The report Road Map for Enhancing Road Safety for Motorcycle and Moped Users, drafted by Fundación MAPFRE and the AEC (Spanish Highway Association), warns that the risk of death for someone riding a two-wheeled motor vehicle per kilometer driven is 17 times greater than for a passenger car occupant. The report analyzes the causes and proposes a battery of recommendations to put a stop to the high accident figures of these vehicles.
TEXT: LAURA SÁNCHEZ IMAGES: ISTOCK
“I often dream that I’m on my Triumph, riding over the hard, red floor of a great forest, beneath a thick canopy of luxuriant, translucent green leaves that stretches on to infinity. And I think: maybe this is an enchanted forest where men still sometimes play at being gods.” Many motorcycle lovers will have recognized in this paragraph the words of Ted Simon, a veteran journalist able to convey in his books the incredible sensations of touring the world on a motorbike. At Fundación MAPFRE we share and enjoy these feelings as well: being connected to the highway, the landscape and other bikers… “We are absolutely convinced that the motorbike is an excellent way to get around and that it offers a great many advantages,” according to Jesús Monclús, Accident Prevention and Road Safety manager at Fundación MAPFRE. Motorcycles are to be enjoyed, to put it in a nutshell, but always responsibly and bearing in mind the associated risks and, above all, our own vulnerability.
That is the view of the three million-plus motorcycle, scooter and moped riders currently on Spanish roads. Since 2013, the number of two-wheelers has increased by 25 percent in our country. And this trend is expected to keep rising as a result of new mobility habits adopted following the COVID-19 pandemic. “However, there is one worrying figure on which we never cease working, as we cannot resign ourselves to it: according to Spanish General Traffic Directorate (DGT) data, the risk of death for riders of VM2R (Spanish initials of twowheeled motor vehicles) per kilometer driven is 17 times greater than for a passenger car occupant,” Monclús states.
While Spain has experienced a significant reduction in deaths from road traffic accidents in recent years, the accident rates for VM2R have not followed the same trend. On the contrary, they have been on the rise since 2014. Specifically, in 2019, the fatality figures increased by over 11 percent compared to the previous year. Bikers now accounted for one of every four deaths on our roads.
What is going wrong? How can we turn this situation around?
What are the principal points we need to address in order to change these statistics? Fundación MAPFRE wished to respond to all these questions in its report Road Map for Enhancing Road Safety for Motorcycle and Moped Users, drafted in collaboration with the AEC (Spanish Highway Association). The overriding goal of this report is to contribute toward improving safety for motorcyclists by way of a whole range of proposals.
To this end, they analyzed the most effective experiences and best practices, both national and international; they compiled the opinion of experts through interviews and workshops; they identified the risk factors for accidents involving motorcycles and mopeds and examined data that proves to be as valuable as it is shocking: the MAPFRE database of twowheeler accidents. The research methodology consisted of four phases: a review of accident rates and key references, detailed surveys, focus groups and, finally, an analysis of all the information and drafting of this report.
What was discovered? Three main aspects around which many of its conclusions revolve and which serve to propose a series of highly specific recommendations: Training, awareness and safety as regards both vehicle systems and protective equipment for motorcyclists.
There is a need for better training for motorbike riders. Especially in relation to negotiating curves, as this is where 42 percent of bikers lose their lives. Another factor to bear in mind is that, here in Spain, those with an automobile license and three years’ driving experience are allowed to ride small-displacement motorcycles. While it is true that cars and motorcycles abide by the same highway code, there is a huge difference between driving a car and riding a motorbike. One striking figure: 29 percent of those two-wheeler deaths in the city in 2019 fell into this category.
Delivery riders deserve specific mention. Rider training for professional motorcyclists and, in particular, couriers and delivery riders — in their different sectors — needs to be significantly improved. The main problems this group faces are the absence of protocols for adverse weather situations, poor maintenance of the vehicles, the use of inadequate protective equipment, or a work system that is clearly less than optimal (as regards adequate rest between shifts and adjusting schedules to match the time needed for deliveries, with adequate time and safety margins). All those companies employing motorcyclists should offer them safe riding courses, which would have to be subsidized by the corresponding labor training funds.
Retraining would also be a good measure to prevent accidents, as it is particularly striking that 59 percent of motorcyclists who died in 2019 had more than ten years’ experience riding two-wheelers. The safety of those who take up riding a motorbike again after years of not doing so is another dark area that could be addressed with these kinds of courses to refresh knowledge and skills.
Obviously, training must also target drivers of other vehicles and not be limited to motorcyclists. One figure in this respect: in approximately 50 percent of cases, motorcycle accidents are caused by drivers of the other vehicles involved, which are generally passenger cars.
Motorcyclists’ safety equipment is essential to protect them from injury. MAPFRE’s accident database has enabled a detailed study to be undertaken on more than 250 fatalities and many more injuries suffered by motorcyclists. First conclusion: it is incomprehensible that, in theory, you can ride around in bathing trunks and a T-shirt, but of course wearing a helmet.
Our body is vulnerable and we need better protection for our spine, our hands, our feet… And with regard to helmets, although 94 percent of those killed wore one on interurban highways during the week, when the weekend comes round, the percentage drops to 85 percent on these same roads and, in the case of urban streets, this figure barely reaches 71 percent. These are extremely worrying rates and we wonder whether this same percentage of riders who are reluctant to wear a helmet are also those with no valid insurance or vehicle inspection certificate.
Wearing a close-fitting, securely fastened helmet is also essential: in six percent of motorcyclist deaths and 29 percent of moped rider deaths, the helmet came off during the accident. To raise awareness of this worrying issue, Fundación MAPFRE collaborated with CESVIMAP to produce a video that shows how a poorly fastened helmet “flies off” during emergency braking.
If this is the case with helmets, a section should also be dedicated to gloves, solely worn by 17-28 percent of motorcycle and moped riders involved in serious accidents on interurban highways, and by a mere 1-2 percent in urban areas. What about riders’ feet? This is another area that suffers the most injuries in accidents: solely 10-20 percent of riders on interurban highways and less than one percent on urban streets wear protective boots.
Two other factors where motorcyclists fall short are good quality lights and the use of clothing that provides greater visibility. The percentage in this area is also very worrying: 99 percent of motorcyclists involved in serious accidents were not wearing any reflective clothing. Many of the experts consulted during the preparation of this report declare that the major efforts to raise awareness and enforce regulations should target those motorcyclists with an aggressive riding style, this being understood as one that prioritizes sensation-seeking and adrenaline hits. One example of aggressive – or, in this particular case, reckless – riding is over-the-top speeding, such as the case of one of the fatal accidents analyzed, where it was found that the deceased motorcyclist was racing at 117 km/h in an area limited to 50 km/h.
When it comes to promoting a greater culture of motorcycle safety, the role of biker clubs must be encouraged and supported, so that they can become the best safety ambassadors possible. Motorcycle sharing companies also have a clear opportunity to encourage safe attitudes and behaviors on the part of their customers or users.
Technology will play a significant role in the safety field, with the possibility of saving the lives of many motorcyclists. The rate at which emergency call — e-call — systems are incorporated as standard into two-wheeled motor vehicles, as well as collision warning and speed or cruise control systems, should be accelerated, given that they are not comparable to other types of vehicles such as automobiles.
Safety infrastructure, that is our streets and highways, must also be improved, both in terms of maintenance and the progressive installation of rider protection systems on top of existing protective barriers. Urban furniture should also be included within this measure. On this point, the role of regional and local administrations is fundamental.
We should not think that concern about the accident rates for two-wheel vehicles is limited to our country. Around the world, there has been considerable growth in the number of two-wheeled vehicles on the roads in recent years and the death tolls are also increasing, with particularly high percentages in America (20 percent) and Asia (34 percent).
“It’s most encouraging to see how some of these recommendations, such as those related to improved training or personal protection systems, are already well underway and should soon become a reality: but it is important to redouble efforts and mobilize more resources. Every day counts, every day there are deaths and injuries,” Monclús concludes.
“Rider training for professional motorcyclists and, in particular, couriers and delivery riders — in their different sectors — needs to be significantly improved.”
Motorcycle accident rates
- 417 deaths on motorcycles, 24 percent of all deaths in road traffic accidents.
- 70 percent of the deaths occurred on interurban highways, 30 percent on urban streets.
- Conventional roads account for 53 percent of motorcyclist deaths.
- 164 motorcyclists died on interurban highways at the weekend, 39 percent of the total.
- 127 motorcyclists died on interurban highways during the week, 30 percent of the total.
- 126 deaths on urban streets, 30 percent of the total.
Source: “Report on motorcycle accidents in 2019,” Spanish General Traffic Directorate (DGT).