Mobility and transport

Use of Powered two wheelers

The opinions expressed in the studies are those of the consultant and do not necessarily represent the position of the Commission.


Use of Powered two wheelers

There are two main groups of PTW: mopeds with 50cc engines and restricted top speed and motorcycles. As a result, mopeds are used for short trips compared to motorcycles. The minimum age for riding a moped is 16 years and 18 for motorcycles in most countries. The requirements for training and testing are not as strict for moped riders as for motorcycle riders. But there are many differences between countries in the details of their legal requirements. E.g. Portugal, Spain, Italy, France and Switzerland have a minimum age for mopeds as low as 14. Denmark, Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium also have a light moped with lower maximum speed. Except for Sweden the riders of this light moped do not have to wear helmets. Most European countries recognise a separate category light motorcycle with 125cc engines and a minimum age of 16. However, in Denmark, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium and Greece this minimum age is 18. Italy, France, Belgium, Germany and Austria allow the use of a 125cc motorcycle with only a car licence. The Netherlands have no 125cc category. In most countries motorcyclists start with motorcycles with restricted engine power and access an unlimited motorcycle at a later age. Some of these details will be discussed in following sections.

PTW's have a number of characteristics which are relevant to their use and their safety. Compared to cars, mopeds are an economical means of transport. For younger age road users they provide the only means of powered transport.

Mopeds and motorcycles are also relatively small, which makes them attractive in areas with dense or congested traffic where they can pass lines of cars and be parked more easily. Their small size and their position in between (lanes of) cars make them less detectable and predictable to car drivers, which may cause conflicts or accidents.

With two wheels in line, PTW's are unstable and require body coordination and careful control by the rider in particular at low speeds, when cornering and in emergency situations. With only two wheels, PTW's are more likely to loose friction between tyres and road surface and are therefore more vulnerable to poor road surfaces. Braking is further complicated because most PTW's have separate controls for front and rear wheel brakes

In the absence of much bodywork, PTW's give little protection to the rider against adverse weather and against injuries in the case of an accident.

Motorcycles have powerful engines (even if restricted by law) and in combination with their low weight are capable of higher acceleration and a higher top speed than many cars.

Together these characteristics make riding a PTW, in particular a motorcycle, potentially more dangerous. At the same time riding a motorcycle gives a completely different sensation to driving a car, which is attractive to some groups of riders

The above considerations lead to the suggestion that the motives for riding a PTW can be different to those for driving a car and can vary between groups of PTW users. They also lead to the suggestion that riding a PTW is relatively dangerous. The level of danger again can vary between groups of PTW users. Definitive conclusions have to be based on actual accident data and empirical research and care has to be taken when applying the results of studies on one group of riders to other groups of riders in other regions or in different time periods.

The use of PTW's varies between countries. PTW's are more popular in southern European countries. Greece is at the top with 150 mopeds and 100 motorcycles per 1000 inhabitants. In most countries the number of mopeds is decreasing although at different rates or has stabilised. The trends for numbers of motorcycles are quite different. Almost all countries experience an increase in number of motorcycles, again at various rates. The increase is stronger for older motorcycle riders. Middle European countries show an ongoing downward trend in number of motorcycles.