The new European motorcycle test - Transport Committee Contents

3  The new motorcycle test

9.  The changes to the motorcycle test introduced on 27 April 2009, based on the Second Directive, did not affect the categories of licences and vehicles or the age at which learners can ride particular types of machine, but focused on the skills required to complete the test successfully. Existing theory and road driving tests were supplemented with a new off-road driving test. Motorcycle tests therefore now comprise the following three elements:

a)  Theory test;

b)  Practical test—Module 1—a specified off-road manoeuvres test, and

c)  Practical test—Module 2—a road riding test including an eyesight test and safety questions.

The following manoeuvres which are required by the EU Directive will, in the UK, be tested in the off-road Module 1 test:

a)  at least two manoeuvres executed at slow speed, including a slalom;

b)  at least two manoeuvres executed at higher speed, of which one manoeuvre should be in second or third gear, at a speed of at least 30km/h (18.75mph) and one manoeuvre avoiding an obstacle at a minimum speed of 50km/h (31.25mph), and

c)  at least two braking exercises, including an emergency brake at a minimum speed of 50km/h (31.25mph).[14]

10.  The EU Directive does not require any of these manoeuvres to be taken off-road, and Member States have had significant latitude in designing the specific manoeuvres required in the tests. A few Member States have opted to include these manoeuvres in the road test so that the equivalent of the UK Modules 1 and 2 are taken as one test on the public highway.

11.  The evidence received for this inquiry was predominantly critical of the new motorcycle test, and the handling of its introduction by the Driving Standards Agency (DSA) and the Department for Transport (DfT). Some aspects of the new test, notably Module 2 of the practical test, which is performed on the public highway, were received positively.[15] However, a common criticism was that the UK has gold-plated the requirements in the EU Directive so as to create a hazardous test which also requires many candidates to travel unacceptably long distances to the new Multi Purpose Test Centres (MPTCs). Criticism of the test itself focused on the exercises in Module 1 of the practical test, the new off-road test. Many trainers, examiners and motorcyclists argued that the exercises are unrealistically difficult and that, particularly in poor weather conditions, the test is dangerous. They claim that the number of incidents and accidents occurring since the introduction of the new test supports this view.

Module 1—the off-road practical test

12.  The off-road test is performed on a circuit, as illustrated by the diagram in the Appendix. Motorcycle interest groups have voiced strong opposition to Module 1 of the new motorcycle test.[16] The test is criticised for being unnecessarily difficult to the point of being dangerous, not only in terms of the manoeuvres which need to be carried out, but also in terms of the layout of the test track and the impact of poor weather on the proficiency required to carry out some exercises.


13.  Concerns about the safety of the 'swerve and brake' manoeuvre in the off-road Module 1 test (see diagram in the Appendix) were particularly prevalent in the evidence received by the Committee. The Department explains the origins of this test thus:

The new standards specified in the Directive require the practical motorcycling test to include specified manoeuvring exercises on slow speed control (slalom, figure of eight, riding a curve in 2nd or 3rd gear) and three manoeuvres (obstacle avoidance, controlled stop and emergency stop) which must be carried out at least at 50 km/h (31.5 mph). The Directive does not specify administrative details about how the standards are implemented. Member States have flexibility which allows the tests to be organised and delivered in a way that best suits prevailing local conditions.[17]


Extensive trials with motorcycling interest groups investigated different sizes and layouts of areas needed to conduct assessments of the manoeuvres […] A large number (over 300) of volunteer riders, including trainers and representatives from motorcycling industry bodies, with varying skill levels from complete beginner to expert rider took mock tests in a variety of weather conditions and on different sized motorcycles. The feedback and research from the trials confirmed that the manoeuvring area was 'fit for purpose' and that the cone configurations (including distances apart) did not need to be modified or changed.[18]

14.  Whilst the directive specifies that three manoeuvres—obstacle avoidance, controlled stop and emergency stop—must be performed at a minimum speed of 50 km/h, it does not stipulate how those manoeuvres should be performed in relation to one another. The Government has opted to combine the obstacle avoidance and controlled stop elements, a decision which is widely seen as unsafe, and for which it is impossible for instructors to prepare candidates.[19] Black Country Motorcycle Training explained that "the DSA require this manoeuvre to be performed firstly by accelerating to the prescribed 50 km/h around a 180-degree circuit area of 57.5metres, then performing a swerve followed by a controlled stop." In their view, it would be unsafe to attempt to practise such a manoeuvre on any public highway, and the space required for the manoeuvre is such that even DSA approved training areas cannot accommodate it.[20] Gordon Kemp, an ex-police motorcycle instructor, argues that the design of the test exemplifies the fact that the DSA has failed to understand, let alone appreciate, the importance of the counter-steering technique in preventing motorcycle accidents.[21] The North West Federation of Approved Driving Instructor Associations said that it is too difficult for riders to regulate their speed whilst accelerating hard and, at the same time, performing the manoeuvres. They proposed that the exercise could be improved by a green light speed indicator on the track, removing the need to look down at the speedometer.[22] Steven Manning of the Motorcycle Industry Trainers Association (MCITA) concurred, highlighting that nervous test candidates found it near impossible to manage several things simultaneously: "no amount of training is going to stop them panicking and grabbing a big handful of front brake, if they are thinking about two things at once, which a lot of them are".[23]

15.  Others suggested that it was unhelpful to ask riders to do the opposite of what they would (and should) do in real life situations on the road, namely to accelerate hard towards an obstacle that they then subsequently have to slow down for, as is required in the test.[24] The British Motorcycle Riders' Federation (BMF) acknowledged that the views of trainers and instructors had originally been divided on the efficacy of the 'swerve to avoid' test. The BMF itself had consistently opposed the combined manoeuvre on the grounds that it was too difficult to perform.[25] Craig Carey-Clinch representing the Motorcycle Industry Association (MIA) argued that in many ways, the new off-road Module 1 test represented a return to the pre-1990 motorcycle test which had been replaced by Compulsory Basic Training in order to focus on real-life situations on the road rather than technical exercises performed in an artificial off-road environment.[26]

16.  The DfT and the DSA admitted that some incidents had occurred during Module 1 "swerve to avoid" tests. In the Department's view, incidents occurred not because the test itself is unreasonably dangerous, but because some candidates are inadequately prepared for the test. It argued that the skills tested by the swerve test are critical in helping them to avoid accidents in real life:

This exercise reflects the situation that could occur when a motorcyclist is faced with an obstruction, for example a car door being opened. Such situations often account for crashes involving motorbikes. Braking and steering at the same time is contrary to good riding practice and should be properly covered during pre-test training. Unless the motorcycle has been returned to an upright and stable position before the rider applies firm but progressive and balanced braking, the outcome of heavy braking while steering risks loss of control of the machine and this is one of the main causes of serious casualties on our roads.[27]

17.  The DSA also argued that the level of familiarity of motorcycle trainers with the new test arrangements and the off-road track is vital in enabling them to prepare their students adequately for the test. The DSA offered a wide variety of guidance and a free DVD which demonstrated and explained the test. Since December 2008, trainers have had the opportunity to try out the test for themselves, free of charge. However,

very few trainers have chosen to take advantage of these opportunities—during December to April only 4.7% of available slots were taken up. It is notable that at the locations where the incidents on Module 1 test occurred there had been very little or no use made of this opportunity in advance of the test being introduced.[28]


18.  Many submissions and witnesses were critical of the requirement for parts of the off-road test to be undertaken at 50 km/h, 31.07 miles per hour. It was argued that the British Government could have obtained a derogation from the EU Directive, permitting 30 mph to be used in place of the 50 km/h requirement in the UK. The absence of a derogation meant that manoeuvres which could easily have been tested on quiet side roads could now never be done in that way.[29] Gordon Kemp, an ex-police motorcycle instructor wrote:

I am concerned by the need to adhere exactly to 31.6 mph. As the majority of UK speed limits are thirty miles per hour, I would have felt it prudent for the DSA to have asked the EU for derogation of this speed to 30 mph allowing students to be taught a manoeuvre consistent with road speeds and normal use of vehicles on the road. A 30 mph requirement would make more educational sense.[30]

Others have argued that the British Government did not seek a derogation in order to bolster the justification for building Multi Purpose Test Centres (MPTCs).[31] The Motorcycle Action Group suggests that a derogation

may have left more room for options other than building multi-million pound test sites that other EU countries do not appear to have found necessary. It would certainly have avoided that situation where riders in Britain are failing the test only because they achieved 49 [km/h] during the swerve or brake test—even though this equates to a speed above the standard urban speed limit in the UK and would thus have satisfied the intent of the Directive.[32]

19.  Another concern relating to the 50 km/h minimum speed requirement for elements of Module 1 of the test is that the test track is of insufficient size for some riders to achieve the required speed in a safe manner. One motorcyclist, who had failed the Module 1 test twice, explained that with a combined weight of man and machine of 325 kg, he found it very difficult to accelerate his 125 cc motorbike fast enough to reach the speed required for the exercises within the space provided on the track. He was now considering using a bigger bike simply to pass the test.[33] Karen Cooke from the Motorcycle Industry Association (MCI) concurred, noting that the heavier learner riders had to accelerate very hard indeed, then swerve, followed immediately by a stop. In her view this is unnatural, and as a result many learners now wanted to do their tests on larger machines. Mr Manning added that he believed many of the accidents during Module 1 tests had occurred where larger bikes had been used "where people have the ability to go a lot faster, so they are coming round trying to meet the minimum speed, giving it too much gas and then they are going so fast that they physically cannot stop in time".[34] The MCI also suggested that had a derogation from the 50 km/h requirement been achieved, it might have been possible to reduce the size of test sites, and therefore avoid the problems with identifying test sites (see chapter 4 below).[35]

20.  Despite our repeated attempts to get an answer, the Minister, Paul Clark MP, did not engage with the question as to why the Government had refrained from acquiring a derogation from the 50 km/h requirement. He said that "I think the issue about whether it is 50 km per hour or whether it was 30 mph is not an issue. The issue overriding this is about safety and well-trained motorcyclists".[36]

21.  It is difficult to see why the Government failed to obtain a derogation from the 50 km/h speed requirement for certain elements of the Module 1 test. Testing riders at a speed which exceeds the standard limit in built-up areas is both inconvenient and confusing for candidates. Requiring test candidates to drive according to a scale of measurement not widely used in the UK is bizarre. Furthermore, the absence of a derogation serves to limit the options available to future Governments, who will not be able to merge the Module 1 test elements into the Module 2 on-road test, should they wish to follow the example set by some other EU Member States. It is unacceptable that the Minister was unable to offer any satisfactory explanation for the Government's decision not to seek a derogation.


22.  Some industry representatives argued that the off-road test was unlikely to contribute to meeting the objective of reducing casualties among motorcyclists.[37] Some went as far as to suggest that it might serve to lower road safety standards among motorcyclists because they would spend part of their training practising manoeuvres which are not pertinent to every day driving on the road.[38] In their view, the key skills to practice and test were the on-road skills, such as situational awareness, which is tested only in Module 2 of the practical test:

If you have five days to educate a rider and you spend those five days teaching them how to do figure of eights and to go through a slalom, that is five days you could have spent on the road teaching them how to negotiate junctions and roundabouts, et cetera.[39]

23.  When giving oral evidence, the Deputy Chief Driving Examiner, Lesley Young, rebutted such views, arguing that:

One of the main causes of accidents for motorcycles is loss of control. Even today about 15% of all accidents are as a result of loss of control, and that is equal to failure to look properly. The test had to meet the Directive. It was interpreted by the UK in a way that tested the areas of most concern. Controlling a motorbike is really very, very important. Unlike cars, which have a lot of technology that get people out of trouble when they do things like brake inappropriately, or brake from high speed, motorcycles do not have that kind of help. If a motorcyclist gets it wrong, the consequences are that they will come off the bike and could end up killed or seriously injured. So the way we interpreted that in the design of the off-road element of the test was to specifically tackle those areas where we know motorcyclists are at risk. One of them is in avoidance, which I think we are all agreed upon. The other challenge is that the braking exercise linked to that is unnecessary but, clearly, the main part of dealing with the incident is to maintain control of the motorcycle. It is no good to swerve out of the way of something and then not be able to control the consequences of that in terms of speed or when you should brake in terms of how the bike is performing. We are confident, knowing statistics and the reasons for the accidents on the road today, that the off-road element is crucial to preparing people better for the road. It is not the be all and end all but, as a new motorcyclist, basic control is very, very important. We come on to the on-road bit, which clearly is about dealing with other traffic, and the test is significantly longer for that element. So we are very confident that the combination in the design of the test will meet what we know to be high-risk areas, and that is the reason we have introduced it.[40]

24.  The new off-road test, combined with the extended on-road test (Module 2), could be an important step towards improving the skills and judgement of motorcyclists on our roads. Module 1 tests agility, control and assessment of speed, distances and braking scenarios, and we think it is appropriate that this should take place in the comparative safety of the off-road environment. Module 2 tests the rider's ability to assess real situations on the road as well as the interaction with other road users. It is, however, important to take account of concerns expressed by the motorcycle industry, and consider what adjustments might be required.

Safety of the Module 1 test

25.  The Department for Transport accepted that the number of incidents taking place during Module 1 tests was relatively high immediately after the introduction of the new test, but highlighted that the number of incidents had subsequently returned to more acceptable levels (see Table 2 below). When questioned, the Chief Executive of the DSA, Ms Thew, indicated that it was not possible to compare these incident levels to the rate under the old test regime. The old test had taken place exclusively on the road, and any incidents would have been registered simply as road traffic accidents, and the fact that it took place during a test would not have been recorded.[41]

Table 2: Incidents occurring during Module 1 motorcycle tests
Module 1 tests conducted
Tests not completed[42]
Incident rate

27-30 April 2009 818 72 80.9%
May 2009 5146332 220.42%
June 2009 5781324 160.27%
July 2009 6297411 250.39%
August 2009 5725404 200.34%
September 2009 6266396 300.47%
October 2009 5728384 330.57%
November 2009 4439462 481.08%
December 2009 2149254 70.32%
January 2010 1223404 30.25%
Total 43,5723,039 2120.49%

Source: Department for Transport, Ev 64 and 93

26.  As illustrated by Table 3 below, it is clear that the avoidance manoeuvre and the emergency stop are the two exercises which have given rise to almost all the incidents recorded. These two exercises account for almost 92% of all incidents, and given that both manoeuvres test essential skills, it is difficult not to conclude that training of these particular skills needs to improve. The rate of incidents and accidents occurring in Module 1 tests need to be monitored carefully, and the DSA needs to react without delay if incident levels do not decline. The DSA must be prepared to make adjustments to the test design if required, and it must work closely with the industry to ensure that candidates only attempt the test when they are genuinely ready for it. This requires a culture shift, and the DSA must help and encourage the industry in every way possible to achieve this.

Table 3: Incidents in Module 1 tests—manoeuvre in which incident occurred
Avoidance manoeuvre
Emergency stop

27-30 April 2009 61 18
May 2009 138 122
June 2009 79 016
July 2009 1013 225
August 2009 713 020
September 2009 1313 430
October 2009 1812 333
November 2009 1432 248
December 2009 12 47
January 2010 11 13
Total 90104 18212

Source: Department for Transport, Ev 93

27.  Unlike some organisations which indicated that the appropriate reaction to safety concerns should be modifications to the test, PACTS emphasised that, if the rate of accidents during tests was found to be too high, the reaction needed to be "to ensure that adequate training is given to learners and to instructors for whom the testing is new". The new "testing procedure should encourage longer, more technical training."[43] There is no doubt that training and instruction for the motorcycle test needs to develop and change to reflect the new test requirements. This is not a bad thing. It provides an opportunity to raise standards and develop a culture where good training is encouraged and valued.


28.  The EU Directive specifies the speed at which particular exercises in the test should be performed, but does not specify the amount of space candidates should be given to carry out these manoeuvres. The amount of space is, however, specified by the DSA, and no allowances are made for weather conditions or reduced tyre grip.[44] Whilst braking distances and the space required to swerve is significantly greater in the wet, candidates are barred from adapting their behaviour to take precautions as they would on the open road, either by lowering their speed or by using more space.[45] Many submissions highlighted the risk of serious accidents when tests are performed in wet weather or in other circumstances where tyre grip is less than optimal.[46] Trevor Wilbourn, owner of an approved motorcycle training business explained:

[…] because the DSA have incorporated the avoidance exercise and braking exercise there is a dimension in which to perform the stop after swerving. This dimension is 31 metres from the avoidance cones which are being swerved around. The braking distance, as given by the Highway Code for a wet surface, is 28 meters at 30 mph. However, the avoidance cones are mid-swerve as obviously you have to begin the swerve before them and straighten after them in order to then brake in control and stop in the one-metre box. So in the wet they have allowed three metres leeway to get straight and brake, and that would be at 30 mph. The exercise has a minimum speed of 50 [km/h] ( 32 mph) but you can't swerve and watch the speedo so the speed is likely to be nearer 35mph. This now means that in the wet, in order to stop in the box a rider has to start braking whilst swerving which brings an increased risk of skidding and subsequently crashing. This is not the case in the dry because of higher grip levels.[47]

29.  Another example arises where tests are carried out at 'casual' or VOSA sites, where surfaces often are of a lower grade than at MPTCs, or perhaps are contaminated by oil or other substances.[48] Four industry organisations reported that, as a result, tests were often cancelled due to poor weather conditions.[49] The off-road motorcycle test effectively bars candidates from adapting their riding to reflect the prevailing weather, road and other circumstances affecting their stopping distances. This cannot be appropriate, and we urge the Government to amend the regulations on this point as soon as possible. We note that it is the Government's implementation rather than the EU Directive which has caused this problem. It should therefore be straightforward to rectify.

14   Commission Directive 2000/56/EC of 14 September 2000 amending Council Directive 91/439/EEC on driving licenses. See  Back

15   Q 24  Back

16   See for example: Ev 25, 27, 30, 33, 36, 37, 47, 48, 50, 77 Back

17   Ev 64 Back

18   Ev 64 Back

19   See for example: Ev 27, 36, 47, 77 Back

20   Ev 33 Back

21   Ev 30 Back

22   Ev 48 Back

23   Q 4  Back

24   Ev 47; Ev 50; Ev 92 [Christopher Owens] Back

25   Ev 77 Back

26   Q 4  Back

27   Ev 64 Back

28   Ev 64 Back

29   Ev 77 Back

30   Ev 30 Back

31   Ev 50 Back

32   Ev 79 Back

33   Ev 91; see also Ev 30 and 33 Back

34   Q 10  Back

35   Q 9  Back

36   Q 113  Back

37   Q 26  Back

38   Q 26  Back

39   Q 27  Back

40   Q 118; see also Q 85  Back

41   Q 126 Back

42   Driving Examiner reports attribute reasons for tests not being completed. The 'Tests not completed' column comprises: Mechanical failure, Documents not produced, Vehicle not suitable or no vehicle for test, No 'L' plates, DSA motorcycle breakdown, No interpreter, Accident-unable to complete test, Candidate under the influence of drugs/alcohol, Candidate taken ill on test, DSA Module 1 equipment failure during test, Candidate failed to attend at test centre, Late cancellation by candidate / school, Candidate late arriving for test, Test cancelled due to examiner being ill, Test cancelled due to examiner being absent, Test cancelled as unable to start test on time, Bad weather at Driving Test Centre, Bad weather at candidate's home, Candidate refused to sign residency declaration, Candidate chose to stop test, not already failed, Test terminated due to alleged illegal activity by candidate. Back

43   Ev 87 Back

44   Q 17; see also Ev 92 Back

45   Ev 79 Back

46   Ev 27, 36, 47, 48, 50, 79 Back

47   Ev 27 Back

48   Ev 50 Back

49   Ev 50 Back

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