POLITICS
02/04/2014 06:17 EST | Updated 04/06/2014 05:59 EDT

Motorcycle report calls for tougher rules for new riders in Saskatchewan

REGINA - A new report says Saskatchewan should increase requirements for getting a motorcycle learner's licence and make additional gear mandatory for new riders.

The recommendations are from a motorcycle review committee formed by Saskatchewan Government Insurance, which is trying to find ways to reduce claims and save money.

SGI spokesman Don Thompson says some of the changes could be in place for the upcoming riding season if the government approves them.

"I guess the biggest one is the basic skill and ability test, so that people can't go in and just write a test and start driving a motorcycle. That's probably the biggest one that would be ready to go this year if we get approval," Thompson said Tuesday.

New riders would have to show that they can safely handle a motorcycle before being issued a licence.

The committee also said it should be mandatory for riders in the motorcycle graduated driver licensing program to have their arms and legs covered, wear gloves, ankle-covering boots, eye protection and at least a three-quarter helmet. The current mandatory gear is a helmet plus eye protection or a windshield on the motorcycle.

As well, anyone wanting a motorcycle learner's permit would first have to hold a Class 5 driver's licence — the standard licence for operating a vehicle.

But the committee is not recommending mandatory training.

"If people really don't want to take training, do we want them in a training course?" said Thompson. "If we make it mandatory and they have to be there, we think their approach to learning anything at that training course is limited."

There were also concerns that training might not be available in rural areas.

Don Fuller with the group Riders Against Government Exploitation said the committee has some strong ideas and especially likes the changes for new riders.

"The very fact that ... you can take a five- or 10-minute test on a touch screen and get on a motorcycle is ridiculous," said Fuller.

But Fuller added that some of the recommendations, such as adjusting insurance rates based on motorcycle type, don't do enough to address safety.

The review began last year after a proposed rate increase which would have seen insurance costs for motorcycles go up by an average of 73 per cent.

Motorcyclists were shocked and said the move could force them to give up their bikes.

SGI said the increase was necessary because there's about a $9-million gap between what it takes in from motorcyclists in fees versus what is paid out for collisions.

The province stepped in and asked SGI to amend its proposed hike this year so that it's capped at 15 per cent for motorcycles with annual rates greater than $1,000 — just like other vehicles. Motorcycles with annual rates of $1,000 or less will be subject to a dollar cap instead of a percentage cap, with a maximum increase of $150 annually.

SGI said it will take time to see the full impact of any changes, but the report's initiatives have the potential to reduce motorcycle deaths and injury by about 20 per cent.

The Saskatchewan government is reviewing the report.