Conclusions and recommendations
The new motorcycle test
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
Multi Purpose Test Centres (MPTCs)
6. The justification for the introduction of Multi Purpose Test Sites (MPTCs) is weak. It has not enabled the DSA to make significant savings, and only a very small capital gain has been realised. Instead, it appears to have caused significant cost and inconvenience to test candidates and trainers, with little apparent gain. The way in which the DSA weighted the convenience of consumers relative to other considerations was flawed.
7. The fact that it has been possible to adapt the new motorcycle test to be performed at much smaller casual sites clearly suggests that the test could have been designed for smaller sites. Other countries in Europe have been able to implement the new motorcycle test without resorting to 'super test sites'.
8. The implementation of the decision to develop MPTCs has been inept. Despite a very lengthy lead-in, it appears to have come as a surprise to the DSA that there were difficulties in getting planning consent for the large test sites. The delay in launching the test and the scramble to implement temporary measures, including a modified test suitable for much smaller test sites has undermined the case for MPTCs in the first place. It has also severely damaged the trust of the motorcycling community in the DSA. It will take a long time and much resource to mend what has been broken, but the Government and the DSA now need to take urgent action to establish a way forward in collaboration with the industry.
Wider impact of the new test
9. There is no doubt that the introduction of the new motorcycle test and Multi Purpose Test Centres has had a significant impact on the motorcycling industry in the UK. So far, this impact has been primarily negative. Although we have no reason to believe that the decline in demand for training and tests is permanent, the temporary dip in demand is critical to parts of the industry. The Government needs to support the industry better in alleviating these problems, and assist it in developing and harnessing the opportunities that also arise from the new test regime.
10. The development of better awareness of motorcyclists among other road users is crucial to the improvement of motorcycle safety. Whilst a significant proportion of motorcycle accidents are solo incidents, the high number of collisions with other road users should not be neglected. The DSA has already made good progress in incorporating this issue into the driving theory test, and we expect this approach to be developed further over the next few years.
11. The voluntary registration of motorcycle instructors should now be made mandatory.
12. It is important to get the test for new motorcyclists right, but the crucial objective of reducing deaths and serious injuries among motorcyclists is unlikely to be met without renewed emphasis on the way learner riders are trained. The Driving Standards Agency (DSA) needs to focus on developing the consistency and quality of training in the Compulsory Basic Training, and beyond. The development of good skills and judgement of situations on the road is important, but training needs to focus equally on developing the attitudes of riders. The DSA needs to take the lead in raising training standards by developing strategies to support the training industry rather than simply imposing additional burdens on it.
13. The Government needs to collect the necessary data and monitor very carefully whether there is an increase in unlicensed motorcycle riding. If such riding were to increase, the best way forward is not to relax the requirements of the motorcycle test, but rather to strengthen enforcement.
14. There is little doubt that the Government has exceeded what was necessary to comply with the EU Directive in terms of motorcycle testing. It is less easy, however, to judge whether other objectives can justify the approach taken. There is no question that the current rate of deaths and serious injuries among motorcyclists requires decisive Government action. In doing so, the Government has to balance measures to reduce road deaths with the need to ensure the continued health of the motorcycle training industry. We believe the Government was right to go beyond the minimum requirement of the Directive in some aspects of the test, including the addition of an off-road test (Module 1) to the expanded on-road practical test (Module 2). It is the development of Multi Purpose Test Centres which represents the least effective element of the implementation of the Directive.
Handling by the Driving Standards Agency and the
Department for Transport
15. Overall, the Driving Standards Agency and the Department for Transport have handled the introduction of the new European Motorcycle test less well than we would have hoped. Relations with parts of the industry and interest groups have been strained. The introduction of MPTCs has been very poor, and the failure speedily to rectify problems with the test booking service also served as an irritant to an industry already suffering the inevitable spikes in demand for training and tests either side of the introduction of a new test regime. Such experiences damage trust and mutual respect, and the DSA cannot afford to let the current situation run for long.
16. As we have said in different contexts before, the collection of robust and reliable road safety statistics is crucial. The Government needs to look urgently at the data required to make sound, evidence-based decisions about the motorcycle training and testing required to meet the objective of reducing deaths and serious injuries among motorcyclists. Current data is insufficient, and the DfT should ensure that changes are implemented quickly to ensure that adequate data is collected.
17. The Driving Standards Agency (DSA) has done some good work in relation to the new motorcycle test, but the dogmatic approach to some issues as well as the failure to introduce the test smoothly and on time is a matter of great concern to us. We expect to see rapid progress on the development of a more customer-focused approach to the booking and delivery of tests. This has implications for the number and geographical spread of test sites, site opening hours, practice sessions and test booking systems.