Death On Two Wheels – New Rider Training and State Licensing Requirements


We get calls here at SoCalProRider from new riders who have just completed the Motorcycle Safety Program at their local state-sponsored training facility. Whilst we’re thrilled these folks are looking for further training, the checklist is usually the same – they don’t own a motorcycle, they don’t have any gear and they don’t have a learners permit. They’ve taken the MSP course perfectly legally on their driving (car) license; motorcycles and gear were provided by the school. They spent two days riding round a parking lot, got their completion certificate (which waives the DMV riding test) and are fast-tracked straight to a full, unrestricted Class M1 motorcycle endorsement.

Sounds great doesn’t it?! How quick, easy and hassle-free!

Wrong. I actually find it horrifying. If the students that were on the MSP course I took were anything to go by, most of them have never even sat on a motorcycle before, let alone ridden one. Once they pass the written test and swop their MSP completion certificate for an M1 license, they can go straight out on California roads (which they’ve never ridden on before) on any motorcycle, of any engine size and power output. No wonder the motorcycle rider fatality and injury rates in California are so eye-wateringly high…

State law and regulation really needs to be dramatically overhauled here. New riders should not have such a quick and easy path to unrestricted riding. It’s putting countless lives in danger. Safety studies show by far the most vulnerable and dangerous time for motorcyclists is their first year of riding, especially in the first month. An institute study conducted in 2008 showed 22 percent of nearly 57,000 collision claims from 2003 to 2007 occurred in the first 30 days after an insurance policy took effect. More than half the insurance claims on supersport bikes occurred in the first three months.

If laws are there to protect people, then currently lax and inadequate regulation and requirements surrounding new rider training and licensing should be drastically improved. Isn’t it a good idea to make initial training more intensive and thorough and include mandatory public road riding? Instead of fast-tracking new riders straight to an unrestricted license, how about making the path multiple step, with sensible restrictions on engine size and power, commensurate with age and experience?

Could such a system work? Well actually it could – because it already does. Let’s take a quick look at how things are done across the pond in the UK (where this author hails from :-), where the system is designed to guide new riders in a progressive, multi-step way towards a full, unrestricted license.

In the UK, if you want to ride anything that has two wheels and an engine over 50cc, before you go anywhere near a riding test or an instructor, you first have to complete your CBT (Compulsory Basic Training). This (usually) one-day training course is split into 5 parts and includes a minimum of 2 hours real, on-road riding. After you’ve completed the CBT, you are allowed to ride a motorcycle up to 125cc if you’re 17 or over. Along with these restrictions come two conditions:

  • You must display L plates (L = Learner)
  • You must pass your full motorcycle test within 2 years, or you have to either take the CBT again or stop riding.

Assuming you have taken (and passed) the classroom-based motorcycle theory test (57 multiple choice questions and 14 hazard avoidance videos) and are the proud holder of a CBT completion certificate, you are then onto your motorcycle test at some point within a two year period. Unlike the frankly inadequate official DMV motorcycle riding test here in California (which consists entirely of a man with a clipboard watching you ride round in circles and in between some painted lines in the DMV parking lot), the UK motorcycle test consists of two parts:

  • an off-road riding test (Module 1)
  • an on-road riding test (Module 2)

The Module 1 test is conducted in an off-road motorcycle manoeuvring area and includes:

  • wheeling the motorcycle around and using the stand
  • riding a slalom and figure of 8
  • a slow ride
  • a U-turn
  • cornering and a controlled stop
  • cornering and an emergency stop
  • cornering and hazard avoidance

You must pass Module 1 before you can move onto Module 2. Module 2 includes:

  • Road riding – you’ll ride in various road and traffic conditions, but not on freeways. You’ll be asked to carry out:
    • normal stops
    • an angle start (pulling out from behind a parked vehicle)
    • a hill start
  • Independent riding – you’ll have 10-15 minutes of independent riding. This is designed to assess your ability to ride safely while making your own decisions.

The examiner follows behind you on a motorcycle of their own giving directions using a radio. Riding test routes aren’t published, so you can’t check them before your test. If you pass Module 2 then you have passed all required exams, tests and training and are handed your motorcycle license (woohoo!) BUT even then you are still a long way from your unrestricted license… You may be qualified, but your new license is restricted (and quite severely so) in terms of engine size and power. Let’s take a look:

A full, unrestricted motorcycle license in the UK is called Category A. Regular road cars
are Category B, larger vehicles are Category C and so on. After completing the CBT and passing the motorcycle theory and practical tests, no one can go straight to a full Category A. You will either be licensed as Category A1 or Category A2, depending on your age. Getting to full Category A status is via these two “junior” categories.

Category A1 (aged 17 or over)
Riders holding an A1 license can ride light motorbikes with an engine size up to 125cc without “L” plates. They may carry a passenger and ride on freeways.

Category A2 (aged 19 or over)
A2 license holders can ride motorcycles with an engine size up to 500cc. There are two ways to qualify for an A2 license:

  • Progressive route: you must have held an A1 Motorcycle License for 2 years, after which you can take another practical test. Passing the test will upgrade you to an A2 license. Or…
  • Direct route (if aged 19 or over): complete your CBT and pass your Theory Test and Practical Tests

You are then allowed to ride any A2 category motorcycle without “L” plates and carry a passenger.

Category A (aged 21 or over)
Holders of a full, unrestricted Category A can ride any motorcycle. There are two ways to qualify for a full Category A Motorcycle License:

  • Progressive route: you must have held an A2 Motorcycle License for 2 years, after which you can take another practical test. Passing the test will upgrade you to a full Category A license.
  • Direct Route: if you haven’t held an A2 license for two years but you are aged 24 or over, you can take a  Direct Access course (DAS) by completing your CBT and passing the theory and practical tests on a 600cc motorcycle. DAS are intensive courses usually run over 4 or 5 days.

So there you have it. The above steps outline the UK motorcycle training, regulation and licensing system to go from brand new rider to getting a full, unrestricted Category A motorcycle license. There is mandatory training (no exceptions!) that includes a good portion of real-world, on-road riding. Engine size, power restrictions and age limits are built in every step of the way. These restrictions and stepping stones are in place for very good reasons. They are designed to protect new riders and make sure they don’t get on machines far in excess of their experience and skill level and cause harm/injury to themselves and other road users.

If you go the progressive route in the UK at 18 years of age, it will take you FOUR YEARS riding around on smaller motorcycles before you qualify for your unrestricted Category A. It takes
TWO DAYS here in the States to do the same… This is deeply troubling and it really needs changing.

California readers may point out that folks here under the age of 18 must have had a motorcycle learners permit for six months before they can apply for their M1 license, and this would be a small step in the right direction EXCEPT for the horrifying fact that a motorcycle learners
permit in California comes with ZERO engine size or power restrictions. Sure there are conditions with the permit – you can’t ride at night, on the freeway or carry a passenger – but you can ride ANY motorcycle. In the UK you are restricted to 125cc. Quite a difference…

Why should licensing requirements be more stringent and training more rigorous and comprehensive? According to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), motorcyclists are 27 times more likely than car occupants to die in a crash per “vehicle mile traveled,” and nearly five times as likely to be injured. No, that number is not a typo. In terms of fatalities, riding a motorcycle is twenty seven times more dangerous than driving a car. Is it unreasonable to ask a State that has the highest level of motorcycle ownership, and also some of the highest motorcycle fatality and injury rates to overhaul it’s lax and hugely inadequate regulations governing new rider training and licensing requirements to protect new riders and do something about bringing these terrible numbers down?

This article appeared in re-worded form on RevZilla’s Common Tread section.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>