07/09/2013 01:51 EDT | Updated 09/08/2013 05:12 EDT

Saskatchewan insurance proposes new training, safety rules for motorcycles

REGINA - Saskatchewan is considering more requirements for new motorcycle licences, supervision for new riders and the possibility of mandatory gear.

The ideas are among more than a dozen changes to motorcycle safety, training and insurance rules proposed by Saskatchewan Government Insurance as it looks for ways to reduce claims, save money and quell the roar of angry riders.

"Individually, some (of the options) may be bigger than others, some of them will take time," Don Thompson, SGI vice-president of product management, said at a news conference Tuesday in Regina.

"The traffic safety ones will take time to impact rates, but that is the biggest way that we can reduce their rate is by reducing the number of accidents that are happening out there."

Most of the options focused on safety.

One suggestion is for potential riders to pass a basic skills test or complete a motorcycle training program before they're issued a learner's licence.

Don Fuller, with the group Riders Against Government Exploitation, says the ideas are a good start, but could go further.

"In this province, you don't have to have a driver's licence to get a motorcycle learner's licence. You never have to have been in a vehicle, taken any sort of driver training. You have to spend 10 minutes at a touchscreen and you get a motorcycle learner's licence," said Fuller.

"The requirement in Saskatchewan is the same as being able to run an automated teller. If I can withdraw $20 from an automated teller, that means I can ride a motorcycle? That's ludicrous, it's insane."

New riders who don't take training courses could see an additional $500 a year fee or be restricted on the size of the bike they use.

Barry Muir, supervising chief instructor of motorcycle training program at the Saskatchewan Safety Council, says the incentives for training are better than he hoped for. Muir also says mandatory gear could reduce the injuries riders "are going to have if they go down."

"The people that are riding in T-shirts and flip flops and that kind of stuff, they are going to have bad skin damage if they have an accident and those bills are costing us a lot of money," said Muir.

"So mandatory gear, again for new riders, a full coverage helmet, I think is an absolutely fantastic suggestion."

Helmets and eye protection are currently the law in Saskatchewan and similar rules apply across the country. No other jurisdiction in Canada has mandatory rules for wearing gloves, ankle-covering boots or clothing that cover arms and legs, according to SGI.

SGI is also considering a seasonal insurance rating, similar to Alberta and Manitoba.

Riders who register their bikes for June, July and August — when most claims happen — would pay 48 per cent of the annual rate, while those who register their bikes for the full year would pay less.

SGI is also looking for 1,000 volunteers for a pilot program that will track motorcycle use to help set insurance rates. The auto fund said last month that it wants to install telematics devices on bikes to record speed, mileage, braking and cornering.

On the insurance side, the suggestions would allow motorcyclists to opt out of some coverage, including permanent impairment benefit and death benefit, if they are at fault for the collision or no one was at fault.

Thompson says not every idea has the unanimous support of the review committee.

"We were somewhat split on whether we should have a supervising rider. There's a lot of challenges with that," he said.

The review was launched earlier this 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.

But 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.

The options put forward Tuesday are meant to steer SGI to a long-term solution.

The public has until the end of this month to comment on the proposals and SGI is to report to the government in the fall. The goal is to have the new rules in place for next year's riding season.