Sikh male on motorcycle wearing turban without a helmet

October 29, 2018

What you need to know about the sikh motorcycle helmet exemption

2 min read


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.

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    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?

    This is the most foul thing to happen to motorcycle insurance ever. The statistics are there to show that not wearing a helmet puts you in immensely grave danger of being injured death or decades of rehabilitation. Why should I as a responsible motorcycle rider have my rates increased because you know they will be increased due to this religious exemption. If you refuse to wear a helmet you should be refused motorcycle insurance Period!

    The helmet law should be changed for all or none. If for all, then individuals should be rated as to whether they will be wearing a helmet or not. No discrimination card involved.

    Just found out about this change to helmet law.regulation in Ontario. Since my kids young age we always made sure that they wear head protection while riding their bikes and quads not because it’s regulation but because helmets will protect them from major head injuries in the event of an accident. The question is we encourage safety first or not. By making this change we are walking away from safety first and the insurance premium increase will be share by all as no political party will ever have an appetite to play in this field. Only one choice make the law optional to wear a helmet like in some states. That way it’s your choice and won’t create two class of society or any discrimination.

    There is no doubt the insurance companies will go after everyone because insurance companies are greedy and anytime they see an opportunity to increase their profit margin they will do it. I would not trust insurance companies since they are not regulated enough. With this government they have an open road to do what they want. Insurance companies are pirates,opportunist.

    I tend to agree with Mr. St. Amand. I personally have been wearing a helmet, full coverage since 1970. Why, because I have the sense to realize full coverage offers better protection than any other style of helmet. I believe that we should have the choice to wear or not to wear regardless of religious, political or racial situation. If your choice is to not wear a helmet then you must declare it to the insurer and thus allow them and the provincial government to restrict any compensation for head injuries incurred to no more than $20,000.00 (just a figure thrown in for discussion) for repairs and therapy that may be required should the non-helmet wearing rider be in an accident. The current law simply adds fuel to a fire that is already burning when we should be working to equalize all people.My position is simple, we should have the right to choose but must also be willing to pay for the courage of our convictions.

    I cant believe the ignorance of people that left comments against this.

    Please do some research and look up Sikhs in the world wars they fought along side the Allies and wore their turbans in war. It is part of the identity of them.

    ‘@Huh? watch this and you may get a glimpse of what turban is. Also, remember that Sikhs player an important role in world war I and II. Where Sikhs chose not to wear a helmet and stick to our Guru’s path. If Sikhs fear no death in battle what would make them fear it in normal life.

    Second thing is the insurance companies always play politics on one or the other thing. If they play all us we should not point fingers on one race.

    I don’t really understand your point. Sikh’s have their own gurus, great, but other people may as well. Why should Sikh’s get preferential treatment? You say “If they play all us we should not point fingers on one race.” but the only one making this about “race” is you. We’re living in a society, can you imagine how complicated it would get every every religion or group were given allowances that meant they didn’t need to adhere to safety standards?

    The only thing insurance companies will have to pay out if a Sikh crashes his motorcycle is funeral costs. It would be way cheaper then decades of therapy and specialized care. Even if they did survive, they would never be the same mentally ever again. Will wear my helmet thanks, I value my skull and brain inside of it!

    What has that got to do with this ?

    There is no law in Canada requiring anyone to ride a motorcycle.

    Therefore, if you want to ride one, you must follow the same laws as everyone else.
    These laws are in place to not only protect the rider, but to also assist in keeping insurance rates down for everyone.

    The charter of rights and freedoms guarantees equality under law regardless of race, sex or religion. Any exemptions to any law, based on those criteria, is a violation of the charter.

    If we want to accommodate a group like the Sikhs, then the helmet law must be optional to everyone.

    The Sikhs have ever right to wear a turban in Canada. This is an individual choice in our free society.

    Riding a motorcycle or bicycle is also a choice… is not essential that people ride either one.

    When such choices affect other people (i.e. higher insurance rates and higher medical costs) then society must make a choice, or those practising their religion must make a choice. Sikhs do have very high moral standards, and thus I assume following the laws of the land would be a priority for them. I wonder what their perspective is on balancing these choicest?

    Perhaps someone will comment……

    I agree with Ken 100%. The Sikh community does propose to have very high moral standards, as such, when they made the choice to emigrate to Canada they must have realized that the laws of our land would be very different. I am quite sure the Sikhs that have been provided the opportunity to live, work and prosper here knew that they would experience a different set of rules and laws from whence they came. By being granted full status as Canadians they should abide by all of the laws of our land and live within these boundaries. They were not granted citizenship here to change our laws and inflict the burden of higher costs associated with motorcycling or any other endeavour they may choose to undertake.

    I have stated before that I am all about freedom of choice, the choice to wear a helmet or not while operating a motorcycle, is a choice we all should be afforded. Anybody making the choice to not wear a helmet should have to sign a waiver acknowledging that should there be an accident with head injuries incurred, there is a maximum dollar value for treatment(s) and rehabilitation costs set out by the government. This acknowledgement would provide proof of their intention to forego the protection of a helmet and allow their insurance provider to charge them accordingly and not pass on their medical costs to those wearing a helmet. The extraneous costs of the possible treatments and rehab could be sought in courts at the individuals expense.

    i’m tired of being discriminsted against by our goverment wearing a turban is their choice not a law they are in canada so wear a helmet like everyone else or leave and go back to your country were you can ride without a helmet,the helmet law is all canadians must wear a helmet or no one should have to period

    This is a very simple thing.

    The Sikhs have ever right to wear a turban in Canada. It is a part of their heritage and religion.

    Riding a motorcycle or bicycle IS a choice, it is not essential.

    Canadian law outlined in the interest of the health and safety of the general public anyone operating a motorcycle is required to wear a DOT approved helmet.

    If your religious beliefs are such that wearing a helmet is not possible then your beliefs simply outweigh your choice to ride a motorcycle.

    Laws can and should evolve with time. There are new vest out that on impact an airbag envelopes the chest and head of a rider. This increases the likelihood of survival even higher than a helmet. If this is safer the law could be amended that no person needs to wear a helmet but all riders must wear an airbag vest. This solves the problem for sikhs and for riders who dislike the mandatory helmet law and increases safety standards.

    But let’s be real, even if we did this both groups involved would bitch about having to wear the vest due to cost, maintenance needed, zero cool factor, general dislike for having to be told what they can and can not do. I’m my opinion anyone who doesn’t want to wear a helmet or an airbag vest while riding a motorcycle simply isn’t smart enough to be allowed to ride a motorcycle.

    Sikhs didn’t wear helmets in WW1, or WWII while fighting for their freedom. Wait not their…. your freedom. Over 81k lives were lost. Let them choose how they want to live or die. No one is stopping you to be safe.

    This is not the only law that Sikhs are exempt from. They don’t have to follow any rules in the trucking industry either. Speed limiters are mandatory in Quebec and Ontario unless you are a Sikh.

    There are no helmets required here in Minnesota for folks who are of age and have a motorcycle endorsement. Insurance rates are awesome since we only ride them half the year anyway. Be bold and safe my friends in Canada drop the whole helmet law for everyone except those who are under 21 and those who are in training still and all will be just fine in the world.

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