On your bike

The proposed Third European Community Driving Licence Directive has met opposition from motorcycling bodies in the UK. Tanya Powley reports on the potential impact on the insurance industry

Motorcycling has had a tough time during the past few decades. It continues to be the most dangerous form of transport in the UK, as although motorbikes only equate to 1% of traffic, around 20% of the people who die on the road are bikers.

This safety issue of motorcycling has not gone unnoticed. In a bid to reduce casualty rates, the government introduced legislation in the Transport Act 1981 that made motorcycle access more difficult, particularly for young riders. Although it did cut accident rates, it also had a devastating effect on the motorcycling industry, claims Trevor Magner, senior government relations executive for the British Motorcyclists Federation. The number of people riding bikes dramatically slumped and the industry nearly went into recession.

Motorcycling was again targeted for regulation by the European Parliament in the mid-1990s, in an attempt to harmonise legislation across Europe. The Second European Community Driving Licence Directive introduced a new and complex licensing system, which both bikers and authorities have found difficult to understand.

New directive

It comes as no surprise, therefore, that the motorcycling industry considers itself under threat once more, with the proposed introduction of the Third European Community Driving Licence Directive. This contains "draconian new licensing laws" for learner riders that will "decimate the future of motorcycling", according to the BMF.

Due to be introduced in 2011, the new directive would mean the minimum age for riding motorcycles more than 125cc rises from 17 to 19, while the age level for direct access to larger machines rises from 21 to 24. In addition, new categories of licences will be created that will mean two-year steps between motorcycles of different engine size and riders will also have to take another motorcycle test between steps.

The BMF believes these new proposals are unnecessary, overly complicated and ineffectual. "Motorcycling is often under threat but this directive is an ill-founded and discriminatory piece of legislation," insists Mr Magner. "The only thing it does is create a lot more hoops for riders to jump through to start riding."

Although Europe has proposed these wide-ranging changes in the name of road safety, the BMF and other motorcycling bodies have argued that the proposals are being introduced with no evidence of any safety benefit. Mr Magner adds: "The proposals have ignored all of the available road-safety research on motorbikes and, therefore, don't make any contribution to safe riding."

For example, the proposals have disregarded findings from a recent, three-year Motorcycle Accidents In-depth Study. Funded by European taxpayers and the motorcycle industry, this research looked at 1000 accidents in five European countries to determine safety factors. MAIDS revealed three key factors in rider safety: the behaviour of other road users; rider experience; and the road environment - all of which the directive has ignored.

Motorbike broker Carole Nash agrees with these findings. Its third annual motorcycle accident survey found that more than 67% of bike accidents were not the fault of the insured rider and, of those, 81% were caused by car drivers.

Mr Magner comments: "It's amazing that the European Union could spend hundreds of thousands of Euros on the MAIDS research and then ignore the findings. It does what legislators have always done - ignore the failings of other road users and shift the blame on to motorcyclists."

The BMF is campaigning hard to prevent these proposals being implemented. When it first heard of the directive's existence back in February, the 140 000-strong BMF wrote to all of the MEPs, as well as Dr Stephen Ladyman, UK Minister of State for Transport. It also joined forces with the Motorcycle Action Group and Motor Cycle News, to help force the message home by holding a protest before the directive received its second reading by the Council of Ministers on 6 October.

Following this campaigning, the BMF has secured the support of several MEPs in its attempt to force a rethink on the new licensing laws and it hopes to get the proposals dropped and revisited in a few years time.

However, would this directive have an impact on sales of insurance if it is implemented in its current form?

Warren Dickson, head of marketing at Carole Nash, believes the new directive will definitely have a knock-on effect on the insurance industry. "If fewer people are able to ride bikes then it will certainly mean fewer policies will be sold."

Kal Samra, director of Bennetts, also believes it will make motorcycling less accessible and will impact negatively on the insurance industry. She comments: "The introduction of the directive, as it stands, will more than likely deter young people getting into biking rather than improve road safety."

Mr Dickson adds: "A similar thing happened in Italy, the government changed its legislation for motorbikes and has caused the market to completely collapse. Big motorcycling brands such as Binelli ended up going bust."

Training and testing

There appears to be a unanimous response across the insurance market that the directive is not necessarily the best way forward for the motorcycling industry. Nigel Bartram, motor underwriting manager at Norwich Union, says: "I'm not really sure whether bringing in age restrictions is the best thing to do. Will age necessarily solve the problem? Evidence is clear that something must be done but more stringent training and testing should be tried first."

He adds: "More training should be done in all weather conditions. As part of the licence qualification, riders should be shown graphically the consequences of poor driving with testimonials from those still alive."

The insurance industry also seems to agree with the BMF that this directive discriminates against bikers, as car drivers face no similar restrictions.

Mr Dickson notes: "There has been no attempt to place all these restrictions on motorists. The problem is that this looks good on paper and won't cause as much controversy as it would do with the motor industry. Motorcyclists just don't have the same lobbying power."

Ms Samra comments that the motorcycling industry as a whole has been working hard to encourage more people to take to two wheels. She comments: "We support a regime that will produce more safety-conscious road users, not one that deters enthusiasts actually getting on a bike."

BMF chairman Dr Leon Mannings concludes: "We need a licensing regime that will produce well-trained and - above all - safety conscious road users Europe-wide, not just motorcycle riders."

PROPOSALS CONTAINED IN THE THIRD EUROPEAN COMMUNITY DRIVING LICENCE DIRECTIVE

The introduction of three motorcycle categories:

- A1: light motorcycle less than 125cc/11kW;

- A2: intermediate motorcycle less than 35kW;

- A: unlimited motorcycle more than 35kW.

- For progressive access in the UK, the minimum age for riding bikes and scooters more than 125cc rises from 17 to 19.

- For direct access to machines larger than 35kW, the minimum age rises from 21 to 24.

- The introduction of several two-year steps between bikes of different engine power.

- Riders will be required to complete extra riding tests between steps.

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