Last weekend, hundreds of Quebec motorcyclists took to the highways for Operation Snail, the 16th in a series of protests aimed at Quebec’s insurance board, the Société de l’Assurance Automobile du Québec (SAAQ). The bikers drove along at sluggish speeds, clogging up main traffic arteries, and rallied on the steps of the Quebec City legislature. They are angry over rate hikes instituted by the SAAQ: registration costs have soared for all types of motorcycles—the most powerful models have been worst hit, with fees spiking from $667 last year to $1,030 in 2009 and $1,410 for 2010.
Audrey Chaput, a spokesperson for the SAAQ, admits the new rate hikes aren’t about safety—they’re meant to correct a huge deficit in provincial insurance funds caused by motorcycle accidents. Bikers only pay about $35 million into the insurance system each year, but claim approximately $144 million. “If we kept it the way it was . . . there would not be any more funds for insurance in 20 to 30 years,” Chaput says. Bikers admit that motorcycle accidents are often more severe than car crashes, leading to larger insurance payouts. But they argue that they’re as safe as car drivers, and so are being unfairly targeted. “We aren’t asking the government to drop the fees, because we know we have to pay to keep the program alive. But we don’t agree with how they apply it,” says Normand Noiseux, spokesman for Coalition Moto, the organization that arranged the protests.
Noiseux argues the steep prices have nothing to do with safety. “They didn’t put in place any program to minimize deaths and injuries on the road and I think that is the first goal . . . not just to put money in SAAQ.” Chaput agrees that bikers are generally safe drivers, but says motorcycles are inherently dangerous. According to the SAAQ, motorcycles are up to eight times more likely to be involved in accidents. And while they make up only two per cent of vehicles on Quebec’s roads, they’re involved in almost nine per cent of fatal crashes.