An in-depth Exploration into
Public Attitudes towards
Motorcyclists’ Safety Risks in the UK
Charles Musselwhite,
Erel Avineri,
Yusak Octavius Susilo
Centre for Transport & Society
University of the West of England, Bristol
 At 2009 an in-depth deliberative study of attitudes of
road users to road user safety was commissioned by the
DfT in order to inform it on the new road user safety
strategy being developed for 2010 and beyond.
 As part of this larger study, this paper reports on the
attitudes of and towards motorcyclists.
 To date there has been a diverse range of knowledge
about motorist attitudes towards safety from a variety
of perspectives but little understanding of how road
users conceptualise motorcycle riding in terms of road
user safety.
Public Attitudes
 attitude-behaviour link
 social side of road user safety
 acceptability of legislation and interventions
 inform policy makers
Motorcyclists as VRU
The majority of the public (70%) state that motorcyclists
are the least safe mode of transport (DfT, 2008)
Highly represented in accident statistics:
1% of road users
19% of fatalities
21% of total serious injuries
8% of slight injuries (DfT, 2008)
Literature Review (1)
 Motorcyclists tend to have positive attitudes to road safety
and riding safely is held in high regard among dedicated
motorcyclists (Fuller, et al., 2008).
 the enjoyment of taking risks and the enjoyment of
speed, in particular, are higher for motorcyclists than they
are for car drivers (Fuller et al. 2008).
 The most negative attitudes towards motorcyclists on the
road tend to come from the least experienced drivers.
 Men have greater empathy for motorcyclists on the whole,
but actually show less empathy in their behaviour (Crundall
et al., 2008).
Literature Review (2)
 Greatest empathy comes from those who are
motorcyclists themselves or know motorcyclists (Crundall et
al., 2008)
 Drivers who have family members or close friends who
ride motorcycles are less likely to collide with motorcycles,
and showed better observation of motorcycles than
drivers who did not (Brooks & Guppy, 1990)
 ‘Mental preparation’ for motorcyclists and understand
the norms better; attitude through preparation is
therefore important (Fylan et al., 2006)
 Motorcyclists seem quite alien to drivers. Awareness of
motorcyclists can be increased by making drivers think
more about the person riding the motorcycle
Think! “Named Riders” Campaign
 “The campaign’s message
is that motorcyclists are a
wide range of people, with
names, personalities and
families just like car
“New TV adverts will show bikers
with flashing neon signs attached
to their bikes. The signs show
the rider's name and describe
personality traits”
Research Objectives
Seeking to improve understanding of:
 Attitudes of and towards motorcyclists (by motorcyclists
themselves and by other road users) could strongly influence the rider
behaviour, and driver and rider interactions.
 Perception of motorcycling safety among different road users
 Link between attitudes, empathy and skill in motorcycle
safety behaviour
 Attitudes of motorcyclists and non-motorcyclists towards
interventions aimed at improving motorcycle rider safety
Methodology (1)
 240 participants were recruited in groups of ten participants,
of which 228 eventually took part.
 Four locations in the UK: London, Bradford, Glasgow and
North-West Wales. The areas were chosen to reflect a range
of socio-economic variables and well as a mix of urban and
rural environments.
 Within each area an attempt was made to recruit 60
participants into one of six groups, with ten participants in
each group, selected in response to include different road
user groups, life-stages and attitudes to risk.
Methodology (2)
In each of the locations, groups were comprised as follows:
Group 1: Young male drivers
Group 2: Those who drive for work aged 21-54
Group 3: Those with children under the age of 16
Group 4: Older people (55+)
Group 5: Younger working people with no children yet
Group 6: Individuals with different attitudes to risk. Assigned
based on a screening questionnaire (Musselwhite, 2006)
• continuous risk takers (Bradford)
• unintentional risk takers (North-West Wales)
• reactive risk takers (London)
• calculated risk takers (Glasgow)
Methodology (3)
 Participants were reconvened in three different workshops,
each in turn exploring views on risk; the relationships
between different road users; and policy interventions
to promote road safety, in terms of perceived
effectiveness and fairness.
 Within each group, participants were also recruited to
comprise a mix of car drivers, motorcycle riders, cyclists and
non drivers.
 The project investigated a wide set of road user topics, but
this paper concentrates on findings that relate to
Findings (1):
Perception of motorcycle safety:
 Motorcyclists were perceived as a group more likely to be
at risk of accidents on the road.
 This was due to perceived behavioural characteristics of
motorcyclists (‘thrill seekers’) coupled with the physical
vulnerability and excessive speeds.
 Broad agreement - motorcycling is dangerous as a whole,
but not all motorcyclists are necessarily risky riders.
Findings (2):
Perception of motorcycle safety:
The road as a competitive rather than a shared space
 Roads were seen as a space for cars
viewed as competitive, particular in urban areas
 Car drivers did tend to recognise that there were at least
two types of motorcycle rider, those who ride regularly
and those who ride for leisure.
 The issue of ‘competitive space’ emerged between car
drivers and motorcyclists
 Lack of mutual awareness and considerations between the
two groups.
Findings (3):
Motorcyclists themselves
 The motorcyclists themselves tended to admit that
motorcycling was a risky activity.
 There was not much admittance of taking risks in other
parts of life (were not more likely to smoke, engage in drug taking,
drive cars fast or take part in risky sports).
 Definitions of safe riding largely centred on being able to
skillfully handle the bike, and in addition, showing that
they like to take risks, but that they feel in control of the
risk, perhaps displaying calculated risk taking behavior
 “OK, yes, I do ride fairly fast and aggressively at times,
but I know my limits and that of the bike. I don’t want to
die!” (male, Bradford, group 5, motorcycle rider)
Findings (4):
Empathy towards motorcyclists
 The calculated risk taking group showed considerable
empathy towards motorcycle riders.
 Other groups emphasised their dangerous behaviour,
citing over confidence in taking risks
 There was more empathy from those that had previously
ridden, and from those with family or friends who rode,
 “My mate rides a 500cc (motorbike). He’s very careful but
he still rides fast and gets ahead of the traffic. But he’s
dead safe” (male, Bradford, group 5, non-motorcyclist)
 Least empathy came especially from females, especially
those who had never ridden a motorcycle.
Findings (5):
Reducing motorcycle fatalities
 interventions suggested by participants for improving
motorcycle safety focused on engineering solutions
 Road conditions (maintenance of road surfaces, the potential
use of high friction surfaces in areas where accidents were more likely
to occur)
 Performance (limiting the top speed of bikes through
manufacturing restrictions, increasing the protection that bikes could
afford in an accident)
 Space: demarking a clear space for motorbikes on
dangerous roads, such as a dedicated lane
 Concern that they may be potentially unpopular with other
bike riders as it would tend to reduce the speed of bikes
and the thrill of riding on the road.
Findings (6):
Reducing motorcycle fatalities
Education and enforcement
 Campaigns to increase awareness of motorbikes had been
memorable, but there were still concerns as to the
visibility of bikes on the road.
 It should be compulsory for cyclists to drive with their
lights on and wear reflectors on helmets or other luminous
 Urban speed limits to reduce collisions
 Greater penalties for perceived dangerous driving on bikes
– such as weaving in and out of vehicles and switching lanes.
 speed cameras to enforce vehicle speeds at junctions particularly if money raised was hypothecated for other
engineering solutions such as road surfacing.
 Investigate how to reduce competitive nature of road
space between drivers and riders of motorcycles and a
need to increase empathy and understanding.
This can largely be done through training and perhaps shared training
and education between drivers and riders.
 The importance of the social nature of traffic and
Perceptions of road user safety do not sit within a vacuum.
 The findings are based in four areas of the GB and it is
not really known how transferable they are
Further international research must take place to address the
perceptions of motorcycling and road user risk
An in-depth Exploration into
Public Attitudes towards
Motorcyclists’ Safety Risks in the UK
Charles Musselwhite,
Erel Avineri,
Yusak Octavius Susilo
Centre for Transport & Society
University of the West of England, Bristol
Findings (7):
Reducing motorcycle fatalities
Proposed new measure – Risk Mapping
Publish annual risk maps for main roads, showing different
rates of serious and fatal accidents - for the public to see
and local authorities to act on
 potentially effective for motorcyclists – particular as
certain motorcyclists highlighted that they changed their
driving behaviours and increased speed and took greater
risks on these roads.
 concerns as to whether general publication of high risk
routes would be effective - some road users and
motorcyclists in particular would actively seek out the
most dangerous roads to drive on. It was stated that the
majority of people would not alter their route or change
their driver or rider behaviour if they knew they were on a

An in-depth exploration into public attitudes towards motorcyclist risk