The rush to the scooter

Parked scooters with L plates

Scooters are becoming increasingly popular as people look to cut costs and stretch their budgets, but could the boom spark safety problems?

Scooters were once seen as the preserve of the Mod generation, but today the market is very different to that dominated by Lambrettas and Vespas in the 60s and 70s.

Today there is a complete spectrum with 50cc models at one end and, at the other, powerful beasts in the 600-700cc range. They are scooters on steroids.

The scooter's star is in the ascendancy with new registrations up nearly 12% in 2011. The January 2012 statistics due out soon are expected to continue the trend.

It's easy to speculate on why scooter sales are strong. With the price of fuel remaining stubbornly high and public transport costs rising faster than inflation, the scooter is a very tempting way to get from A-B, particularly in cities where parking is at a premium.

"Some scooters will do more than 100 miles on £5 of petrol so that's a whole week of commuting," says Glen McMahon, from Honda.

New registrations, year to Dec 2011

Parked motorcycles
  • Scooters: 32,326 +11.7%
  • Adventure Sport: 10,570 +13.6%
  • Sport Tourers: 5,083 -32.4%
  • Supersport: 12,851 -9.9%
  • Total mopeds, motorcycles (excl. scooters): 61,523 -8.1%

Source: Motorcycle Industry Association

Company director Roy Green, 52, from south London, has never ridden a motorcycle of any kind. He's considering buying a scooter to cover the 10 miles between home and office.

"I travel around the UK and overseas and I would also use it to get to and from central London railway stations and the airports," he says while perusing a range of scooters at the Motorcycle Show in London.

"Parking is free and there's no congestion charge."

He's typical of many people switching to scooters - they're not necessarily captivated by the idea of speed or freedom or lifestyle that drives many other motorcyclists. And it's easy to get on a scooter.

Motorcycle licence requirements are complex but all that's required to get on a moped (up to 50cc) or a scooter/motorcycle of up to 125cc is the successful completion of a one-day course called Compulsory Basic Training, better known as the CBT.

Anyone who passed their driving test before 1 February 2001 can ride a moped without L-plates. The CBT is recommended but not required.

Green, who sometimes cycles in London, intends to take his CBT but go no further. Concerns over safety will not stop him.

"Some of my friends have scooters and they've had a tumble at one point or another but nothing serious."

Scooter dashboard

Hardened motorcyclists spend years learning to ride "defensively". They develop a comprehensive awareness of all the potential dangers. Veterans might be concerned that new scooter riders will take a while to develop the same mindset.

Emma Petitt, 41, a sales manager from Brighton, is already riding a 125cc scooter, but is considering a new, bigger model. She is well aware of the dangers faced on city roads.

"When I ride around in Brighton, it terrifies me. Car drivers just don't look."

Start Quote

Scooter riders tend to ride a bit madly around London in my opinion but their speeds are relatively low”

End Quote Sgt Mick Cheeseman Met Police BikeSafe

There is great emphasis at the moment on safety for pedal cyclists, with the Times newspaper launching a major campaign this week.

But look on any motorcycle forums and you can see the fraught relationship between other road users played out daily. For those on two petrol-driven wheels, the facts are grim.

In the decade to 2010, motorcycles made up just one per cent of road traffic, but their riders accounted for 21% of all fatalities. It is something that lurks in the mind of many bikers.

New riders are making a conscious choice to get on a scooter or motorcycle but safety training is critical, says Peter Baker, deputy editor of Motorcycle News.

"If you want to be safe on a motorcycle, the best armour you could possibly put on yourself is the stuff between your ears. It's to make you road and traffic aware and stop you having an accident in the first place."

The motorcycle industry runs a scheme called Get On, which offers complete novices a free, one-hour taster session at a local training school. Beyond that, police forces around the UK run BikeSafe courses and in London, the Metropolitan Police also runs ScooterSafe days.

London is the UK's scooter capital and is now said to be home to 160,000 motorcycle riders. Since last month, they have been given permanent access to bus lanes on red routes - a blessing to bikers, a curse to some other road users.

"I don't think we quite appreciate the impression we're giving when we're nipping through the traffic, certainly in London, when we're virtually banging wing mirrors with car drivers," observes Sgt Mick Cheeseman, who runs safety courses.

"But on the flip side, drivers are now cocooned in a car that's sold with great safety features and I think that gives everybody a false sense of security."

Scooters Scooters can be very fuel-efficient

A low-speed collision can mean nothing more than scratched paintwork to that cocooned car driver but a serious danger to the unprotected motorcyclist.

And speed is a pivotal factor in the chances of having an accident, notes Cheeseman.

"Being in the right doesn't hurt any less, but if you're going more than 30mph, the chances of your accident being more serious is greatly increased.

"A lot of fatal accidents are around 30-40mph involving motorcyclists when they come off the bike, hit something solid and stopped and of course all the organs are still travelling. It does a lot of damage internally.

"Scooter riders tend to ride a bit madly around London in my opinion but their speeds are relatively low."

Of course, some modern scooters can be powerful beasts. BMW manufactures larger, 600/650cc "Maxi-scooters", which are aimed at longer, motorway commutes and can be used for touring.

But although the newer models are more muscle-bound, many bikers would turn their noses up at them.

"A 'biker' doesn't ride a scooter but that prejudice will be broken down eventually," suggests Tony Jakeman, marketing manager of BMW Motorrad.

For riders who decide to progress to the full test, more changes are afoot next January, when a new, single-part on-road test will be phased in.

This is aimed at reversing the drop in numbers of riders taking the test, which was caused by a move in 2009 to replace local centres with a smaller number of test "super-centres" where off-road manoeuvres could also be assessed.

Craig Carey-Clinch, spokesman for the Motorcycle Industry Association (MCI), said: "People take CBTs, ride on L-plates then don't go further because of this, creating the 'permanent learner class'.

"It's critical that we make the test more available for them. This would improve riding abilities and overall safety."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 189.

    As a rider of 'big' bikes, I think scooter riders should be subject to the same tests as us. Many seem dangerously unaware of the damage they can cause themselves and others through their actions. And an aside to car drivers, don't get mad at our filtering, it's allowed and most do it safely and responsibly. You don't have to make room for us either, it's just nice and courteous when you do.

  • rate this

    Comment number 188.

    Scooters are my pet hate! They may be efficent but they are dangerous, the wheels are tiny and slip out from under you without warning. I have done the CBT training but it's not enough, I agree you become a better car driver by doing it but it has little or no safety precautions included. It scares me to watch teenagers speeding around in shorts and tshirts, they've never experienced road rash!

  • rate this

    Comment number 187.

    One area I barely touched in the piece is the test changes which will be phased in next January. As it stands, the minimum age for riding ANY cc of bike will increase to 24. People between 21 and 24 will be restricted but will be able to ride more powerful bikes than those who are currently restricted between the ages of 17 and 21. People's views on this and the return to a single on-road test?

  • rate this

    Comment number 186.

    131. DrJG
    Cars have no absolute blind spots, just areas that are harder to check
    Nope. I have a 5 year old Honda Jazz & a 32" inside leg measurement (I'm 5'11) There are two bad left hand blind spots at the central door pillar and at the boot pillar. The left hand mirror does not cover them well close up.

    Any scooter driving faster than me on the left is illegally undertaking anyway.

  • rate this

    Comment number 185.

    Car drivers are less well trained to use the highway than motorcyclists.
    Motorcyclists take tuition, AND a CBT before getting a full licence. which is ON TOP of their car licence. Then there are thousands that take advantage of Bikesafe, to get police officers to coach them on driving skills. Not to mention that learners get restricted engine capacity. how does this compare to car drivers?

  • rate this

    Comment number 184.

    Never mind other drivers even forget that there are sometimes pedestrians in the vicinity

  • rate this

    Comment number 183.

    129.Stuart8827 -"I have car drievrs delibratley pull out to block me when I have been overtaking a que of traffic on the right without crossing the center line. If I can't get through no one else is going to is the mentality of some drivers"

    Often, in a queue, motorists pull to the right to see how long the queue is or 'what's going on', not to block you

    Agree they should look behind first

  • rate this

    Comment number 182.

    It is as dangerous as you make it, certainly I was a hazard to myself and others for the first 2-3 weeks but I would honestly say Scootering has changed my life for the better. a) part of a community b) costs me £6 in fuel vs £139 for a travel card and c) Bus lanes are like a private lane to work ... I feel like the leader of North Korea!

  • rate this

    Comment number 181.


    Where I sit my office overlooking a road that turns into a T junction. Approximately 40% of vehicle do not indicate the left or right turn, including Police vehicles. If the Police started prosecuting people for not using indicators I reckon cyclist and M cyclist deaths would decrease dramatically.

  • rate this

    Comment number 180.

    "When did you hear of a cyclist getting points from a red light camera?
    That tired old chestnut. If you commit and offence and get caught and have a license to put points on then the police can do precisely that if they want to even as a cyclist and it does happen."

    Note "camera", when did you last see a pedal bike with reg-plate for the DVLA to get ownership info from?

  • rate this

    Comment number 179.

    I worry about the many teeange scooter riders who insist on pulling wheelies when pulling away from traffic lights. i dont worry for their safety only the safety of other road users and pedestrians. i also have many friends whom have done the "knowledge" on scooters, all of them having accidents through car drivers not paying due care and attention.

  • rate this

    Comment number 178.

    163. SaintMarysSaint
    7 Minutes ago

    They seem to think that if I pull up along side them at lights, its an invitation to a race, and start slipping their clutch and revving their engines.

    I have had that happen a few time and left them with the rear wheels spinning going nowhere. It is all to do with power to weight ratios and intertia.

  • rate this

    Comment number 177.

    I'd like to see the naff European laws we all suffer here on electric bikes to be changed. At the moment they are limited by law to 15mph, making them entirely useless for any middle-distance commute. Can we not extend that to 25mph contingent on wearing a helmet?

  • rate this

    Comment number 176.

    I am a Driving Instructor by profession and a biker to boot. I ride an 1100cc bike capable of over 180mph. But as I say to all those who say bikes are dangerous, it will only go as fast as I want it to. There are bad drivers and bad bikers, both of whom can and will kill you. Riding/driving safely is a no brainer unless you want to be a no-brainer

  • rate this

    Comment number 175.

    @172. Piotr

    Amazing how indicators appear to have gone out of fashion, isn't it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 174.

    This discussion is turning into another argument between people on two wheels V those on four wheels.

    Can't we all get just get from A to B in peace and harmony? Give everyone some space, indicate, don't cut people off and let people pull out occasionally - The roads would be a better and safer place.

  • rate this

    Comment number 173.

    107. Scaravilious

    It would help if you read the post before you comment. I wrote " a driver does not have 360 degree vision" not 360 degree awareness. Unless you have evolved differently you have approx 200 degrees field of view which means that you cannot see anything outside of that range, so unless you have phased array radar there will be objects that will be outside your immediate vision!

  • rate this

    Comment number 172.

    Being a car driver, motorcyclist, cyclist and pedestrian. The one overiding experience I have is that car drivers can only see cars and vehicles bigger than cars - just about. Here's a tip for all car drivers: When making turns, use your indicators!

  • rate this

    Comment number 171.

    I have 2 wheel commuted in London for 15 years. Everyone thinks lorries are the worst, but my fear/hate list is 1) bendy buses (so long they don't realize what their back ends are squishing), 2) van drivers (complete airheads and unaware of their surroundings) and 3) scooter riders (on the whole, completely unprepared for 2 wheeled motorized travel. Oblivious to mirrors, speed and courtesy).

  • rate this

    Comment number 170.

    I'm a long-term biker and car driver. There are many, many fools on two wheels, but a bit of personal pain will soon tighten up their behaviour and teach them to behave. A driver on the phone in an air-conditioned car, secure in a an air-bagged crumple-zone doesn't have that chance. Bikers hurt themselves, car drivers kill others.


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