Insurance industry will monitor Alberta's motorcycle helmet exemption for Sikhs

Insurance experts are waiting to see if the province's move to exempt turban-wearing Sikhs from using motorcycle helmets will inflate insurance premiums when it comes into effect on April 12.

Too soon to tell whether insurance premiums will be impacted when new law comes into effect April 12

A picture on the Sikh Motorcycle Club of Edmonton's website shows Rod Loyola, the NDP MLA for Edmonton-Ellerslie, addressing members of the club. (CBC)

Insurance experts are waiting to see if the province's move to exempt turban-wearing Sikhs from using motorcycle helmets will inflate premiums.

Only a few riders are expected to be affected by this exemption, Brian Mason, Alberta's transportation minister, said when he announced the move on March 29.

But doctors in the province say there are huge risks to public safety by not wearing a helmet.

Emergency room physician Dr. Louis Francescutti told CBC News this exemption will "put people's lives at risk."

But insurance providers are still unsure if that risk will translate to higher insurance premiums for Albertans.

Rob de Pruis, director of consumer and industry relations for the Insurance Bureau of Canada, said insurance companies will need to evaluate the risk after the exemption has come into effect.

"It's a bit too early to tell if this is going to have an impact but certainly some insurance companies that deal with motorcycle premiums will be watching that trend going forward," de Pruis said.

Alberta is the third province to bring in an exemption for cultural and religious reasons. B.C. and Manitoba already have exceptions for turban-wearing Sikhs in place. 

Unlike Alberta, however, both B.C. and Manitoba have public insurance providers. According to a Manitoba Public Insurance spokesperson, there was no increase in premiums as a result of the exemption.

Exemption isn't 'disadvantaging anyone,' says rider

Gulwant Gill was one of the motorcycle riders who rallied the Alberta government for the exemption.

Allowing Sikhs to ride a motorcycle without a helmet isn't "disadvantaging anyone" and insurance costs shouldn't be affected by the change, he said.

"The substantial risk in this scenario is not the risk of not wearing a helmet. It's riding a motorcycle," he said.

The exemption in Alberta comes into effect on April 12.