Writing in the Winter 2015/16 80th anniversary edition of Good Motoring magazine, Ian Kerr MBE suggests there are some effective ways of improving the safety of motorcyclists – starting with a more rigorous learning and testing process
Motorcycle riders feature prominently in the yearly statistics, referring to those killed or seriously injured on the roads in the UK. In fact, according to the latest figures, they account for one in every five deaths on our roads, despite representing just 1% of all traffic. What’s more, 19% of all reported motorcycle casualties involved riders aged 19 and under.
So it is no real surprise when the Government announces plans to review the motorcycle test once again, and to look again at the routes available to riders to be able to climb on machines with a 200mph capability.
Shock, horror: bikes that fast must be dangerous.
But it is a different demographic who buys these fast machines. Riders are older, wiser and more able to afford the crippling insurance premiums. So in reality the faster the bike the safer they are… but try marketing that as a strapline.
Modern machines have so much technology on them now, they are almost at a level where there is little that can now be done by the manufacturer to make them any safer. So as usual we come back to the rider and training issues, but of course the risks are higher on two wheels.
The Motorcycle Industry Association (MCIA) has been working with police to find a solution. They have improved the level of instruction available, by accrediting trainers and giving them professional qualifications, as well as supporting the Bikesafe assessments carried out by police.
The industry believes professionally-recognised vocational qualifications are the future for those working in the rider training industry, following on from hints by The Driver & Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) when they started to look at instructor registration in 2011/12 before abandoning the idea.
Currently the DVSA only checks instructor standards once every four years on average and checks are mostly by appointment, making them worthless.
Perhaps more interesting are the results contained in the recently-published work “Motorcycle Safety and Transport Policy Framework” by the industry and police. The landmark policy document encourages greater use of motorcycles on UK roads, which the two organisations claim should improve road safety as a result.
Surprisingly both bodies agree that encouraging, rather than discouraging motorcycling, should contribute to better safety outcomes for motorcyclists and thus reduce their appearance in the statistics as a high risk group.
The idea that more motorcycles on the road improves rider safety was initially based on European data, which shows that when a greater percentage of traffic is made up of motorcycles, mopeds or scooters, riders are less likely to be involved in a collision. The Belgian study, which modelled a shift from cars to motorcycles on one of the most congested roads in Europe, found that when just 10% of car drivers swapped to a powered two wheeler, congestion was reduced for all road users by 40%.
When 25% of drivers swapped, congestion was eliminated altogether and everyone who was on two wheels was a lot safer as a result.
There is a growing body of evidence which shows that if more people started their road careers on a motorcycle, scooter or moped, this would lead to improvements in driver behaviour towards all vulnerable road users. It is also acknowledged that motorcyclists make better road users when driving cars.
So how do we test riders or – more important – how do we train them? After all, the government’s track record is not great. Plans under consideration include the structure and content of Compulsory Basic Training courses, the qualification process for instructors and standards checks for instructors, which assess their ability to teach pupils.
This latest review comes after the DVSA and the Department for Transport commissioned new research into the views of trainers and learner riders on the current CBT, and how any changes would affect new riders. It is claimed the research has helped shape a number of proposals which have been developed in conjunction with motorcycle groups and the training industry.
Let us hope they finally result in some quality training and testing standards that can be maintained, and a simplified licence system that does not put people off from qualifying. But above all else, we must hope that this latest review results in safer riders and a significant dip in statistics – not to yet another review in a few years’ time, because they have got it wrong again.