Proposals for Enhanced Motorcycle Safety

Published on 1 November 2003 by Gill

The British Motorcyclists Federation accepts that there are legitimate concerns about current levels of motorcycle casualties and agrees that improvements in safety should be pursued. We are anxious to support legislation with provable casualty reduction benefits. However, we regard the issue as being overstated and that the Minister may have been unduly influenced by individuals and organisations unsympathetic to the benefits of increased powered two-wheeler usage. It is clear that powered two-wheeler safety is a complex matter with no simple answers. It would, therefore, be disingenuous to support simplistic measures particularly if their effectiveness cannot be gauged. We are not, therefore prepared to support legislation based upon knee jerk reactions and prejudice.

At present, there is limited information available on the causes of accidents which in turn lead to casualties. Hence it is difficult to identify the measures most likely to be effective. Before any decisions are made, we strongly recommend that the Government Advisory Group on Motorcycling is allowed to complete its work in developing a National Motorcycle Strategy. This will help to inform decision makers of the nature of the problems and any specific groups which should be targeted. It is noted that several studies on motorcycle safety were initiated by the GAGM Task Force on Research with some still to be completed. These will provide a better insight into the ‘casualty problem' but may still not provide sufficient information on which to devise effective counter-measures. We counsel that further research on accident causation and profiles of riders suffering involved in crashes should be undertaken. There should be no question of enacting legislation without firm reasons for believing it is tackling genuine problems.

It is widely perceived that there are two distinct aspects of PTW casualties although most indications are anecdotal:

Urban/commuter collisions generally involving mopeds, scooters and small motorcycles where drivers of other vehicles remain the main cause of collisions.

Rural/leisure accidents which are predominantly single vehicle accidents involving larger sports motorcycles. It should be noted that in an MCI/RAC study in 1996, the need for a more thorough investigation of the causes of single vehicle accidents was called for since not all are due to rider error.

We consider it necessary to differentiate between these and other scenarios since causes are likely to vary. Even with the limited information available, it is clear that there is a range of causes and, in introducing counter-measures, one size does not fit all.

It is apparent that the main concerns are:

PTW users failing to meet the casualty reduction targets for 2010.

The BMF is concerned that the targets are expressed in a manner which takes no account of the substantial increase in PTW usage and leads to undue alarm. It would be more accurate and fair to express PTW casualties and casualty reduction targets as a function of rate of exposure such as overall distance travelled.

Increasing numbers killed and seriously injured in rural single vehicle motorcycle accidents.

It has been suggested that this is predominant in males of between the ages of 30 and 50 riding sports-styled motorcycles. Further speculation suggests that they are inexperienced, being either riders who have recently passed their motorcycle test, riders who have returned to motorcycling after a long break, or experienced riders with negative attitudes. The evidence for a significant increase of killed and seriously injured in 2003 remains anecdotal but appears to be relatively small in scale when motorcyclists' and pedal cyclists' hospital bed days are compared and fatalities related to smoking and accidents in the home are taken into account. We doubt whether similar concerns are being expressed about these groups!

With the speculative nature of the ‘problem' and the subjective manner in which it has been perceived in mind, the BMF offers the following views on how PTW safety should be improved.

Government Actions
The BMF is anxious that legislation should not be enacted at this time and that any measures which are adopted should be inspired by impartial research. We reiterate that this will not be available until at least 2004. Legislation should not be enacted to solve problems that are perceived rather than actual, nor be intended to cynically reduce the exposure to risk by limiting numbers of riders. The motorcycle-related measures in the Transport Act 1981 are a prime example of such legislation. It is noteworthy that every measure in this Act has been superseded i.e. vehicle specification, two-part test and licence life limitation, demonstrating how inappropriate they were. The Act's failure to address the causes of PTW casualties and to reduce the vulnerability of riders perpetuated a cycle where when the market recovers, casualties increase.

The UK is already to be subject to future legislation from the European Union which could supersede any UK legislation enacted in the short term.

In 2008, amendments to the Second EC Driving Licence Directive are to be implemented in which the motorcycle test will include additional exercises which will lead to significant (expensive and inconvenient) changes being made to the manner in which the test is conducted. The emphasis will be on braking at higher speeds than are currently tested and collision avoidance although there is no evidence that these are solutions to existing causes of casualties. Large purpose built off-road areas at test centres will be required to facilitate these exercises.

The draft Third EC Driving Licence Directive has recently resurfaced and is soon to commence the Co-decision process. Its motorcycle-related measures include the introduction of three steps in the motorcycle licensing procedure and increasing minimum ages for access to larger motorcycles. Yet from the sketchy information available, adding to the bureaucracy to obtain a full motorcycle
licence and increasing the age limits for an age group not perceived to be suffering high levels of casualties, is unlikely to improve motorcycle safety. This Directive may be enacted before 2008.

Some adjustments to the existing testing and training regime may be of value. The Driving Standards Agency is progressing towards the use of logbooks to monitor trainees' progress which could be brought forward. Concerns from the training industry have been expressed with regard to the Direct Access Scheme. Improved assessments of instructors, a post test training requirement and its incorporation into a logbook regime should be considered for the improvement of DAS.

The Government should reconsider its whole approach to road safety since it is failing to make road use safer by reducing crashes. Car occupant casualties have been falling in severity but this can be attributed to improvements in car construction which are providing better occupant protection; the number of crashes is not being reduced. Similar measures cannot be readily applied to vulnerable road users which include PTW riders where injuries cannot be reduced unless the causes of crashes are addressed. We suggest that this throws the whole basis of road safety in the UK into question.

Parochial and simplistic campaigns often backed by enforcement message of unquestioningly refraining from excess speed, driving whilst impaired, using hand held mobile phone, etc are increasingly being shown to be ineffective. The safety of PTW users and other road users has not been improved by the draconian ‘speed management' which forms the basis of UK road safety. It has been demonstrated as an easy option and a simplistic panacea of being seen to do something about a perceived problem. It should replaced by exhortation and enforcement measures to improve standards of road use which would include matters like speed choice, anticipation and judgement of situations. An essential element of achieving this is for the reduction of the police traffic service to be reversed.

The THINK! campaign could be a valuable tool in raising awareness in all road users and reminding them of their responsibilities, which should be reinforced. While it has largely adopted this parochial message, in contrast, THINK! for motorcycles has been based upon improving observation and driving/riding standards. In the latest proposed advertising campaign aimed at leisure riders, as discussed at the September GAGM meeting, a similar approach was adopted. This should continue, not only for PTWs but other THINK! advertising which should adopt a similar message in line with the foregoing comments. It could usefully be linked to a hard hitting and sustained awareness campaign in which motorcyclists are targeted to better negotiate junctions, bends and overtaking and for other road users to become more aware of motorcyclists. It could usefully be devolved locally in the same manner as THINK!.

Earlier in this paper concern was expressed about the manner in which casualty reduction targets and PTW casualties are expressed. The current Administration and previous governments have often achieved better clarity in their messages by expressing numerical information so as to take into account other factors. Examples of the use of revised figures include unemployment, inflation and the cost of living. We recommend that during the next review of progress toward the casualty reduction targets revisions should be made which employ casualty rates rather than total numbers giving a more accurate picture which takes into account the current growth of PTW usage.

PTW access to bus lanes can reduce risks for riders without increasing those for other users of bus lanes. MP for Leominster , Bill Wiggin with the assistance of the BMF successfully launched the Ten Minute Rule Motorcycles Bus Lane Bill in the House of Commons on Wednesday 22nd October
in which PTWs would have automatic access to bus lanes nationally. The BMF calls for the Government to support this initiative and to ensure that it either achieves its second reading on 21 st November or is accepted in the ballot for a Private Members Bill. Support for PTW access to Advanced Stop Lines should also be encouraged since this too can enhance safety without risk to other road users.

The British Motorcyclists Federation is anxious to co-operate with the Government in improving safety for PTW users but we are concerned that any measure adopted should be beneficial while not reducing access to the mode. Any attempt to introduce negative legislation would ultimately be self-defeating since it would alienate motorcyclists and distract the motorcycle lobby from promoting PTW safety by provoking their opposition.

Ongoing Non Government Campaigns
BikeSafe is proving to be accepted by motorcyclists by not only improving riding standards of motorcyclists but also engendering better relations with the police. BikeSafe should continue to be operated as an assessment leading to further post test training as offered by a number of motorcycle training bodies including the BMF Rider Training Scheme. However BikeSafe assessments are generally taken up by safety conscious riders so we recommend that it should made mandatory for Rider Improvement Schemes for those convicted of minor motoring offences as an alternative to fines and penalty points. The BMF welcomes the rationalisation of BikeSafe by ACPO but considers that it would benefit from Government funding which should be ring fenced.

The BMF Rider Training Scheme and other training bodies offer post test training courses for riders who are newly qualified, returning to motorcycling after a long break or who wish to improve their riding. Riders should be encouraged to take further training through BikeSafe assessments or required to take Rider Improvement courses. While the BMF RTS requires its instructors courses to be up to its internal standard, improvements across the board should be encouraged by the imposition of minimum standards for conducting such courses.

While there is positive publicity through the THINK! and Handle It or Lose It campaigns, we believe that there should be more publicity to not only call for riders to improve their standard of riding but to increase awareness by other road users . The BMF is playing its part by raising the profile of responsible motorcycling of which its Don't Make An Impact campaign is a prime example.

Media portrayal is problematic in which the general press seems to relish reporting motorcycle accidents and negative aspects of motorcycling while the specialised press appears to promote a message of showing off and riding irresponsibly. The BMF calls for a more positive and responsible representation of motorcycling while not making it boring. In our house magazine, Motorcycle Rider , we have always adopted this approach and are running a series of articles about the casualty problem, particularly as it affects leisure riders.

While road user education is regarded as one of the three ‘Es' (engineering, enforcement and education), it appears to be the poor relation. At present, it is being used through campaigns like THINK! to raise awareness and as a remedial measure as part of driver/rider improvement courses. The BMF supports the MCIA's efforts to enhance the rôle of road user education by bringing it to schools as a course in its own right. A GCSE on road safety is already offered in Northern Ireland and this should be extended to Great Britain . We are concerned that such courses should be conducted impartially without bias against the powered two-wheeler.

The BMF questions the efficacy of some engineering measures applied or considered to be applicable to PTWs such as leg protectors, air bags and hard wired headlights. We require proof that they will be effective before recommending their use in the PTW fleet. However, in spite of a possible increase in risk homeostasis there appear to be net benefits from the use of Anti-Lock Braking Systems. Hence, we recommend that ABS should be made available on a wider range of motorcycles.

The BMF with the support of HM Customs and Excise is campaigning in the European Union for the derogation for reduced rates of VAT to be applied to motorcycle helmets. We are also pressing for other items of protective clothing to be subject to reduced rates of VAT. Reducing the cost of protective clothing and helmets for motorcyclists is another means of improving safety by encouraging riders to use better quality equipment. In parallel with this the continuing research into improving helmet and clothing design should be encouraged.

Fiscal measures to encourage riders to take additional training should also be pursued. Initially, steps should be taken to reduce its cost by amending the rules for levying VAT on training so that it can be subject to reduced rates. In addition insurance companies should be encouraged to offer discounts for riders who have voluntarily completed additional training courses.

Potential Future Campaigns
The roads infrastructure should be improved for the safety of motorcyclists. Safety fence design, the location of street furniture and the siting of manhole covers remain hazards to motorcyclists and should be subject to better consideration of the PTW. Junction layouts should also be subject to improvements to improve visibility and reduce confusion. In parallel with this we call for the development of criteria for safety audits in which the PTW is specifically considered for new roads and road improvement projects.

We have concerns about the performance of the police in relation to PTW safety. The rationale appears to be to boost traffic convictions regardless of their relevance to safety by the use of minimal effort. There is too much reliance on automated enforcement equipment and road blocks where items not relevant to safety are checked. We, therefore, call on the police to improve driving/riding standards by better targeted enforcement and education of motorcyclists and other road users by:

Enhancing the rôle of the traffic police to enforce and educate road users on better standards of road use through more traffic patrols in which bad driving/riding is targeted.

Wasting less time in roadblocks concentrating on small numberplates, dark visors and noisy exhausts. These can be checked as part of stop checks for those who are riding badly where useful advice and exhortation to take a BikeSafe assessment can be given rather than issuing a penalty.

Using ANPR as it was intended – to catch criminals, not as another easy option to increase the number of penalties issued by enforcing more black and white offences. Offending road users should be stopped wherever possible and advised of the reasons for doing so rather than receiving a penalty by post.

The BMF is concerned by the promotion of highly focussed sports motorcycles which can attract the wrong sort of rider to be conducive to road safety. We recommend that manufacturers and dealers should lead the market rather than follow it in this destructive manner by market engineering to encourage the use of more practical all-rounder motorcycles like Fazers, Bandits, Sprints and VFR 800s. These machines still have an impressive performance capability but are better suited to everyday use.

Bias by some institutions including local authorities, employers, regional government, educational bodies, environmental and safety pressure groups is contrary to improving PTW safety. This leads to a failure to include PTWs in Local Transport Plans, Business Travel Plans, recommendations to the public like TravelWise and adapting the infrastructure to better facilitate PTWs when other measures have led to their increased usage. The BMF is anxious to play its part in addressing this problem which it has already addressed by its involvement in national and local consultative bodies.

Trevor Magner

Last reviewed/updated 30/09/04