Motorcycling forum

Tuesday 27 October: 12.30 – 1.30pm - this session has now closed. Thanks to everyone who took part, and especially Gareth and Mike for hosting the forum.

Gareth Tuffery and Mike Wilson, Road Safety GB’s two motorcycling specialists, were online to answer safety-related questions during this forum. 
This session is now closed - thanks to everyone who participated.
Gareth and Mike are happy to deal with motorcycle-related questions by email (simply click on their names to contact them).

Many motorcycle campaigns are about encouraging riders to be safer, eg. taking further training etc. In my experience, there is a sizeable minority of riders who enjoy motorcycling because of the risks involved. They don’t want to be “safer”, as safety reduces the adrenalin rush they crave. Have you any suggestions of how to reach out to this group, without alienating them?

Hi Martin, a very good question! Promoting change in people’s behaviour is about the toughest thing you will be asked to do as a road safety officer!

For a small minority of riders risk taking is the motivation behind riding their bikes, which brings me to the very good work of Simon Christmas on the behalf of the DfT. Simon identified riders by their personality traits and advocates motorcyclist campaigns should recognise the differences in the types of riders they look to engage with if they are to be successful. Pretty much you have described the sports bike rider, the high risk taker, a group that is often closed to education and often attracts the interest of the law.

My time working for Surrey County Council saw me delivering Driver/ Rider Improvement schemes and a chance to engage with this disengaged group. The course was carefully crafted by leading educationalists including Professor Frank McKenna and challenged riders’ attitudes and perceptions. I honestly believe this type of intervention works, but as for how long that is another question?

Another approach which may have had some effect on this type of rider has been to present a motorcycle collision from the perspective of a loved one, “the bike has crashed but the wheels are still turning”. Mothers and wives and girlfriends have given interviews on camera describing the collision and how it has personally affected them; often there is helmet footage of the collision to view as well.

I would also add that convincing the rider they can be better is also worthwhile, the safety aspect then becomes an added bonus. Again, it can be difficult to convince a rider to pay to get better by taking more training, on or off road, when they have been riding for a long while without coming to grief. Face-to-face interaction can help with this but signing them up there and then is desirable. Many go away with the best intentions of doing something but “don’t get around to it”. Encouraging relatives and friends to give training as a gift is also something to consider.

Our road safety bike, Triumph Sprint (see pic above), allows us to do the face to face part and shortly will hopefully be made availabel to our Fire and Rescue colleagues (Fire Bike) to continue from another angle. We have found that riders will come and talk to us having seen us arrive on the bike and are more accepting of the messages we try to get across without “preaching”.

Numerous accidents on ‘A’, ‘B’ and country roads are caused by what is described in Stats 19 as ‘inappropriate overtaking’. The Police Roadcraft Manual advises that there should be a ‘gap’ to return to, but I believe this encourages riders to make an overtake when there may be insufficient ‘safe space’. Be interested in your views on this point.

Hi Bob. One of the biggest advantages of riding a motorcycle is the ability to make progress through careful and observed overtaking; one of the biggest disadvantages of riding a motorcycle is the ability to make progress through impulsive and inconsiderate overtaking. Personally speaking, overtaking is a skill and should start with the words ‘if in doubt don’t do it’!

The Police Roadcraft Manual offers a system of motorcycle control, promoting the right attitude, forward planning and smooth motorcycle control - a sort of hot knife through butter approach to motorcycling. Long before the overtake is a twinkle in the rider’s eye, the rider is riding to a system that will present a safe opportunity to overtake. ‘Safe’ will include good forward and all round visibility, the machine being ridden in the correct gear and yes!, a gap to return to. My point here is that the system of control being demonstrated by the rider has presented the rider with a safe opportunity to overtake. If any of these key ingredients are missing, guess what? The rider should not overtake.

In my book, poor forward planning, risk taking, rushing and inexperience are all symptoms of ‘inappropriate overtaking’ and that starts long before the overtake is a twinkle in the rider’s eye. Insufficient space is a by product of this style of poor riding. I hope, Bob, I have answered your thought provoking question?

Group riding can also be an issue here. The rider in front takes the overtake in a correct manner but one or more may follow without sufficient room to get back in without causing the overtaken vehicle to alter its speed. It can also lead to a higher entry speed to an approaching bend than is desirable, causing issues for left and right bends. A rider’s view of what is a “safe space” will inevitable vary with the speed of the vehicles forming the gap, the size of the gap itself and the road/weather conditions. An ever-changing scenario.

Many people acknowledge that motorcyclists are only trained to "pass a test" - not learn to "ride" a motorcycle (bike dynamics etc). Most motorcyclists will freely acknowledge that they never reach the full capacity of their bikes to brake or steer, so why are some Road Safety Teams reluctant to promote the likes of i2imca or Hopp Rider Training - where these skills are taught (very well indeed) in a safe environment?

Ian, I actually agree with you. I’ve done the i2i road courses and thought they were fantastic. I actually went to the courses wondering if I would learn a great deal (Police Class 1 M/C achieved) but will happily admit that I came away with some different views and skills.

I subsequently bid for and got a grant from our Road Safety Partnership to help run it but ran in to a couple of issues. Firstly, i2i were reluctant for me to subsidise the price of the course; this would have meant that only local riders could take advantage of the price and I respect that. The other issue was actually finding the right local venue at the right price. So I would say that while some authorities are open minded to these initiatives (and others), inevitably finances and dwindling resources (people!) will dictate what help they can give.

First of all I will happily put my hands up in the air as I do my very best to answer your question!

The challenge for the vast majority of road safety professionals is to encourage motorcyclists to take any type of further post test training. As an organisation Road Safety GB firmly believes practical training is the best, which brings me on nicely to a register of motorcycle training bodies. Road Safety GB has always advocated a register of motorcyclist trainers as a means to govern and achieve a high standard of training throughout the industry. Interestingly, Transport for London are actively working closely with the motorcycle industry within London to help make this happen.

My hope is that a register of approved training bodies will soon become available throughout the UK and will have the full backing of Road Safety GB members.

Just before I firmly place my hands back on the handle bars, I think what we are really asking here is: “Do the skills of the track transfer over onto the public roads?”

The answer is firmly, yes and no. I agree we see far too many solo riders crashing on rural roads as they fail to negotiate bends and react to the hazards of the road safely; clearly a skills deficit, with good lessons to be learnt from training bodies such as Hopp or i2imca. I suppose the real concern for myself and my fellow road safety professionals is that a minority of motorcyclists will use the skills of the track to ride at inappropriate speeds on the public roads.

For those of you reading my response from the comfort of your arm chair, the gyroscopic effect of the bike’s wheels turning, when travelling in a straight line maintaining a certain speed (?) will happily keep the motorcycle stable and upright; as for stopping, that’s for the idiot on the bike!

Please explain the chevrons markers on motorways and the signage which say 2 chevrons which is only one gap. Sometimes this makes cars less than 2 seconds apart. Your view would be greatly welcomed.

“Only a fool breaks the two second rule.”

Travelling too close to the vehicle in front, or ‘tailgating’ as it is more commonly known, is foolish and dangerous especially on wet and slippery roads. If I remember correctly (because I am an ‘old fool’), the chevrons you refer to first appeared on the M1 many years ago as an experiment to keep vehicles two seconds apart, promoting a safe braking distance.

Maintaining a safe braking distance is paramount to completing a safe journey. You may remember hearing your Approved Driving Instructor uttering the words “only a fool breaks the two second rule” as a prompt to promote a safe driving gap. If I remember my driving lessons correctly, I was encouraged to watch the car in front pass a lamp post, and then shout the words “only a fool breaks the two second rule”. If the vehicle I was driving reached that lamp post before I had finished trumpeting my words, I was seen as driving too close to the vehicle in front.

On a last note, this is a rough visual aid as you leave 2 chevrons between you and the vehicle in front, in which the gap should increase in wet and icy driving conditions. But please do not be too surprised on our ever busier roads to discover a vehicle jumping into your 2 second gap!

Answer by Mike
It may be worth pointing out that braking distance can vary hugely from vehicle to vehicle and different types of vehicle. A top notch sports bike will probably brake to a stop from a given (high) speed in a shorter distance that a full dress tourer loaded up, so stopping distances are bound to vary and riders are generally mindful of this. It is always frustrating when you leave what you think is a correct gap and then somebody cuts in and halves it! You could change the two seconds to a distance but not everyone measures the same and it will still vary hugely with speed.

What is being done, or any views on moves to make sure motorcyclists in urban environments are not going to be channeled into choke points caused by streetscaping and also narrowing roads to allow cyclists more room? We all understand the safety issues with cyclists: as motorcyclists have similar issues, but prioritising one transport user that could cause problems for another needs careful consideration, I feel. We are starting to see this in London quite a bit. Any thoughts?

Hi Alan, thank you for your question. In short, you make a very good point; have we taken our eye off the ball when it comes to the vulnerability of motorcyclists, especially in London?

Well, I thank you for the opportunity to be able to sell the very good work of Transport for London (TfL) and in particular the work which is addressing the vulnerability of motorcyclists. Recently I attended a very good TfL ‘Motorcycle Safety workshop’, highlighting the vulnerability of motorcyclists including issues around the streetscape and infrastructure. Of course we are still in early days here, but I do understand TfL are looking to produce guidance for their street inspectors and highway engineers as part of a motorcycle safety package or programme.

Lastly, as a practising motorcyclist I share your concerns. It appears the streets are not paved with gold when it comes to riding your motorcycle through London’s heavily congested and narrow streets. It would be nice to see a consistent policy throughout London’s boroughs for motorcycles to use bus lanes and more free motorcycle parking, as I see the motorcycle and scooter as part of the solution to London’s heavily congested roads.

I endorse Gareth’s comments here, especially with the bus lanes and parking which should be spread throughout the UK.

If you had the power to make government change one thing to improve motorcycling safety, what would it be?

For me it would be to play a bigger part in post-test training and subsidise it. We are able to subsidise the Enhanced Rider Scheme so that it can cost as little as £20, and not surprisingly there has been a good take up for that from all types of riders. But your skills still need updating and practicing on a regular basis, something that extra cash can help with.

Well for me it’s quite simply to remove all the slippery metal manhole covers that used to be positioned at the very point a motorcyclist had to lean or brake. But on reflection, I would like to see a mandatory annual health check of all roads in terms of how user friendly they were for the motorcyclist.

Why is it not law that all cyclists and motorcyclists have to wear fluorescent clothing? In the dark you cannot see them and it would help during the day.

It’s been the case for a long while now that new motorcycles have to have their dipped beam on and we are seeing more that have day time running lights as well. In terms of the front on view this helps and hi vis can also enhance this in daylight, reflective kit in the dark.

The major issue for bikers (taking out rider error) is still the turn across their path so anything that promotes the visibility of the rider can help but should not be relied upon. If it could be proved that the hi vis had a positive effect in this regard it would be worth further investigation but making it mandatory would not be the way to go without this proof.

For many years the need to protect yourself in the case of coming off your motorcycle was better understood than the importance of being seen, and black leather became a sort of cool uniform for the motorcyclist. It has only been relatively recently that we have seen fluorescent and reflective material, and at a cost which is affordable. Nowadays modern motorcycle clothing is made of Kevlar patches, tough synthetic materials, and all come with a good dollop of reflective and fluorescent material at an affordable price. The Highway Code recommends the motorcyclist needs to dress to be seen including considering a light or white motorcycle helmet.

Really there is no excuse for any vulnerable road users not to dress in a way for them to be seen and to say safe, from the runner to the motorcyclist. I agree especially now the clocks have just turned back, your point is a very good one.

What can be done to educate other motorists that filtering when traffic is stationary or slow moving is legal?

I think the vast majority of motorists are already accepting of a bike threading between vehicles - I regularly get vehicles of all types pulling out of the way to allow more access. There is just the occasional driver that doesn’t allow access or on the odd occasion blocks you off. My experiences tend not to be in the city so perhaps it’s seen a little different there?

It is definitely seen differently in some cities on the Continent e.g. Rome, it seems to be widely accepted there that this is how to ride! Perhaps it’s cultural. Perhaps it’s something that needs to be addressed and emphasised in the learning stage for all drivers/riders? In an ideal world I’d say a DSA backed TV campaign but given the financial situation that’s probably not going to happen.

The point of riding a motorcycle is all about making progress and this message is understood by the vast amount of motorists, if not even a little envied?

Filtering is an art and requires a high level of machine control coupled with an engaged rider; in my books filtering up the near side is undertaking which is against the law?

A filtering motorcyclist should help themselves by riding in a way that he or she can be seen by other motorists. Plonking him or herself firmly in the rear view mirrors, or moving between mirrors of a large vehicle, attracting attention to themselves.

I firmly believe the responsibility of filtering is down to the rider and other motorists should not be made to feel intimidated by his or her intentions to overtake.

But filtering in traffic is actually like reading a good book; the fully engaged rider should be able to predict the ending. In short, filtering is the rider’s responsibility - the clues are out there, it’s up to the rider to spot them!

We spend a lot of time training new and experienced riders to do the 'right' thing. Should we be refocussing our efforts and instead investigate ways of training riders not to do the 'wrong' thing? Rather than giving riders and drivers answers, perhaps we should be seeking to get them asking questions - in other words, to begin to realise just what they don't actually know!

For the initial training, showing them the right way has to be the way to go.

I think that what you are suggesting is more suitable for the more experienced, post-test training, by discussing various scenarios, either from video clips or “this happened to me, what would you do?” Sometimes group discussions, or individual ones, will show where there is a lack of knowledge or depth of knowledge.

It’s always great when you can get them to come up with the right answer without too much prompting. It’s always been my experience that motorcyclists are keen to share their experiences and knowledge with others!

I love this question, yes I think I am most certainly in tune with you. I am probably a lot older than you as well!

As teen I can remember reading “Which Bike”? In the magazine were cartoon drawings of motorcycle scenarios leading to a collision a sort of ‘who has dun it?’ The one that sticks in my mind was a group of riders, one of the riders overreacts on braking, bringing his mates down like a bunch of skittles. I started to ask myself, how did this happen and why? I was training myself to recognise and avoid this situation in the future.

There are no short cuts to experience which I think is what we are really talking about, but I love this approach and I for one would love to see training tweaked in this direction.

Why is it not law that all motorcyclists have to wear full protective clothing when riding or being a pillion - time that this should be addressed?

At the moment it comes down to personal choice for the varying conditions in our climate. Affordability would be another issue together with kit standards and who would enforce this? I’m sure the various biking organisations would have strong views on this and all we can do as Road Safety Officers is to recommend the best protection you can afford at all times you are riding or pillion, and lead by example.

A rider has a responsibility to his or her pillion that includes ensuring the pillion is correctly dressed. What I mean by correctly dressed is boots, gloves, proper motorcycle trousers and jacket. We all hold our breath when we see pillions wearing shorts, sandals and t shirts. As a road safety professional I ensure the new motorcyclist understands their responsibility to their pillion. Just to remember it is against the law for a learner to carry a pillion.

Do you feel that the advice given in the Roadcraft Riders Manual regarding the recommendation to take up a much closer overtaking position is in conflict with the advice given in the Highways Code - that of maintaining a Safe Distance? A safe distance being one as recommended as being the full stopping distance behind a vehicle in front or at least a 2 second gap. Your comments please.

As with all overtakes there comes a point when you are within this distance/time frame whilst overtaking. I think what you are asking Bob is if it is acceptable to remain in close proximity for any length of time prior to the manoeuvre. Sometimes you may be close in order to get a view down the nearside or offside of the vehicle(s) to be overtaken but to stay within a few feet of the vehicle to be overtaken (exaggerated perhaps!) would not be acceptable and would annoy the driver in front.

Riding a motorcycle is not a accurate science. The way we react as riders is down to our experience and knowledge, in other words we do not all see the same situation the same way. That discrepancy also lies in the Highway Code and Roadcraft riders' manual.

Despite all the educational interventions and all the conferences and meetings, the motorcyclist casualty rate has essentially flat-lined over the past 20 years or so. Do you think it might be time to try a new approach to the problem?

I wouldn’t necessarily agree with the flat line as a general indicator, our KSI and minor injuries in Leicestershire have halved in that time but obviously still work to do. The make-up type of casualty has changed and is now showing an increase in the commuter, smaller bike, area. The sports bike rider casualty has been focussed on and has decreased (also not as many sports bikes/riders out there). Any new approach or previously successful one for that matter, would be welcome.

Hi Duncan. There is no magic wand when it comes to reducing motorcycle casualties. I still believe there is no substitute for practical training but of course any intervention to reduce motorcycle collisions must be a three-pronged approach of engineering, education and enforcement. I do understand my answer is not a new approach to the problem. Perhaps in the future innovation and technology may give us a sign post towards casuality reduction.

Expanding on Ian Stavert's question: Why do many safety teams choose to re-invent the wheel in terms of training for motorcyclists when a perfectly good working model already exists, it just is not marketed correctly in a way that inspires riders to sign up.

For example the i2i motprcycle academy provide a range of courses covering machine control which not only make riders safer but are in demand and are marketed in a way that looks appealing to the users and require no funding, we just need to get the message out in the right way. Ask any marketing specialist and they will tell you that the key to selling is to know your target group and focus advertising in a way that appeals to that group.

Then there is the road craft which is an absolute necessary part of rider training to reduce casualties. We already have Rospa, IAM and countless others who offer this training as a charity but they are not pushed by road safety teams enough. If this training is marketed in the right way you would not have to give stuff away it can be self funding. I would use Norfolk road safety team and the Hugger branding as a positive example of a well structured approach using existing resources in an innovative and cost effective way.

Perhaps some of it comes from a lack of awareness that initiatives have been tried elsewhere, but it can be possible for it to work in one area of the country and not another. How it’s marketed can have a big effect on the success.

Tom, you are right that your initiative is a very good one and deserves wider recognition but as you also champion it can be a starter to get involved in further advanced training with the IAM/ROSPA for example. What we can’t be seen to do is act as an agent for you or any other training provider that benefits. It’s a fine line we have to tread there as an Authority representative. I for one will give the information to anyone that asks for them to make an informed decision!

I support Roadcraft and have a stock that I use as incentives for local courses so we do try different ways to promote training.

With reference to Question 10 (making PPE a legal requirement). Do you think it would be appropriate for insurance companies to reduce or refuse claims if the injured rider/pillion was not wearing appropriate PPE, and that the lack of PPE contributed to the severity of the injury?

That is something that would have to be put into the contract/information book when insurance was taken out. I believe (not 100% sure) that compensation can be adjusted if you don’t take reasonable precautions (no helmet) and then suffer as a consequence. If the rider/pillion is conforming to the current legislation they should deal with the claim as appropriate.

My concerns regarding PPE is the cost. PPE must be affordable to all riders and pillions. There is also, I believe, education needed regarding the purchasing of this equipment as we can see with the helmet rating on the DfT SHARP site. For instance, a correct fitting helmet is better than a expensive one. Is leather better than Kevlar? Certainly penalties should exist for the non PPE wearing rider and pillion.

Are new riders really trained only to "pass the test"? I'm not sure that's really true, speaking with my former CBT/DAS instructor hat on. For starters, there's no test at the end of CBT, it's a certificate of competence, so we really ARE teaching them to ride! The pursuit motorcycle test is also a world away from the old 'round the block' test I took back in the 70s. Whilst the candidate needs to observe traffic laws, there's a healthy does of common sense built into the test these days.

Hi Kevin. I was a former round the block test rider and thank goodness we have moved on from here. The CBT is not perfect but according to DVLA fit for purpose. More worryingly for myself is that motorcycle training appears to be cost driven. Are we replacing quality over cost? Lastly, CBT is not a given, it must be earned.

I agree that this is not the case for every training school and I know of local ones that do not pass every rider, some are held back until they get to an acceptable standard. Which can cause arguments from the rider/parents who do not appreciate the reasons for being held back!

Mike. My question is about what might be one second of time spent too close to the vehicle in front, but in many cases it isn't it's longer. I take it by your answer then that you would agree with riders being no more than one second behind another vehicle if only to see if an overtake is possible and then commit to an overtake or return to the safe position, the full braking distance as shown in the HC? It's the putting oneself in a position of jeopardy unnecessarily that I don't agree with.

Bob, without wishing to sound as though I’m fudging it, the circumstances will always be different so for a given circumstance the time/distance can alter. The safest thing would to always be in that position where you can stop in the distance you can see to be clear and remain on the correct side of the road. This would then restrict the amount of overtakes you would do on any given journey to very few and would not perhaps be in the ethics of most motorcyclists, but they would be safe! It comes down again to the judgement of the rider and their risk management.

As Essex Hugger we are offering FOC advanced Rider Training days or i2i day to riders that first complete a Bikesafe or Firebike better biking course. This year we have trained over 80 riders with some really great comments and feedback so I do agree with Tom and Ian. Let's push it even more and hope the funding carries on for next year, and cut the Numbers of KSI on our roads. Sorry, not a question but a comment re training.

No answer required.

Ask a Question

Your name:

Your question:

Captcha [What is this?]