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Mobility & Transport - Road Safety

Learning, testing and licensing



Learning, testing and licensing

Learning, testing and licensing of PTW riders are related subjects. Together they form a system to make sure that all riders have an acceptable level of competency. This competency requires sufficient mental maturity and has to be learned by training and experience. Given the characteristics of a PTW and their high accident rate, it is obvious that riders need a high level of competence both in terms of vehicle control and in terms of safe interaction with other road users.

During training and practising riders have to learn where and when to take action to avoid a situation in which there is little or no time left to avoid an accident. In most situations riders will react in time with a gradual change in speed and/or direction, but sometimes more extreme changes are needed and in an emergency situation only a change at the limit of losing control is needed to prevent an accident.

During learning riders will improve their control of the PTW when accelerating, braking, changing direction at different speeds and on different sorts of road surface. As a result, situations that are close to resulting in an accident at an early stage of learning may not be so later on. The aim of training programs is to improve the competency of riders in order to reduce their accident rate. But a program may have adverse effects depending on the motivation of the applicants. More experienced riders may willingly start actions (like overtaking, cornering at high speed) which are close to their limit of losing control.

There is a recent review on licensing and training of motorcycle riders from Australia [22]. The review emphasises that there is no convincing evidence of the effect of licensing systems and very little of elements of such systems. The review presents an optimal motorcycle licensing and training model. The model is based on the concept of gaining experience in low risk situations before graduating to higher risk situations. According to the review this requires that potential riders should gain experience driving a car before they start learning to ride a motorcycle. The model specifies a learner stage, a provisional stage and a full license stage with both a minimum and maximum period for a learner license and a minimum period for holding a provisional license. Off road training and testing is needed to obtain a learner license aimed at acquiring skills for unsupervised riding. On road training and testing is needed for a provisional license aimed at improving ability to detect and respond to physical hazards as well as hazards associated with other road users. Both stages also have restrictions on power to weight ratio of the motorcycle, on carrying of passengers and a zero alcohol level. Fully licensed riders are retested on road each ten years.

Such a system of graduated licensing is expected to reduce the number of motorcycle accidents because:

  • Young riders are not allowed to ride a motorcycle
  • Learning and gaining experience is restricted to low risk conditions
  • Licensed riders are more competent (as compared with other systems)
  • Some potential riders are discouraged to obtain a motorcycle license

The Australian review does not address the licensing of moped riders or the voluntary advanced training of fully licensed riders.

There are current proposals to change the European Directive on licensing. This increases the age access for some types of PTW but generally does not apply graduated licensing principles, and includes some aspects which may increase the likelihood of motorcycle accidents.

The potential to introduce hazard perception as part of the motorcycle test is also the subject of recent research. Such training might also be achieved through voluntary advanced training programmes. Specific training programmes for moped riders might also be considered.

European directive on licensing

Most European countries follow a European directive on licensing. There is a proposal to change this directive with the following categories:

  • Moped, with design speed of max. 45 km/h (excluding those with design speed of max. 25 km/h), minimum age of 16 years (countries may vary between 14 and 18), compulsory theoretical test or motorcycle/car license instead (countries may require practical test or motorcycle license instead)
  • 125 cc motorcycle, with max. 11 kW and 0,1 kW/kg, minimum age 16 years (countries may vary to 18 years), compulsory theory and practical testing or other motorcycle license instead (countries may allow car license instead)
  • 35 kW motorcycle, with max. 0,2 kW/kg, age limit two years more than for 125 cc (i.e. at least 18), compulsory theory and practical test or two years 125 cc license plus practical training/test instead
  • Unrestricted motorcycle, with age limit of 24 years and compulsory theoretical and practical test, or two years 35 kW license plus practical training/test instead

The proposed directive also contains minimum requirements for testing with specific requirements for motorcycle tests.

The main differences with the existing directive are less freedom to countries for moped licensing, direct access to an unrestricted motorcycle at age 24 instead of 21 and the 35 kW motorcycle replaces the 24 kW categories. The first two differences may help to reduce the number of PTW accidents. The third one (35 kW motorcycle) is more likely to do the opposite although it is hard to predict to what extent.

The most striking differences with the model of the Australian review are no car license required, low age limit for a 125 cc license, absence of unsupervised and restricted riding to gain experience, possibility of direct access to 35 kW and to unrestricted motorcycle. The requirement of a car license has several effects on accidents. Experience in real traffic is gained in a car which is safer than on a motorcycle and motorcycle riding is delayed or possibly given up. There is no question that a higher age limit will result in less accidents and in this respect an age limit for moped riders of 18 is much better than 16 or 14 and an age limit of 18 years for 125 cc motorcycles is better than 16. The European system is not a graduated system in the strict sense. It may be hoped that potential riders will start riding on a moped or 125 cc motorcycle but from 18 years they have direct access to a 35 kW motorcycle and from age 24 to an unrestricted motorcycle. The adverse effects of immaturity may be minimised with these age limits. But a system with direct access to high powered motorcycles is more likely to produce accidents during the first years of riding than a truly graduated system unless the quality of training for direct access is at an exceptionally high level.

In western European countries it is common to allow on-road training only if supervised by a qualified instructor. Great Britain differs with compulsory training at 17 years, followed by maximum period of two years of unsupervised riding on a 125 cc motorcycle. After passing a theoretical and practical test the rider is then licensed to ride a 25 kW motorcycle and after two more years to ride an unrestricted motorcycle. Again this system is not strictly graduated since it also has the option of direct access from age 21.

There is no evidence or indication which of the presently existing systems is better, supervised training by a qualified instructor or unsupervised practising on a low performance PTW. There is little doubt, however, that a better system in terms of accident prevention is a graduated system with:

  • High minimum age limit (at least as high as for a car license)
  • At least two stages of riding under low risk conditions on a low performance motorcycle with a combination of compulsory training and unsupervised practising
  • Testing before and at the end of each stage
  • No option of direct access

Hazard perception and responding

According to the Australian review the present tests and training programs do not adequately address rider motivation and riding style or hazard perception and responding. A traffic hazard is an element of a traffic situation with the potential of initiating an accident and therefore requiring special attention. It may be related to the road (a change in road surface, a curve) or related to the presence and behaviour of other road users. Hazard perception and responding is the behaviour in between normal and timely actions (to avoid a situation with little or no time to avoid an accident) and emergency actions (with little or no time left).

Hazard perception has been the subject of recent research, mostly in relation to car driving. Studies have shown that hazard perception can be improved by training but as yet there is no proof that this will result in safer behaviour or a lower accident rate.

Great Britain has introduced a hazard perception test as part of the compulsory testing for a license. The test consists of video presentations of traffic situations containing an indication that a risky situation might result. There is no separate test for motorcycle riders. Haworth et. al. [23] argue that hazard perception in relation to motorcycling is different because motorcyclists have to deal with additional hazards which are road based as well as related to the behaviour of other road users in the presence of a motorcycle. Responding to a hazard is also more crucial because other road users may not respond to the motorcyclist and controlling the motorcycle trying to avoid the risky situation is difficult. The subject of hazard perception and responding is complicated because whether the situation becomes risky also depends on the behaviour of the rider. Motorcyclists may start actions like overtaking and accepting small gaps in situations where car drivers would not do so.

Voluntary, advanced training programs

Many private organisations offer voluntary, advanced training programs. Their aim may differ e.g. improving the detection and avoidance of (potential) emergency situations or improving vehicle control in difficult situations. The effects will depend on the motivation of the participants. With riders who are safety minded these programs can be expected to improve their behaviour and prevent accidents. With performance-oriented riders the result may be the opposite.

Moped riders

There is very little research on the licensing of moped riders. In the Netherlands the effect of an experimental practical training program has been studied [17]. Participants had just passed the compulsory theoretical test at age 16 and were randomly assigned to the training program and to a control group. The program consisted of 16 hours off and on road training over a period of four weeks. During a 30 minute standard test ride in real traffic the riders were scored by a qualified (motorcycle) examiner who did not know which riders were trained. The training group scored better in the test ride two weeks after training. After 11 month the control group had improved as well to about the same level of competency, but the trained riders had slightly lower scores then before. Based on the results of this study a licensing system for moped riders could start with a compulsory training programme, followed by a period with a provisional license and ending with a practical training programme/test.