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Who are we, where are we going, and are we going to get there in one piece? The Department for Transport think they have all the answers on us, our bikes, our journeys and our safety. Martin Gelder investigates…
The UK Government’s Department for Transport have compiled a compendium (a word which always makes me think of playing Snakes and Ladders at my grandparents’ house during 1960’s Christmas holidays) of motorcycling statistics which give an interesting snapshot of motorcycling in 2007 – or at least of the official view of motorcycling. You can download the full version here but we’ve pulled out a few interesting snippets for your delectation and discussion.
The figures are broken down into four main areas; Motorcyclists, Motorcycles, Journeys Made and Motorcycling safety.
Motorcyclists: Who Are We?
50% of all active motorcyclists are aged 40 or over. Riders in their thirties account for another 31%, with almost as many of the rest aged between 16 and 19 (9%) as are in their twenties (10%).
Motorcycling is no longer the preserve of the young, and the figures show that about 3% of “households” own at least one motorcycle, and that motorcycle ownership seems to be more popular in households with at least one car. So although some of us still use our bikes as our main transport, it seems most of us also have a car as well.
77,000 people took their motorcycle test in 2006/7, with a pass rate of 65%. The pass rate has dropped slightly over the last ten years, but the number of people taking their test seems to be more affected by legislation (there was a big surge in numbers in 1996/7 before the last test shake-up) than anything else.
The pass rate for men (67%) is higher than it is for women (54%) and the pass rate drops off as we get older. So fair play to the 20 sixty-year-old women who took their bike tests in 2006/7, even though only four of them passed.
For most of us, the biggest expenditure on motorcycling is the bike itself, with accessories and spare parts only accounting for about 25% of our spending on bike related stuff.
The UK has one of the lowest rates of motorcycle ownership per head of population in Europe, with about 20 bikes per 1000 people. Italy has the highest with about 159 bikes per 1000 people, closely followed by Greece, the Czech Republic, Austria and Germany. We need more mountains and more sunshine, obviously. Grid locked Japan has around 105 bikes per 1000 people, while the USA has just under 20 per 1000.
Motorcycles: What Are We Riding?
Overall numbers of motorcycles (including mopeds, scooters, etc.) registered are up about 33% since 2000. There are about 10% more bikes licensed for use on the road in summer than in winter; a lot of people taking advantage of the six monthly tax disc, or perhaps doing winter rebuilds? Another 10-15% seem to be tax-exempt pre-1973 bikes, but the figures don’t make it clear whether SORN’d bikes count as “licensed” or “exempt”.
Most bikes registered are over 500cc, and the number of bikes over 1000cc has been growing steadily. However, these figures probably represent what is available for sale as much as any switch in preference away from middleweights.
There are more motorcycles in the South East than in any other region, but relative to the size of population there are more motorcycles in the South West than anywhere else in the UK. It’s all Frank’s fault, obviously.
Scooters were the biggest single type of new bike registered in 2006, making up 31% of the total, just ahead of sports bikes on 27%.
The pas rate for MOT tests has risen over the last ten years, from 74% in 1996/7 to 83% in 2006/7. The most common reason for failing is currently “Lights” (9.7%), followed by brakes (5.2%) and then tyres (3.0%). The percentages are the number of the total to fail on that point, not the proportion of the failures with that problem. 5% of the bikes on the road have brakes that wouldn’t pass an MOT. Scary.
Around a third of us seem to be riding bikes without road tax. I was slightly dubious about these figures but they are apparently derived from scanning number plates and then comparing the readings with the DVLA database. The full details of the methodology used are here. It certainly seems possible that around a third of bikes on the road have no tax, and thus no insurance or MOT.
Journeys Made: Where Are We Going?
Between us, we’re did 5.2 billion “vehicle kilometres” in 2006. With 1.2 million bikes registered in the UK, that means about 2,700 miles per bike, or one ex-pizza delivery Honda C70 with a *very* high mileage.
Annual mileage has gone up steadily since 1996, with a peak in the middle of the scooter boom in 2003.
As you’d expect, the number of miles covered by motorcycles varies over the course of the year, with about twice as many miles covered in the June July and August compared to December, January and February. More motorcycle trips are made on weekdays than on weekends, with nearly two thirds of trips being for work, business or education (presumably this is what the rest of us call “commuting”) compared with less than a third of car trips being for these purposes.
Motorcycle journeys made for “leisure purposes” tend to be twice as long as car trips made for leisure; proof that motorcycling is at least twice as much fun as driving.
As you’d expect, people with bigger bikes make longer journeys than those with small bikes, with mopeds averaging about 3000 miles per year, 125cc bikes averaging about 3600 miles a year, and bikes over 501cc averaging about 4200 miles a year. Note that these are mileages per bike, not per rider!
Most of us break the speed limit. 54% of us break it on motorways, 48% on dual carriageways, 37% on “National Speed Limit” single carriageway roads, 39% in 40mph limits and 51% in 30mph limits. The only places where bikes average significantly higher speeds than cars are on those “National Speed Limit” single carriageway roads, where cars average 48 and bikes average 53.
Motorcycle Safety: Are We Going to Get There?
The figures here are all for people Killed or Seriously Injured (KSI) which sounds dramatic but “seriously injured” can mean something that needs treating in hospital but that a lot of us would recover from quite quickly; sprains, minor fractures etc. We shouldn’t play this down too much, but we all know people who have been back at work the day after being “seriously injured” in a motorcycle accident, while none of us know anyone who has returned to work after being killed. Apart from maybe the odd mortuary attendant.
Around 6,500 motorcyclists were killed or seriously injured in 2006; 599 killed and 5,901 injured. We are 51 times more likely to be KSI’d than car drivers per kilometre travelled, and twice as likely to be KSI’d as pedal cyclists.
About half of the motorcyclist KSIs in 2006 were on A-roads, with only 150 out of the 6,500 KSIs happening on motorways.
Taking into account the traffic levels, we’re most likely to get KSI’d on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday, and between noon and 6pm. Taking into account the seasonal motorcycle traffic levels, riding in summer seems to be marginally safer than riding in winter.
The KSI rate has been falling steadily since 1994, although not as quickly as it has for car drivers and cyclists. No mention is given to the impact that “Where there’s blame, there’s a claim” legal action might have had on these figures.
Most motorcycle KSI accidents (about 61%) involve a car, but about 26% involve no other vehicles. It’s not clear whether this latter percentage includes motorcycles crashing after avoiding hitting a car that has pulled out on them.
Despite the horror stories we might hear, in 2006 only 0.3% of accidents involved a motorcycle hitting a pedal cycle, and only 1% involved hitting a pedestrian.
49% of motorcyclists involved in “injury accidents” (I think these are different again to KSI accidents) were breath tested for alcohol, with just 3% of those failing the test; slightly below the average for all road users.
Below is a list of contributory factors attributed to the motorcycle in accidents. More than one contributory factor can be given for each accident. I’ve cropped the table here as apart from showing that learners have accidents on small bikes, the extra detail didn’t help much.
Despite the current concentration on enforcing speed limits to reduce accidents, “Exceeding the speed limit” is a factor in only 4% of accidents, with “Travelling too fast for the conditions” a factor in 8% of accidents, way behind “Failing to look properly” (15%), “Loss of control” (14%), “Failed to judge other person’s path or speed” (11%), “Careless, reckless or in a hurry” (11%), or “Poor turn or manoeuvre” (10%).
Do these figures seem right to you? Does it all sound like nonsense? Is you bike taxed and MOT’d? Tell us what you think…