wearing a long length of cloth wound around his or her head into a headdress is exempt.” – “Examples of not complying with an exemption are: Saying you are Sikh but not wearing a turban”. Other types of exemptions have been considered if there is a medical or physical condition that prevents helmet use.
(2) Hong Kong as far as we can ascertain that if a Sikh wants an exemption from wearing a helmet they have to apply to the Transport Department for exemption. Once approved, they can ride a motorcycle without a helmet and are issued with an “identity” type card.
Sikhs from Canada Riding Alaska – We would Love an Adventure with these guys
MRF NEWS & ANNOUNCEMENTS
Mark your calendars, book your flights, tell your old lady you’re headed to the nation’s capital. The ink on the contract is dry: Bikers Inside the Beltway 2018 will begin Monday, May 14 with a prep session and officially take place Tuesday, May 15. Stay tuned for more including hotel info, special events and more.
Take care, enjoy your weekends and most importantly,
Vice-President of Government Affairs & Public Relations
The Motorcycle Riders Foundation
About Motorcycle Riders Foundation
The Motorcycle Riders Foundation (MRF) provides leadership at the federal level for states’ motorcyclists’ rights organizations as well as motorcycle clubs and individual riders. The MRF is chiefly concerned with issues at the national and international levels that impact the freedom and safety of American street motorcyclists. The MRF is committed to being a national advocate for the advancement of motorcycling and its associated lifestyle and works in conjunction with its partners to help educate elected officials and policymakers in Washington and beyond.
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