What You Need to Know About the Sikh Motorcycle Helmet Exemption

Sikh motorcycle rider without helmet

Motorcycles have been in the news again in Ontario, with the government announcing that motorcycle helmets will be optional for Sikh riders in the province.

Sikh riders have been lobbying the Ontario government in recent years to allow this exemption, as it’s not possible to wear a motorcycle helmet and a turban at the same time. On October 18th, Ontario joined Alberta, B.C. and Manitoba in allowing sikhs to ride helmetless.

This exemption includes very specific legal requirements, and does not excuse other riders from wearing approved motorcycle helmets when riding on public roads. It’s important to note that it is not enough to simply say you are a Sikh to qualify for the exemption while riding your motorcycle in Ontario.

To go without a motorcycle helmet in Ontario, a rider or passenger must:

  • Be of the Sikh religion
  • Regularly wear a turban composed of five or more square meters of cloth
  • Be 18 years old or older
  • Have unshorn hair

What’s Going to Happen to Motorcycle Insurance if People Don’t Have to Wear Helmets?

First off, it’s important to remember that the helmet exemption is only for a specific portion of the riders on the road. Canada is unique from our neighbour down south, in that we have mandatory helmet laws across the country. As a result, there’s a lack of recent data comparing Canadian helmeted and unhelmeted riders.

In contrast, most states in the US have optional helmet laws, and safety statistics are more readily available. In the states with mandatory helmet laws, there are statistics demonstrating fatality and injury rates.

“Riders wearing helmets are estimated to be 37% more likely to survive a crash than those who aren’t.”

This data demonstrates that riders wearing helmets are estimated to be 37% more likely to survive a crash than those who aren’t. To put it in perspective, if there were 100 riders who died not wearing helmets, 37 of them would be expected to survive if all 100 were wearing a helmet at the time of a crash.

This means that while helmets do not guarantee surviving a motorcycle crash, they do increase your chances of surviving significantly.

A common question on motorcycle forums discussing this news, is “What’s going to happen with motorcycle insurance? Are people who use this exemption going to have to pay more?”

The government has not yet made any comments on if the helmet exemption will impact motorcycle insurance for Ontario riders. While it’s been shown that motorcyclists are safest when they wear helmets, the Financial Services Commission of Ontario has very specific rules and regulations as to what can be used as a rating factor. Currently, there aren’t any rating variables for riders wearing helmets or not, as helmets up until now, have been required for all riders. As any rider not wearing a helmet under this exemption will be doing so for religious reasons, it may be argued that any rating based on using this exemption may fall under the prohibition from FSCO on rating based on a person’s religion. If this is the case, rating based on the helmet exemption would not be allowed, despite the increased risk of injury.

So the question remains: Will the government allow insurance companies to rate based on riders wearing helmets in order to have their premiums reflect the increased risk, or will the increased risk be spread amongst the motoring public? Let us know what you think will happen in the comments below.



One Comment

  1. Nick Kidd-Reply
    October 29, 2018 at 10:28 am

    My guess is that the regulator will steer as far clear of this as possible. If I’m not mistaken, in order to rate on this, the insurer / broker would first need to ask a question along the lines of: “Are you going to be wearing a helmet?”. From this, the insurer could infer that any cases where the answer is “no” are a clear indicator of Sikh religion. A regulator might then be concerned that the insurer would use this as a proxy to rate for other factors such as geographical area. The regulator has never seemed to be that interested in making sure insurers are contented, so for something as minor as this, I would assume they will just sidestep the whole issue?

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