RoSPA – 5. Rider Skill & Behaviour

5.1 As with all road users, motorcyclists are responsible for their own safety, and that of other road users. This means that they should use the road within the law, and with all possible care.

5.2 In order to ensure that motorcyclists receive at least some training, the UK motorcycling licence regime requires new riders to take formal training, beginning with Compulsory Basic Training (CBT) followed, within a set time, by the full motorcycle theory and practical tests. Motorcyclists who obtain a Light Motorcycle Licence, or who are licensed via Direct or Accelerated Access, receive more training than those licensed via the stepped licence route. The licence regime also places restrictions on the size and power of motorcycles that can be ridden by novices.

5.3 Age and Experience

5.3.1 As noted in section 3.9, there is a clear relationship between age and accident risk for motorcyclists: younger riders are more likely to be killed or seriously injured than older riders, with 16 – 19 year old riders having the highest casualty rate, followed by riders aged 20 – 24 years. However, the extent to which this is due to exposure, age or riding experience is unclear, and there has been relatively little research into the role of age and experience in motorcycle accidents, nor into the effectiveness of CBT and other motorcyclist training programmes.

5.3.2 A recently published New Zealand study concluded that age was a more important factor in motorcycle accident risk than experience. This study compared 490 motorcycle riders who had been involved in road accidents on non-residential roads between 1993 and 1996, with a control group of 1,518 riders who had not been involved in an accident. Of the crash-involved riders, 18% were aged 15 – 19 years (as were 11% of the control group), 32% (and 26% respectively) were aged 20 – 24 years and 49% (and 63%) were aged 25 years and over. 21% of the crash-involved riders had less than two years riding experience, 30% had between 2 and 5 years experience and 50% had more than five years riding experience. The corresponding figures for the control group were 16%, 28% and 56%.

5.3.3 Statistical analysis showed that as age increased, accident risk decreased, so much so that riders aged 25 years or older had a 50% lower risk than those aged 15 – 19 years. It also showed that those with five or more years riding experience had a lower risk than those with less than two years. However, once age was taken into account, the study found little evidence that the amount of experience had a protective effect. The study also found that familiarity with the motorcycle being ridden significantly reduced accident risk.

5.3.4 A survey of over 1,300 motorcyclists compared accidents and attitudes of riders according to their age and the amount of motorcycling experience. Most (84%) of the sample were aged 25 years and over, 6% were aged up to 19 years and 10% were aged 20 – 24 years. Almost all (91%) had four or more years riding experience and only 2% had two years or less experience. The study found that younger riders had more accidents than older riders, irrespective of the amount of riding experience. In other words, younger riders with four or more years riding experience had more accidents than older riders with four or more years riding experience. The report concludes that younger riders have more accidents because they are young, rather than because they lack experience, and their accident risk is associated with a willingness to break the law and violate the rules of safe riding.

5.3.5 A 1994 TRL report assessed the views of instructors, trainees and motorcycle licence applicants about CBT (but did not address CBT’s effect on accident or casualty risk). It found positive views about CBT among both instructors and trainees, although many trainees found it too expensive. Applicants for motorcycle licences were also found to have positive views about CBT, but almost two-thirds had ridden their motorcycle illegally after having obtained provisional motorcycle licence. About half of these said they were unaware of the regulations, a third said they did not realise they had to take CBT before riding on the road and one fifth were knowingly breaking the law. The low levels of awareness about CBT may in part be due to the fact that this study was conducted soon after its introduction.

5.3.6 An evaluation of a one-day motorcycle training course in the UK in 1987 (before the introduction of CBT) compared a group of 78 riders who undertook a one-day motorcycle training programme, with a matched control group of 62 learner riders who received no training. Both groups were tested immediately after the training course and again two months later. The study concluded that the trained riders committed fewer errors immediately after they had been trained. Over the following two months the skills of both groups improved, but the trained group still committed fewer errors. The untrained riders committed two – two and half times as many errors, which were mainly poor rearward observation and problems maintaining balance.

5.3.7 A Canadian study compared 346 trained riders with a control group of 346 untrained riders (matched for age and sex) over a five year period from 1979 to 1984. It concluded that age was the strongest predictor of motorcycle accident involvement. However, it also found that trained riders had a lower accident rate than untrained ones, and that their accidents tended to be less severe. Overall, the trained group had 64% fewer motorcycle accidents than the untrained group (they also had 32% fewer accidents in all vehicles, including motorcycles). The number of accidents for both groups decreased with each successive year following gaining their motorcycle licence. The study also found that the benefits of training in terms of reducing accidents were stronger for riders aged 25 years or less than for older riders, and that the effects of training were stronger in the short term than in the long term.

5.3.8 An evaluation of an American motorcycle training course in 1984 compared 213 riders who had taken the course with a control group of 303 who had not. When age differences and the length of time licensed were taken into account, there was no difference in the accident or traffic violation rates between the trained and untrained riders. However, among both groups riders aged over 30 years and those who had been licensed for four years or more had lower accident rates. In 1988, a more extensive evaluation 19 of the same course was published that compared 913 trained riders with a control group of 500 untrained riders. The findings were similar.

5.3.9 A 1982 study in Canada compared the accident likelihood and traffic violations of 811 motorcyclists who had undertaken a formal motorcycle training course and 1,080 randomly selected motorcyclists who had not taken the training course. It found that the formally trained motorcyclists were less likely to have had an accident, or to have committed a traffic violation than untrained riders. However, the trained group were more likely to be female, older, better educated, married, have higher incomes, been licenced for a shorter period and to have done less mileage than the untrained group. All of these differences could have contributed to their accident and violation rates. Once the two groups had been corrected for these differences, there was no difference in accident likelihood between them, although trained motorcyclists were still significantly less likely to commit traffic offences.

5.3.10 There is little clear evidence regarding the effects of age and experience on motorcycle accident risk, and the effectiveness of the current motorcycle licence regime, CBT and motorcycle training and testing has not been properly evaluated, although the DETR plan to commission research into motorcycle training shortly.

5.3.11 The Government’s Road Safety Strategy states that the Government will further develop Compulsory Basic Training, and consider introducing different training courses for different types of motorcycle.

5.3.12 A further weakness of the motorcycle training system is the lack of a system to ensure that motorcyclist instructors are trained, tested and monitored to minimum, national standards (in the way car driving instructors are), nor is there a statutory register of motorcyclist instructors. However, the Road Safety Strategy only regards this as a long term aim.

5.4 ‘Born’ Again Bikers

5.4.1 At the other end of the scale from novice riders are older riders who have retained a full motorcycling licence and are returning to motorcycling after a break of many years (“Born Again Bikers”). It is thought that these riders are responsible for the increase in the number of casualties aged between 30 and 59 years in recent years. As they have not used a motorcycle for many years, such riders may have rusty skills and be unfamiliar with present day motorcycles which are much more powerful than the vehicles they rode years before.

5.4.2 In view of this concern, training courses have been developed by organisations, such as RoSPA, Bikesafe 2000 and individual Police Forces. In its Road Safety Strategy, the Government supports such courses, and also proposes that the DVSA should, in partnership with interested parties, develop guidance for these riders, such as gaining familiarisation with machines that may have much greater power and acceleration.

5.4.3 It is suggested that another key characteristic of “Born Again Bikers” is that they tend to use their motorcycle for leisure riding, rather than for commuting or for work. They will ride less than 3,000 miles per year, usually during the day and in good weather. Therefore, their opportunities to develop the necessary skills and experience to cope with more hazardous situations are limited.

5.5 Fitness To Ride

5.5.1 As with drivers, it is essential that motorcyclists are fit to ride. It could be argued that any impairment due to alcohol, drugs, medicines or fatigue is likely to have a greater effect on motorcycle riders than car drivers because the rider must balance and control a two-wheeled vehicle.

5.5.2 Alcohol
Alcohol reduces the ability to concentrate, slows reaction time, often creates a feeling of over-confidence and increases the risk of being involved in an accident. It remains in the body for several hours after it has been consumed and may still affect a rider the morning afterwards. Motorcyclists should refrain from drinking any alcohol and riding.

5.5.3 Drink drive statistics show that there is little difference between the levels of drink driving/drink riding of motorcycle riders and car drivers. However, this still means that a proportion of motorcyclists are prepared to drink and ride: 443 motorcyclists failed breath tests in 1999.

5.5.4 Drugs and Medication
The role of drug use, both legal and illegal, in road accidents is complex, and does not lend itself to easy answers. There is no evidence to suggest that this is a greater problem for motorcyclists than for drivers, but the same issues relate to both groups.

5.5.5 Motorcyclists should not ride if they feel affected by medicines (including some everyday medicines) or illegal drugs, or if they are taking medicine or undergoing any medical treatment which advises against driving or riding. Appropriate guidance from medical practitioners and pharmacists, and warning labels on medicines, are essential. Positive advice about alternatives to riding and advice to return to the GP if side-effects are experienced are just as important as warnings not to ride if affected by the medicine, or by the illness. Current developments in roadside tests for drugs and/or impairment should apply as much to motorcyclists, as to drivers.

5.5.6 Fatigue
As with drivers, a tired motorcyclist is more likely to have a crash. Motorcyclists may have an increased susceptibility to fatigue because of noise, vibration and exposure to weather conditions. Unlike car drivers, they may feel unable to find a safe place to stop and sleep in their vehicle and may be more tempted to keep going on long journeys.

5.5.7 Riders should avoid starting a long distance ride after having worked a full day, and take regular breaks (every two hours of riding). Riders who begin feel tired should stop somewhere safe, walk around in the fresh air and take drinks containing strong caffeine. If tiredness persists, they should find somewhere safe and take a short nap.

5.5.8 Most of the research into fatigue has concentrated on drivers, but the recommendations flowing from this research can equally be applied to motorcyclists:

  • do not ride when feeling tired
  • avoid riding in the early hours or when you would normally be asleep
  • plan and take regular rest stops on long journeys
  • take a break about every two hours
  • try to avoid riding after a heavy meal
  • do not drink and ride
  • avoid riding if affected by drugs or medicines that may cause drowsiness
  • adopt a comfortable position on the machine with your instep resting on the footrests
  • consider wearing internal ear protection (ear-plugs) to reduce noise
  • wear comfortable clothing that provides physical protection and is appropriate to the weather.

5.6 Speed

5.6.1 The DETR’s review of speed policy, “New Directions in Speed Management” states that “almost all drivers and riders exceed speed limits at some time”. It showed that 63% of motorcyclists exceed the speed limit on 30 mph urban roads (compared to 69% of car drivers) and 35% exceed the limit on 40 mph urban roads (compared to 26% of car drivers). Unfortunately, figures are not available for the proportion of motorcyclists exceeding the limits on rural single carriageway roads, dual carriageways or motorways. However, an earlier Government report on speed stated that 60% of motorcycles break the 70 mph limit on motorways and 43% break the limit on dual carriageways. A third of motorcycles were found to exceed the 60 mph limit on single carriageway A roads.

5.6.2 DETR speed surveys at thirty-one sites in 30 mph areas in 1996 recorded 7,000 motorcyclists, over half ( 56%) of whom were speeding, and one third (35%) were doing over 35mph. This was less than the proportion of car drivers exceeding the limit at those sites. At 40 mph sites, however, more motorcyclists exceeded the limit than car drivers: one third (34%) of motorcyclists exceeded the limit, with 18% exceeding 45 mph.

5.6.3 The risk and severity of injury increases with speed. Most motorcycle accidents occur at relatively low speeds, although fatal and serious injuries are more likely to be suffered at higher speeds.

5.6.4 Built-up roads (defined as roads with speed limits of 40 mph or less) have the highest casualty rate for motorcyclists. As noted in section 3.10 – 3.14, over two thirds of powered two wheeler casualties occur on built-up roads, despite the fact that they carry less than half of motorcyclist traffic. However, only one third of motorcyclist deaths occur on these roads. One quarter of motorcyclist casualties, but 60% of deaths, occur on non-built up roads (speed limits over 40 mph). Only 2% of casualties and 3% of deaths occur on motorways, which also have the lowest motorcyclist casualty rate.

5.6.5 The European Experimental Vehicles Committee’s review of research into motorcycle accidents, also found that the majority of motorcycle collisions take place at fairly low speeds, between 30 and 60 kilometres per hour.

5.6.6 A TRL study found that approximately 75% of motorcycle accidents occur at impact speeds of up to 48km/h (30 mph) and 96% at up to 64 km/h (40 mph). The study also found that almost all (93%) of the serious and fatal head injuries occur at speeds of up to 64km/h (40 mph).

5.6.7 These figures suggest that high speed riding and accidents are not the main area of concern, and that interventions should be directed towards motorcycle riding at lower speeds.

5.7 Helmets and Clothing

5.7.1 Motorcycle Helmets
Around 80% of motorcyclists killed in road accidents suffer major head injuries, and although there are serious injuries to other body areas in some of these cases, many do die from head injuries. Head and brain injuries can be caused in very low speed accidents, and motorcycle helmets offer good protection against such injuries (although they do not guarantee protection). In the UK, motorcyclists must wear a helmet when riding on the road. Helmets sold in the UK must comply with ECE Regulation 22 as amended by the 05 series of amendments, British Standard BS 6658 as amended or a European standard which offers a level of protection which is the same as, or better than, the BS.

5.7.2 A literature review of the effectiveness of motorcycle helmets shows that helmets reduce the risk of fatal head injury by around 50%. It is sometimes suggested that the extra weight of a helmet actually increases the risk of neck injuries, but research has found no evidence to support this. Full faced helmets offer greater protection against facial and chin injuries than open-faced helmets, but may slightly increase the risk of injury to other parts of the head.

5.7.3 However, there is evidence that the helmet comes off the head in some accidents, and that the protection offered against chin impacts is inadequate (riders who suffer chin impacts frequently suffer fractures to the base of the skull – the most threatening head injury). There is room for improvement in the design and construction of motorcycle helmets, and the DETR have commissioned research to develop better helmets.

5.7.4 Tinted Visors
Some motorcyclists wear sunglasses, tinted visors or goggles, and are asking for a change in the law to legalise very dark tints, with minimum light transmittance of 18%, for daytime use. Research on the effect of tinted visors on seeing distances and signal light recognition on unlit roads at night, supports a minimum level of 50% transmittance. This research was conducted on fully alert subjects with good eyesight wearing visors which were in good condition, and so may under-estimate the potential problems caused by the use of dark tinted visors in less good conditions. However, further research would be useful. Tinted visors, goggles or glasses should not be worn in the dark or in conditions of poor visibility. It is important that they are kept clean and free from scratches which may distort the view, cause dazzle from oncoming vehicle headlights or cause sun glare.

5.7.5 Noise
At 60 mph noise levels (mainly wind noise) inside motorcycle helmets can be in excess of 100dB. Extended exposure to noise levels of over 90dB can lead to permanent hearing loss. Noise inside the helmet may prevent the rider from hearing audible signals, such as horns, sirens and traffic.

5.7.6 As good as current motorcycle helmets are, there is room for improvement, and the DETR have commissioned research to develop better motorcycle helmets.

5.8 Protective Clothing

5.8.1 As noted above, head injuries, although often the most serious, are not the only injuries motorcyclists suffer. Leg and arm injuries are common, and leg injuries in particular can be serious, and often cause permanent disability.

5.8.2 Under the European Commissions Personal Protective Equipment Directive, a series of European standards are being developed for motorcyclist protective clothing that will be designed to:

  • prevent or reduce laceration and abrasion injuries
  • prevent or reduce impact injuries, such as fractures, broken bones and joint damage

5.8.3 These Standards are essential to help motorcyclists distinguish between clothing that offers minimum levels of protection and garments that may look similar but which would offer very little protection.

5.8.4 Protective clothing for motorcyclists include a wide range of garments, including one and two-piece suits, trousers, jackets, boots and gloves. Protection from abrasion is provided by material, such as leather, which resists abrasion, and impact protection is provided by energy absorbing pads placed at strategic points in the garment.

5.8.5 However, as with helmets, there are accidents and injuries from which the best protective clothing would be unable to protect the rider. It is also essential that garments are comfortable to wear, do not impede the movements of the rider and provide protection from the elements.

5.8.6 In addition, while riders of motorcycles may be willing to wear protective clothing, it is less likely that moped and scooter riders will do so. These riders tend to ride in their normal clothes which offer little protection from abrasion and impact injuries.

5.8.7 High Visibility Clothing
Protective clothing that contains fluorescent and reflective material will increase the conspicuity of the rider, and hence help to reduce the likelihood of an accident occurring in the first place. Some motorcyclist groups are not convinced that the benefits of high visibility clothing for motorcyclists have been proven. Research to establish the most effective type and design of high visibility garments for motorcyclists is necessary.

5.9 Driver Rider and Behaviour – Conclusion
As with all road accidents, the causes and contributory factors of motorcycling accident are varied and complex. Not enough is known about the reasons for motorcycle accidents, nor about the effectiveness of interventions, such as training. Further research into the behavioural aspects of motorcyclist accidents is needed to help develop appropriate and effective training programme or other appropriate counter-measures.