Commons Gate

The Government's Motorcycling Strategy (HC 264-i )

Transport Committee 24 Jan 2007

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Evidence given by Witnesses: Mr David Short, Campaigns Manager, Motorcycle Action Group (MAG), Mr Craig Carey-Clinch, Director of Public Affairs, Motor Cycle Industry Association (MCIA) and Mr Nich Brown, Director of Research & Statistical Services, Motor Cycle Industry Association (MCIA), Mr Trevor Magner, Senior Government Relations Executive, British Motorcyclists' Federation, and Ms Sheila Rainger, Campaigns Manager, RAC Foundation.

Q37 Mr. David Clelland: Going back to conventional motorcycling, do you think the current level of training for motorcyclists is adequate?

Mr Brown: The interesting thing is that motorcycle training over the last 25 years or so has gone through a revolution that I would say that car driver training has not gone through. It is interesting that when the 1981 Transport Act effectively dissuaded a whole generation of people from taking up motorcycling as soon as they could, what we see subsequent to that is a growth in casualties amongst car users. This illustrates that really when we are talking about casualties amongst young people we are talking about casualties that are derived from their attitudes to road use, the way that they use vehicles, not necessarily the vehicles themselves. Having said all that, the reason why motorcycle training has been through that revolution and why we have compulsory basic training standards which must be met before a motorcyclist is allowed out as a learner, why there is effectively almost universal professional training before a motorcyclist takes their test and why organisations like the Institute of Advanced Motorises see more people coming to them for motorcycle training once they have passed their test than before is because riders are understanding the value of gaining from other people's experience and learning how to use a motorcycle responsibly and safely. The bottom line here is that you do not need to ride a motorcycle for very long to understand that the flip side of all the positive experiences of being directly connected with the environment is that you really do not want to be too directly connected with the environment and that falling off or crashing or somebody crashing into you is something that you want to avoid at all costs. Despite common perceptions on this, riders are actually at great pains to make sure that they do not cause themselves or the bikes damage by crashing.

Q38 Mr. David Clelland: Do you think there should be any changes under the current regime?

Mr Carey-Clinch: We are about to see a major shake-up in 2008 when there will be an additional half an hour's testing before a rider is allowed onto the road to take their licence test. This testing will take place off-road, it will need to take place on a relatively large area of land controlled by the DSA and this will reduce the number of test centres available to motorcyclists from over 220 to around about 65 for the whole of the UK. That has a number of implications for the availability of testing. I believe that the content of that testing will show that a motorcyclist's ability to brake or to steer sharply to avoid somebody crossing into their path, for instance, will be very much better tested than it is now. What I am concerned about is that if tests are not readily available because the super centres where the tests take place are so few and far between, we may see an increase in the trend we are already seeing amongst all classes of vehicle driver for not just bothering to take a test at all, not bothering to obtain a licence. That would be my concern. I have no evidence to show me that motorcycling takes place in that unlicensed state to any great extent, but my fear would be that if we do not have enough opportunities for people to take the test and take the training we may see that after 2008.

Q39 Mr. David Clelland: Can I refer to the proposed European Third Directive which is suggesting a staged access to motorcycles; do you think that is a good idea?

Mr Carey-Clinch: In principle progressive access to motorcycling does make some sense, but again it has to be compared and contrasted to the regime that other road users do face. We see a complete revision of the motorcycle test approximately every ten to fifteen years; the car test, apart from a few add-ons, has not been fundamentally revised since about 1937. Our concern is that the accessibility to such training, as Nich Brown has just pointed out, is an issue for this. There is the cost to the rider and again it will knock-on in an unintended way but, more importantly, lessons from the 1981 Transport Act were never really learned. Making access more difficult, particularly when there has been no supportive research in the previous regime to put it into place - simply making it more difficult to get on a bike does not tackle the extremely important issue of in-use motorcycle safety and our concern with the European approach on the third directive is that the results of the second directive changes in 1997 were never evaluated in terms of their impact on safety, and we strongly suspect that the thing that is being missed once again is reducing the vulnerability and improving the safety of users with the machines that you use,

Q40 Mr. David Clelland: How do you intend to deal with this lack of enforcement of the directive? Once this comes in, how do you deal with it?

Mr Brown: We have been working closely with both the Department for Transport and the Driver Standards Agency. We have focused mostly on what is happening in two areas: the run-up to the 2008 extra test and also the creation by DSA of a register for post-test trainers, so the adoption of voluntary standards for people who train riders who have a licence and who wish to extend their skills beyond that. Really we are talking here about positioning skills, observation skills, the kinds of things that keep riders out of harm's way. Once the 2008 changes are in place and we can see the effect of the reduction in the number of test centres, that is the time when those big issues have been removed, or at least we know what we are dealing with, that is the time when we should be looking at how the third driving licence directive is implemented. The window between 2008 and 2013 is big enough, I think, for the job to be done right.

Q41 Mr. David Clelland: Do you think the UK Government is doing enough to mitigate the effects of these changes when they come in?

Mr Carey-Clinch: We were particularly grateful to ministers for abstaining on the vote in Europe on this. We did not feel that the third directive approach was necessarily the right one to take, but we have what we have and it is the responsibility of ministers now, particularly working with the DSA, to ensure that the implementation is done in a way that is most effective in terms of real-time improvements in safety and, unfortunately, it has to be said in this case with the lightest touch possible to go alongside the improvements that the DSA are already making to motorcycle training.

Mr Short: One of the potential consequences which I fear the new proposed regime might have is a knock-on effect in terms of suppression of the motorcycle market. Every time we see a new change in legislation there has always been a dip in motorcycle registrations. That may be, to some people, a desirable position, but my concern is that it actually dissuades people from taking part in a form of transport which does give people a better appreciation of the rural environment and the potential dangers of having respect for everybody else, which does in turn make you a better driver. I am absolutely convinced about that. My fear is that by making it more difficult to gain a motorcycle licence, certainly at a younger age, it will simply divert people directly into cars. One of the problems that I see, which is a real problem for society at the moment, is the number of deaths of young people - multi-occupancy, youngsters in cars at two or three o'clock in the morning. We are not seeing just one death, we are seeing two or three in one accident with a single vehicle, no other vehicles involved. My fear is that we are putting people into a situation where they could be better equipped, had they taken the motorcycle route. We are also increasing, potentially, the amount of road space taken up by vehicles when congestion really is a problem, and the other knock-on effects in terms of environmental pollution. There is a big picture, therefore, which we need to consider very carefully in terms of the nuances of the third driving licence directive.

Q42 Mr. David Clelland: If they do go into cars they will not be allowed to use bus lanes; should motorcycles be allowed to use bus lanes?

Mr Short: Again, picking up the point that was mentioned, that road space is at a premium and becoming more so, I think that if we can separate out the vulnerable road users and minimise the potential conflict then it has got to be a good step for road safety.

Q43 Mr. David Clelland: Does that mean that they should be allowed to use bus lanes?

Mr Short: In answer, yes, they should be.

Q44 Chairmant: It is better to have a conflict with a bus than with a car?

Mr Short: No, but the bus lane would not have as many buses as the car lane would have cars, one would hope, and it is a simple effective means of actually minimising conflict between road users. Yes, there are the concerns that people would have about cyclists, pedestrians stepping out into the road because they do not see a bus and not realising there is a motorbike there or a car there, but again that is about education and awareness. It has been successful in some places, local authorities have that power, and all I would say is that as a motorcycling interest group we would readily engage with local authorities when they are putting together their local transport plans to look at the potential benefits of motorcycles in the bus lane.

Q45 Mr. David Clelland: You talked about the possible hazards but they exist in any case, people stepping out and cyclists. Are there any particular hazards that might arise out of motorcycles using bus lanes?

Mr Short: I am sure that Mr Brown, who was a former safety officer, might have more to say.

Q46 Chairmant: Mr Brown, is it safe for motorcyclists in bus lanes?

Mr Brown: In my experience, yes, absolutely. We need to bear in mind the benefits of road users being able to see each other, and I think the experience in the London congestion charging zone, whereby dissuading cars from being on the road we have seen an increase in pedestrian activity, pedal cyclist activity and motorcycle activity. All those groups have reduced their casualties and the casualties from conflicts between those groups also reduced - from the figures that I have seen from Transport for London - and there is a very clear lesson there. I was involved, when I worked for Avon County Council, in the scheme which booked motorcycles into bus lanes in Bristol. I was a resident of a street that bordered onto a bus lane, so I have used them by cycle and motorcycle and my personal experience is that it works extremely well. Where the deliberation to date and the studies to date have perhaps been lacking is that the studies always focus on what might be happening within the bus lane and there has been no benchmark study to look at the problems motorcyclists face when they are not allowed to use bus lanes. Motorcycles having to make progress through congested traffic, by overtaking traffic in the face of oncoming vehicles is something that simply has not been taken into account.

This is an uncorrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record. The transcript is not yet an approved formal record of these proceedings.

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