UK Licensing Laws
Anyone who obtained their full car driving licence
on or after 1 February 2001 must complete Compulsory
Basic Training (CBT) before they can legally ride
any type of motorcycle or moped on the road. People
who obtained their full car driving licence before
1 February 2001 do not need to take a CBT test to
ride a moped, but must do so in order to ride any
other motorcycle. However, CBT and/or motorcycle training
is still strongly recommended.
To gain a full moped licence, the learner must pass
both the theory test for motorcyclists and the moped
To gain a full motorcycle licence, the learner must pass the theory test for motorcyclists
and either the A or A1 practical test.
A1 – light motorcycle licence
The A1 Test is taken on a machine between 75cc and 125cc and if passed entitles
the holder to ride any motorcycle up to 125cc with a power output up to 11kW or
14.6 bhp, carry pillion passengers and use motorways.
– standard motorcycle licence
The A Test is taken on a machine over 120cc but no more than 125cc and if passed
entitles the holder to ride any motorcycle with a power output of up to 25kW or
33 bhp, carry pillion passengers and use motorways. After 2 years (not counting
periods of disqualification) the rider qualifies to ride any size of motorcycle.
However, there are two ways the 2 year waiting period can be shortened:
Direct Access Scheme (DAS)
This allows riders over 21 years old take a test on a machine of at least 35 kW
(46.6 bhp), and if they pass to ride any size of bike. Any instruction given on
a machine that exceeds the normal learner motorcycle specification must be supervised
at all times by a certified motorcycle instructor who should be in radio contact
with the learner. All other provisional licence restrictions apply.
Riders who reach the age of 21 years during the two year period, can become entitled
to ride larger bikes by passing a further test on a motorcycle of at least 35
kW (46.6 bhp). They may practise on bikes over 25 kW (33 bhp) under the same conditions
as Direct Access, but revert to learner status while doing so. Failing the test
does not affect their existing licence.
Future Changes to Motorcyclist Licensing
The harmonisation of driving licences across Europe is well underway. A Third
Driver Licensing Directive is being developed, and although it is not clear what
the final rules will be, it seems likely that they will include significant changes
to motorcyclist licensing, possibly raising the age for direct access to larger
machines from 21 to 24 years, setting age limits for smaller machines and a requirement
to pass a test or take training when moving from smaller to larger motorcycles.
is a clear relationship between age and accident risk for motorcyclists. The two
age groups with the highest risk are younger riders, aged 16 to 19 years, on mopeds
and small engine motorcycles, and riders aged 20 to 49 years, but particularly
those aged 30 to 39 years, on larger machines.
A TRL study22 showed that the age distribution of motorcyclist casualties changed
dramatically in the last two decades of the Twentieth Century. In 1980, over half
of motorcyclist casualties were under 20 years old and less than 20% were aged
over 30 years. By 1997, this pattern had reversed, with less than 20% of casualties
being under 20 years old and over half more than 30 years old.
A survey of accident risk23 throughout the 1990s showed that during the first
half of that decade the number of younger motorcyclists (16 – 24 years) being
killed or seriously injured fell substantially, but the number of older motorcyclists
(25 – 59 years) being killed or seriously injured rose throughout the 1990s.
However, a study of fatal motorcyclist crashes between 1994 and 200224 found that
the main change in motorcyclist fatalities since 1994/98 has been a large increase
in deaths among 30 to 49 year old riders.
study25 also found a strong link between age and accident liability for motorcyclists,
and identified younger riders as the highest risk group. This study suggested
that age is a stronger factor than experience (in contrast to car drivers for
whom experience is thought to be a stronger link to accident risk than age), perhaps
because as riders become more experienced they move onto large machines and more
challenging rides. Other research shows that older riders were more likely to
ride larger motorcycles.
The In-depth study26 suggested that more experienced riders were less likely to
be at fault for the accidents in which they were involved, whereas less experienced
riders were more likely to be at fault.
A New Zealand study27 concluded that age was more important in motorcycle accident
risk than experience. It compared 490 motorcycle riders who had been involved
in road accidents on non-residential roads between 1993 and 1996, with a control
group of 1,518 riders who had not been involved in an accident. Of the crash-involved
riders, 18% were aged 15 - 19 years (as were 11% of the control group), 32% (and
26% respectively) were aged 20 - 24 years and 49% (and 63%) were aged 25 years
and over. 21% of the crash-involved riders had less than two years riding experience,
30% had between 2 and 5 years experience and 50% had more than five years riding
experience. The corresponding figures for the control group were 16%, 28% and
As age increased, accident rates decreased, so much so that riders aged 25 years
or older had a 50% lower risk than those aged 15 - 19 years. It also showed that
those with five or more years riding experience had a lower risk than those with
less than two years. However, once age was taken into account, the study found
little evidence that the amount of experience had a protective effect. The study
also found that familiarity with the motorcycle being ridden significantly reduced
A survey28 of over 1,300 motorcyclists compared accidents and attitudes of riders
with their age and motorcycling experience. Most (84%) were aged 25 years and
over, 6% were aged up to 19 years and 10% were aged 20 - 24 years. Almost all
(91%) had four or more years riding experience and only 2% had two years or less
experience. The study found that younger riders had more accidents than older
riders, irrespective of the amount of riding experience. In other words, younger
riders with four or more years riding experience had more accidents than older
riders with four or more years riding experience. The report concluded that younger
riders have more accidents because they are young, rather than because they lack
experience, and their accident risk is associated with a willingness to break
the law and violate the rules of safe riding.
requires more control skills than driving a car, but motorcyclists receive relatively
little formal training, and there is much less opportunities for supervised on-road
riding. Many graduate from smaller to larger machines without taking any further
Unlicenced riders and improperly licenced riders were at great risk of being in
an accident than riders who were properly trained and licenced
A review31 of the motorcycle training industry in Britain showed that it is “very
fragmented”, with many small training organisations, a wide range of different
training qualifications and many different types of courses. The courses available
include CBT (CBT instructors must be certified by the DSA), post-CBT/pre-test
training, rider development, advanced rider training and rider assessment courses.
An evaluation of a one-day motorcycle training course32 in 1987 (before CBT) compared
a group of 78 riders who undertook the training programme, with a matched control
group of 62 learner riders who received no training. Both groups were tested immediately
after the training course and again two months later. The study concluded that
the trained riders committed fewer errors immediately after they had been trained.
Over the following two months the skills of both groups improved, but the trained
group still committed fewer errors. The untrained riders committed two - two and
half times as many errors, which were mainly poor rearward observation and problems
A Canadian study33 compared 346 trained riders with a control group of 346 untrained
riders (matched for age and sex) over a five year period from 1979 to 1984. It
concluded that age was the strongest predictor of motorcycle accident involvement.
However, it also found that trained riders had a lower accident rate than untrained
ones, and that their accidents tended to be less severe. Overall, the trained
group had 64% fewer motorcycle accidents than the untrained group (they also had
32% fewer accidents in all vehicles, including motorcycles). The number of accidents
for both groups decreased with each successive year following gaining their motorcycle
licence. The study also found that the benefits of training in reducing accidents
were stronger for riders aged 25 years or less than for older riders, and that
the effects were stronger in the short term than in the long term.
Developments in Pre-test Training
All new riders must successfully complete Compulsory Basic Training (CBT). Then,
to gain a full motorcycle licence, they must pass the theory test for motorcyclists
and either the A or A1 practical test. It is recognised that learners need to
be encouraged and helped to take an adequate level of training between CBT and
taking the motorcycle test. The Government has the power to make such training
compulsory, but at present is seeking to encourage riders to take training rather
than force them to do so
Developments in Post-test Training
years have seen significant developments in rider training. The Driving Standards
Agency (DSA) is also working with motorcycling training providers to develop national
standards for post-test training for all motorcyclists with full licences, particularly
newly qualified riders, riders returning to motorcycling after a long break and
riders who are changing to larger, more powerful machines.
It is likely that the Pass Plus scheme for car drivers (which provides extra supervised
lessons after the driving test) will be extended to novice motorcyclists.
Bikesafe is an assessment ride with a Police motorcyclist who identifies any skills
that the rider needs to improve, and if appropriate, recommends further training.
These schemes are now available nationally and the syllabus has been standardised
so that wherever a riders takes a Bikesafe assessment, the core elements should
be the same. A note of caution was sounded in an evaluation of the Bikesafe Scotland
scheme35 which suggested that sometimes a rider’s confidence could be raised without
their safe riding abilities being raised to the same extent.
Following the model of Driver Improvement Schemes, Rider Improvement Schemes that
the Police will be able to offer to riders as an alternative to prosecution for
minor offences are being developed and evaluated. They will mirror the existing
Driver Improvement schemes for car drivers, although they are only currently available
in a few areas.
The Road Safety Bill will provide powers for training courses (that would apply
equally to drivers and motorcyclists) to be offered for more serious offences,
with reductions in the length of dis-qualification or the number of penalty points
for offenders who successfully complete them.
Speed Awareness courses are being offered by some Police forces to drivers who
exceed the speed limit by small amounts. Good practice guidelines for a national
scheme have been developed and such schemes are available to motorcyclists as
well as drivers.
The Department for Transport has commissioned research to investigate current
training courses, identify good practice and develop guidelines for standardising
the core elements of pre- and post-test motorcycle training. The research will
also compare post-training accidents rates for different types of training. Hopefully,
this research will plug a significant gap in our knowledge of most effective types
of motorcyclist training.
A weakness of the motorcycle training system is the lack of a statutory register
to ensure that motorcyclist instructors are trained, tested and monitored to minimum,
national standards (similar to the one for car driving instructors are). These
issues have been recognised in the Government’s Motorcycling Strategy and a number
of measures are underway to address them. Research is being conducted to develop
training competencies and professional qualifications for motorcyclist trainers,
and a voluntary registration scheme will be set up by the DSA.
with drivers, it is essential that motorcyclists are fit to ride. It could be
argued that any impairment due to alcohol, drugs, medicines or fatigue is likely
to have a greater effect on motorcycle riders than car drivers because the rider
must balance and control a two-wheeled vehicle.
Alcohol reduces the ability to concentrate, slows reaction time, creates over-confidence
and increases the risk of being involved in an accident. It remains in the body
for several hours after it has been consumed and may still affect a rider the
In 2004, 423 motorcyclists failed breath tests, and 14% of riders who died were
over the drink drive limit. However, motorcyclists are less likely to fail breath
tests than car drivers, and a lower proportion of motorcyclists killed on the
road were found to have been over the limit, compared with car driver fatalities.
The In-depth Study of Motorcycle Accidents38 found that alcohol was a factor in
3% of motorcyclist crashes where the rider was wholly or partly to blame, but
it was a factor in only 1.3% of motorcycle accident where the other driver was
to blame. This suggests that motorcyclists are more likely to be in an accident
when they themselves are impaired by alcohol (or drugs) than when another driver
is so impaired. A questionnaire survey of experienced motorcyclists was conducted
as part of the same study, in which 85% of respondents said that they never rode
when under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and the rest said they had done
so only occasionally.
It goes without saying that motorcyclists should refrain from drinking any alcohol
and riding, or riding when affected by drugs.
Drugs and Medication
There is no evidence to suggest that this is a greater problem for motorcyclists
than for drivers, but the same issues relate to both groups. The In-depth Study
found that drugs were involved in less than 0.25% of motorcycle crashes where
the rider was wholly or partly to blame.
Motorcyclists should not ride if they feel affected by medicines (including some
everyday medicines) or illegal drugs, or if they are taking medicine or undergoing
any medical treatment which advises against driving or riding. Appropriate guidance
from medical practitioners and pharmacists, and warning labels on medicines, are
essential. Positive advice about alternatives to riding and advice to return to
the GP if side-effects are experienced are just as important as warnings not to
ride if affected by the medicine, or by the illness. Current developments in roadside
tests for drugs and/or impairment should apply as much to motorcyclists, as to
The study of fatal accidents involving motorcyclists39 found that 13% of the riders
involved had been impaired by alcohol or drugs or both. This matches the percentage
of fatally injured riders who were over the legal alcohol limit
As with drivers, a tired motorcyclist is more likely to have a crash. Motorcyclists
may have an increased susceptibility to fatigue because of noise, vibration and
exposure to weather conditions. Unlike car drivers, they may feel unable to find
a safe place to stop and sleep in their vehicle and so may be more tempted to
keep going on long journeys.
In a questionnaire survey40 of experienced riders, a quarter said that they never
rode when tired, and less than 8% said that they regularly rode their motorcycle
when they were tired. However, fatigue was involved in only 4 of 1,790 motorcycle
Most of the research into fatigue has concentrated on drivers (although the Department
for Transport has commissioned research to examine the role of fatigue in motorcyclist
crashes), but the recommendations flowing from the existing research can be applied
- do not ride when
- avoid riding in
the early hours or when the rider would normally be asleep
- avoid starting
a long distance ride after having worked a full day
- plan and take
regular rest stops on long journeys - about every two hours
- try to avoid riding
after a heavy meal
- do not drink and
- avoid riding if
affected by drugs or medicines that may cause drowsiness.
- adopt a comfortable
position with the instep resting on the footrests
- consider wearing
internal ear protection (ear-plugs) to reduce noise
- wear comfortable
clothing that provides physical protection and is appropriate to the weather
- Riders who begin
to feel tired should stop somewhere safe, take drinks containing strong caffeine,
find somewhere safe and take a short nap.