Press release no. 54/2019 of 4 July 2019
Obligation to wear a helmet applies in principle, even when invoking religious impediments
A person wearing a turban on religious grounds is not for that reason alone to be granted an exception from the obligation to wear a helmet when motorcycling. This was decided by the Federal Administrative Court (BVerwG, Bundesverwaltungsgericht) in Leipzig today.
The claimant applied to the City of Konstanz in July 2013 to be granted an exceptional approval from the obligation to wear a protective helmet when motorcycling. He said that, as a Sikh, the obligation to wear a protective helmet under section 21a (2) first sentence of the Road Traffic Ordinance (StVO, Straßenverkehrs-Ordnung) violated his freedom of religion under article 4 (1) of the Basic Law (GG, Grundgesetz); he said he was obliged to wear a turban on religious grounds. The defendant rejected the application on the grounds that an exceptional approval under section 46 (1) no. 5b StVO could only be granted on health grounds. The claimant's objection (Widerspruch) and action before the Freiburg Administrative Court (Verwaltungsgericht) have remained unsuccessful.
Following the claimant's appeal on points of fact and law, the Baden-Württemberg Higher Administrative Court (Verwaltungsgerichtshof) obliged the defendant to decide anew on the claimant's application taking into consideration the Court's legal opinion. The defendant had failed to recognise that exception on religious grounds was also possible. However, the Higher Administrative Court denied that the defendant had an immediate obligation to grant the exceptional approval for which the application had been made. The freedom of faith did not lead to the claimant's interests generally overriding third parties' physical and psychological integrity, which were also guaranteed by the Basic Law, and which the obligation to wear a helmet were intended to protect. Reducing the discretion of the authorities to only one lawful decision (Ermessensreduzierung auf Null) was only possible if the claimant was absolutely dependent on using the motorcycle. That was not the case with the claimant.
The Federal Administrative Court dismissed the claimant's appeal on points of law, which aimed, over and above the obligation to decide anew, to reach the granting of an exceptional approval. The obligation to wear a suitable protective helmet when motorcycling prescribed in article 21a (2) StVO may indirectly impair the claimant, a Sikh, in the freedom to practise his religion. Although this obligation does not prevent him from practising his religion, he must forego motorcycling in order to perform the duty to wear a turban, which he perceives to be binding on religious grounds. This restriction is justified in principle, even with regard to the freedom of religion protected by article 4 (1) GG, and must be accepted by the claimant because it protects the legal interests of third parties, which are also protected by the constitution. The obligation to wear a helmet is intended to protect not only the motorcyclist himself or herself, but also the physical and psychological integrity of other parties involved in an accident and the emergency services. They may be traumatised by the death by accident or the severe injuries of a person not secured by a protective helmet. Furthermore, in the case of an accident, a motorcyclist protected by a helmet will be more likely to help rescue other people, either by securing the accident site, providing first aid or calling the emergency services. If at all, a right to an exception from the obligation to wear a helmet can therefore only exist if, on specific grounds, the person concerned cannot reasonably be expected to forego motorcycling. The claimant, who has a licence for driving passenger cars and owns a van, did not provide any such indications.
Section 21a (2) StVO:
Persons operating or travelling as a passenger on or in motorcycles or open three or more-wheeled vehicles with a maximum design speed greater than 20 km/h must wear a suitable protective helmet while the vehicle is in motion. This does not apply if they are wearing seat belts required by law.
Section 46 (1) first sentence StVO:
In particular cases or generally, the road traffic authorities may grant, to certain applicants, exceptions
5b. from the provisions governing the use of seat belts and the wearing of protective helmets (section 21a).
BVerwG 3 C 24.17 - judgment of 4 July 2019