Motorcycle Safety

This archived article is from October 2005. Although every effort has been made to make sure the information presented is accurate, please note that it may contain information that is out-of-date.

Whether it’s the law or not, take training and always wear a helmet.

It is not possible to know for sure how many collisions, deaths and injuries a specific regulation has prevented. Nonetheless, once safety legislation is in place, its effectiveness should be evaluated.

Evaluation may confirm the legislation is working. It may suggest what needs to be done to improve compliance. Or, it may reveal no impact on safety.

The worst way to assess the impact of a safety regulation is to withdraw it and then count the subsequent fatalities.

Training

Quebec implemented mandatory training for motorcycle riders in 1985, then removed the requirement in 1997. Motorcycle fatalities immediately increased by 46 percent in 1998, from 35 to 57. The death toll rose by a further six percent in 1999.

Ontario and Quebec share similar motorcycle riding environments, and most new Ontario riders take the Canada Safety Council’s motorcycle training program. While Quebec casualties rose after the province dropped its training requirement, Ontario trends remained stable. This pointed to training as the key variable. The province responded by re-introducing mandatory training in 2000.

Currently, Quebec and Manitoba have mandatory rider training. Other provinces, including Ontario, encourage training through licensing and insurance incentives.

Helmet Laws

Mandatory helmet laws for motorcycle riders came into effect in Canada starting in the 1960s. Safety experts strongly believe these regulations are an important factor in our country’s impressive record in motorcycle safety.

Canadians who travel in the U.S. may wonder why Canadian jurisdictions do not follow the lead of several American states which have repealed their all-rider helmet laws.

In 2000, Florida repealed its legal requirement for all motorcyclists to wear protective helmets. Helmet use is now mandatory only for riders under age 21 and older riders without at least $10,000 medical insurance.

A 2005 evaluationcompares the three years before and after the repeal. It offers a thorough evaluation, and provides solid evidence on the value of universal helmet laws. Neighbouring Georgia, a state with similar conditions and an active helmet law, served as a control.

Predictably, fatalities and medical costs increased significantly. The Florida findings are consistent with the results of comparable repeals in Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana and Texas. All showed substantial increases in fatalities following the repeal.

Will Florida and these other states re-institute their all-rider helmet laws in the face of the evidence, as Quebec re-instituted its training regulation? This is still to be seen.

Canadians who ride motorcycles when visiting the U.S. may be inclined not to wear a helmet, like many American riders. The Canada Safety Council urges riders to wear a helmet for their own safety — whether or not it’s the law. To give the necessary protection, the helmet must be properly fastened with the chin strap.

The Florida Experience  

After the Repeal

Helmet use

from close to 100 percent before, to about 50 percent

Number of fatalities   

71 percent increase

Fatalities under age 21 

tripled*

Non-helmeted fatalities       

from nine percent before, to 61 percent

Head injury admissions for riders   

80 percent increase

Motorcycle registrations

21 percent increase

Fatality rate per 10,000 registered vehicles

34 percent increase

* Although the law still applied to riders under age 21, helmet use also went down in this age group.