On February 17, 2023, California state senator Brian Dahle introduced Senate Bill 847 in the chamber. The text of the bill states that it would amend Section 27803 of California’s current Vehicle Code, which regards helmet requirements for motorcyclists, as well as operators of motor-driven cycles and motorized bicycles. If passed as written, it would add a helmet law exemption to California’s vehicle code for members of the Sikh faith.
After the bill’s introduction, it passed through Senate committees before being read three times on the Senate floor for consideration by its members. On May 31, 2023, it passed the state senate with a vote of 21 in favor, eight against. The next step for the bill is to move to the California State Assembly.
At the time of writing on June 1, 2023, section 27803 of the California Vehicle Code states that “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. It then goes on to offer specific stipulations for both operators and passengers, as well as exclude operators and passengers of fully enclosed three-wheeled motor vehicles that are over seven feet long and four feet wide and weigh over 900 pounds.
The amendment adds a subsection (g) directly beneath the exception for those three-wheeled vehicle operators, which reads, “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.”
Both Sikh turbans and patkas are considered articles of faith for believers. “Sikhs keep their hair long and wear a turban as a reminder of their commitment to Sikh values and to be easily identified as a Sikh,” writes the Sikh Coalition. For those unfamiliar, it goes on to define a patka as “a smaller version of a Sikh turban, usually worn by boys in pre-kindergarten to middle school before they begin wearing a turban.”
To date, no US states have so far granted exemptions from existing motorcycle helmet laws for Sikh believers, but similar exemptions have been granted in some Canadian provinces. In 2019, a German federal court ruled that Sikh riders there were not exempt from the country’s motorcycle helmet laws.