Are motorcycle helmets mandatory in Canada?

By Arthur Dubois | Published on 04 Jul 2023

Riding a motorcycle can thrill you with an exhilarating experience, but it comes with its dangers. Without the protection of a metal frame, motorcyclists remain vulnerable to serious injury and even death in a collision. Therefore, wearing a helmet is vital for anyone riding a motorcycle. 

But are motorcycle helmets mandatory in Canada? In this article, we will examine the importance of helmets and the laws surrounding them in Canada and other countries around the world.

The Importance of Motorcycle Helmets

Riding a motorcycle without a helmet makes for a risky proposition. Helmets reduce the risk of head and brain injuries in the event of a collision. In short, they can mean the difference between life and death for a rider. Research has shown that helmets are up to 37 percent effective in preventing fatal injuries to motorcycle riders in the United States. That rate stands at 41 percent for their passengers.

In Canada, 242 motorcyclists and moped drivers died in traffic collisions; that’s 13.9 percent of all road use fatalities and a drastic increase from previous years. 

While some riders may argue that helmets feel uncomfortable or restrict their vision, the safety benefits far outweigh potential drawbacks. In fact, many countries have laws that require motorcycle riders to wear helmets at all times. In Canada, you must always wear them on public roads.

Safety Benefits of Wearing a Helmet

A helmet can protect a rider from many types of head injuries, including skull fractures, brain hemorrhages and concussions. A team from the Department of Surgery, Maine Medical Center in Portland, Maine, reviewed medical files of riders for a June 2021 study. They found that motorcyclists who wore helmets decreased their risk of death by 42 percent and of head injury by 69 percent. 

Also, helmeted riders had less severe injuries to their heads, faces, necks, abdomens and cervical spines. In other words, a helmet can mean the difference between a minor injury and a life-altering one.

Furthermore, a helmet can also protect the face and eyes from debris and help prevent road rash in a crash. Road rash occurs when a rider’s skin meets the pavement at high speeds, resulting in painful and disfiguring injuries.

Of course, not all helmets are created equal. Riders should look for helmets that meet safety standards set by organizations such as the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators. These helmets have been rigorously tested and are designed to provide maximum protection in the event of a crash. However, each province and territory stipulates its own helmet laws.

In addition to the safety benefits, wearing a helmet can also improve rider confidence and comfort. A helmet reduces wind noise, protects against the sun and keeps a rider warm and dry in inclement weather. Some helmets even come equipped with built-in Bluetooth technology, allowing riders to enjoy music or take phone calls on the road.

Types of Motorcycle Helmets

There are several types of helmets available for motorcycle riders. Each one comes with its own pros and cons, for safety and functionality. While we share three models below, full-face motorcycle helmets are 45.3 percent safer than the others. If you plan to buy one soon, check out these options first.

Full-face helmet

Foremost, a full-face helmet covers the entire head and face, with a chin guard for added protection. From a safety standpoint, they cushion you when the chin bar hits the ground first in almost 20 percent of crashes.

This model also protects riders more from wind, cold, noise, sun, rain, insects and stones. However, they do close you in so you don’t feel the freedom of the wind on your face. 

Our Amazon PickILM Full Face Motorcycle Street Bike Helmet with Removable Winter Neck Scarf + 2 Visors DOT Model-JK313
Amazon Rating4.4 stars

Open-face helmet

Open-face helmets cover the tops and sides of the head, leaving the face exposed. They weigh less and provide riders with more energy for longer rides, but leave riders open to more hazards. They also allow better hearing and visibility without dangerous blind spots. With one of these, you can scratch an itch and communicate non-verbally with others on the road.

Our Amazon PickHalf Casco Open Face Motorcycle Helmet
Amazon Rating3.8 stars

Modular helmet

Modular – or flip-up – helmets combine the features of full-face and open-face versions, with a chin guard that you can keep or remove. Riders can adapt to ride with the wind in their faces or block it off to stay warm. However, like the full-face helmet, they carry the extra weight of a hinge and locking mechanism. This feature can jam up or let in a whistle of the wind, making them louder when this happens. Their moving parts compromise the integrity of the shell, so they offer less crash protection than full-face helmets.

Our Amazon PickILM Motorcycle Dual Visor Flip up Modular Helmet
Amazon Rating4.4 stars

Off-road helmet

Designed for use in off-road or motocross racing, these helmets have a long visor and chin guard for added protection from debris. Naturally, this model does not come recommended for street riding, as it may not provide adequate protection in a crash.

Our Amazon PickWolsey Dual Sport Off Road Motorcycle Helmet 
Amazon Rating4.1 stars

Regardless of the type of helmet a rider chooses, it is important to choose one that fits properly and is comfortable to wear.

Helmet Fit and Comfort

Of course, every rider wants to choose a helmet that fits properly and feels comfortable to wear. A loose or tight helmet will not provide the necessary protection in a crash. Make sure the helmet sits snugly on the head, with no gaps or pressure points. It should also ride comfortably for extended periods of time.

Riders should also consider the weight of the helmet when making a purchase. A heavy helmet may cause neck fatigue, while lighter helmets cause less strain for long periods of time.

Finally, riders should replace their helmets regularly. Over time, a helmet’s protective capabilities can degrade due to exposure to sunlight, sweat and other factors. Most manufacturers recommend replacing a helmet every three to five years or after any significant impact or crash. That way, the resin and the foam will cushion riders adequately if they run into some bad luck.

The Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators recommends the ECE 22.05 motorcycle helmet standard. This international standard applies in more than 50 countries worldwide. That standard upgrades to 22.06 in January 2024.

Canadian Motorcycle Helmet Laws

In Canada, helmet laws aim to protect riders and reduce the risk of serious injury or death during crashes. While helmets are not the only safety measure that riders can take, they make a huge difference. In addition to protecting the head from impact, helmets can also spare them from hurtful injuries to other parts of the body.

Federal Regulations

Since the Canada eliminated its Standard CAN-3-D230 of the Canadian Standards Association in 2013, it has defaulted to international ones:

Meanwhile, some helmet manufacturers go above and beyond to create helmets with additional safety features. They factor in impact testing, penetration resistance, retention system strength and labeling requirements. Some helmets have built-in communication systems, while others have special materials that can reduce the risk of brain injury.

Provincial and Territorial Helmet Laws

Each province and territory has its own helmet laws, but all require riders of motorcycles and other motorized two-wheeled vehicles to wear them. Some provinces require helmets for all riders, while others have different requirements based on age or the type of vehicle.

For example, in some provinces, certain religious groups who wear head coverings, such as Sikhs, are exempt. In those cases, helmets don’t fit over their unshorn hair and cannot infringe on their religious freedoms. In Quebec, only low-speed electric bicycles get to go helmet-free.

Certainly, riders should familiarize themselves with the helmet laws in their province or territory to avoid penalties for non-compliance.

British Columbia lawsAll riders must wear helmets DOT FMVSS 218, the Snell Memorial Foundation, the American National Standards Institute or the ECE with some exceptions for certain religious groups who wear head coverings.
Alberta lawsAll riders must wear Canadian Standards Association (CSA)-compliant helmets and eye protection, such as goggles or a face shield, with some exceptions for certain religious groups who wear head coverings.
Saskatchewan lawsAll riders must wear helmets certified by DOT FMVSS 218, the Snell Memorial Foundation, the American National Standards Institute or the ECE and eye protection with some exceptions for certain religious groups for charity motorcycle events.
Manitoba lawsAll riders must wear helmets certified by DOT FMVSS 218, the Snell Memorial Foundation or the ECE, plus eye protection.
Ontario lawsAll riders must wear helmets with chin straps with some exceptions for certain religious groups who wear head coverings.
Quebec lawsAll riders must wear helmets with a visor or goggles with some exceptions for low-speed electric bicycles
New Brunswick lawsAll riders must wear helmets certified by DOT FMVSS 218, the Snell Memorial Foundation or the ECE.
Nova Scotia lawsAll riders must wear helmets certified by the British Standards Institute, the Snell Memorial Foundation, the United States of America Department of Transportation or the ECE.
Prince Edward Island lawsAll riders must wear helmets.
Newfoundland and LabradorAll riders must wear helmets except when hunting and trapping while making frequent stops at speeds less than 20 km/h.
Northwest Territories lawsAll riders must wear helmets with certification from CSA Can 3-D230-M85 or DOT FMVSS 218 with chin straps.
Nunavut laws (See page 2)All riders must wear helmets with certification from CSA Can 3-D230-M85 or DOT FMVSS 218 with chin straps.
Yukon laws (See page 17)All riders must wear helmets and goggles.

Penalties for Non-Compliance

Failure to comply with helmet laws can result in fines. The penalties vary by province and territory, but all have consequences for non-compliance. Furthermore, getting fined for such an infraction may also impact your motorcycle insurance premiums. In Canada, insurers often see traffic violations as indicators of risky behaviour, which could increase your perceived risk and thus lead to higher premiums. More importantly, riders who choose not to wear helmets also put themselves at increased risk of serious injury or death in the event of a crash.

Remember, helmets should be replaced every three to five years, even if they haven’t been involved in a crash. Over time, the materials in the helmet can degrade, reducing its effectiveness in protecting the head in a crash. Riders should also replace their helmets after any crash, even if there’s no visible damage.

The Bottom Line

While some people argue against helmet laws, the evidence supports their use as a means of preventing serious head and brain injuries. In Canada, helmet laws vary by province and territory, but all require some form of helmet for motorcycle riders. Other countries around the world have their own helmet laws in place to protect riders.

The importance of wearing a helmet when riding a motorcycle cannot be overstated. Helmets save lives and every rider should make it a priority to wear one whenever they get on a motorcycle.

Arthur Dubois is a personal finance writer at Hardbacon. Since relocating to Canada, he has successfully built his credit score from scratch and begun investing in the stock market. In addition to his work at Hardbacon, Arthur has contributed to Metro newspaper and several other publications