Motorcycle Helmets in Ontario – Rules & Exemptions
There’s nothing like the freedom of the open highway, opening up the throttle on your motorbike with the sun in your face and the wind in your hair. Except for the wind in your hair bit. Because in Ontario, wearing a helmet is mandatory for good reason – with only one exemption (see below).
In this article, we’ll examine motorcycles in general and helmet laws in particular. We’ll look at why we need helmet laws with a closer look at things that can happen if you’re involved in an accident. And, if you are involved in a crash, we’ve got some actionable steps for you to follow to make sure you’re covered for all damages and losses.
Riding motorcycles is on the rise as its appeal among a broader group of people. Where it used to be thought of as a pastime for young people, these days riders could be any age from teenager to senior citizen.
Indeed, there has been an upward demographic shift in the average age of motorcyclists in recent years. Riding is a habit-forming pursuit with many avid enthusiasts hitting the road every spring and summer well into their sixties.
An important factor to consider, though, when riding a motorcycle is vulnerability. While a major part of the thrill of biking is riding atop a high-performance machine in the relatively open air, it is not without danger. Where involved in a single-vehicle crash or a collision with another vehicle, motorcycle riders face a much higher risk of injury or death than other drivers.
There are tragic motorcycle accidents in Ontario every summer weekend. In one such incident in 2015 near Belleville, a car crossed over into oncoming traffic. This caused a head-on collision involving three of a group of eight riders traveling together. Two of the riders, one of whom had just become a grandfather, died, the other suffering serious injuries.
But riders injured through the negligence of others are entitled to compensation for losses and damages related to their accident, as we’ll see below.
Reducing the Risk of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
The leading cause of death for motorcyclists of all ages is serious head injury. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, helmets can prevent 37% of deaths and 67% of traumatic brain injuries (TBI) related to motorcycle accidents. The Institute also cites anti-lock brakes (ABS) as another crucial safety feature. Fatal collisions are 31% less likely when bikes come equipped with ABS systems.
TBI often results from a sudden blow to the head. In these cases, the brain’s inertia causes it to be thrown forward, bruising as it impacts the skull. Nerve fibers are often damaged, as well. Without immediate treatment, TBI often leads to death. Even properly treated, the effects can be devastating, both for the victim and their family. Concussion, memory loss, difficulty thinking, trouble concentrating, headaches, emotional problems, and loss of language function can all play a factor here.
These changes can radically affect a victim’s life, including their job performance, family life, and everyday social interactions.
In some cases, TBI might also impair the function of the arms and/or legs and might even cause a coma.
Other Common Motorcycle Personal Injuries
While the main focus of this article is on head injuries that can be reduced when you wear a proper helmet, it should be noted that there is a multitude of other injuries often associated with motorcycle crashes. The most common of these injuries include neck injuries, skin abrasions (AKA road rash), arm/leg injuries, and muscle/soft tissue damage.
Neck injuries associated with bike accidents could lead to chronic pain syndrome, spinal injury, and maybe even paralysis. 22% of motorcycle accidents involve either a head or neck injury.
Discussions of road rash are not for the squeamish. Suffice to say, the pavement can rip away at your skin if not properly protected, sometimes right down to the bone. The aftermath could involve infection, irritated skin, and maybe even nerve damage. Proper protective clothing can help reduce your risk of road rash in an accident. Protective gear can also reduce the muscle damage often associated with a violent impact.
Cyclists thrown clear of their bikes often land on their outstretched arms, leading to fractures and nerve damage. Also, a Centers for Disease Control study found that 30% of motorcycle accidents lead to leg and foot injuries sometimes associated with skidding and pinning.
Ontario’s Helmet Laws
As noted above, helmets prevent 37% of deaths and 67% of TBIs in motorcycle accidents. That is why it’s law in Ontario for all operators and riders to wear an approved helmet. A legal helmet has:
- a smooth, hard outer shell
- protective padding
- a chin strap to securely fasten the helmet
- no damage from prior use
The helmet must bear one of the following certifications in accordance with R.R.O. 1990, Regulation 610:
- Canadian Standards Association m(CSA) Standard D230 Safety Helmets for Motorcycle Riders
- Snell Memorial Foundation certificate
- British Standards Institute certificate
- United States of America Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 218 with the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) symbol
- United Nations Economic Commission for Europe Regulation No. 22 with an approval mark
The New Exemption for Sikhs
As of 2018, Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation recognizes an exemption to the Highway Traffic Act that now allows turban-wearing Sikhs to ride motorcycles without helmets. In doing so, Ontario became the fourth Canadian province – after Alberta, British Columbia, and Manitoba – to allow this. The move was made, according to Premier Doug Ford, to recognize their civil rights and right to religious expression, despite concerns raised by medical professionals.
It is a debate that has gone back and forth in Ontario since 2005 when a devout Sikh, Baljinder Badesha, was fined $110 for not wearing a helmet. In 2014, former Premier Kathleen Wynne went on record telling the Canadian Sikh Association she couldn’t support such an exemption as it “would pose a road safety risk.” She stated that the mandatory helmet law didn’t infringe on the liberties protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms or the Ontario Human Rights Code.
It’s also a cause that was championed by national New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh when he served as an MPP in the Ontario Legislature. He introduced private member’s bills for an exemption in both 2013 and 2016 to no avail.
What to do if You’ve Been Involved in a Motorcycle Accident
If you’re hurt in a motorcycle accident for which a third party is at fault and you’re considering legal action, you need to do these four things.
- Report the accident to the police
A police accident report serves as legal proof that your accident happened. Without it, you don’t have much of a case.
- See a doctor
If you’re obviously hurt, chances are you’ll be taken to the hospital in an ambulance. All the medical records from your emergency room visit will serve as a good starting point when it comes time to build your case. But if the severity of your injuries isn’t immediately apparent, see a doctor as soon as you realize there’s a problem.
- Notify your insurance company
Ontario’s no-fault vehicle insurance has some great benefits built into it to help accident victims cover a variety of expenses. Be sure to notify your insurer within seven days of the accident so they won’t automatically reject your claim.
- Consult a lawyer
An experienced personal injury lawyer will be able to give you an idea about what kind of case you have and help you decide if you want to pursue a lawsuit. Even though you’re in pain, do your best to see a lawyer as soon as possible. Depending on the circumstances of your case, there may be certain deadlines involved that you can’t afford to miss.
Freedom – But Safety First
The open road is calling. But don’t forget to wear a helmet. Wearing a proper helmet will cut your risk of dying on a motorcycle by a third and reduce the likelihood of TBI by two thirds. And even though Sikhs are exempted from the helmet law on religious grounds, they do so at great personal risk.
Have You Been Hurt in a Motorcycle Accident?
There is a significant risk of serious injury or even death when you are involved in a motorcycle accident. If you’ve been hurt, contact the dedicated personal injury team at Mackesy Smye today. Use the contact link below to tell us about the details of your case and we’ll review your case for free.