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«Direct correspondence to: Professor Narelle Haworth Professor in Injury Prevention and Rehabilitation Centre for Accident Research and Road ...»

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Motor scooters and mopeds – a growing attraction for

young people

Narelle Haworth and Angela Nielson

Centre for Accident Research and Road Safety-Queensland

Direct correspondence to:

Professor Narelle Haworth

Professor in Injury Prevention and Rehabilitation

Centre for Accident Research and Road Safety-Queensland

L Block, Carseldine Campus

Queensland University of Technology

Beams Road Carseldine Q 4034

Phone: 07 3138 8417

Fax: 07 3138 4907

Email: n.haworth@qut.edu.au 1 ACRS Conference: Infants, Children and Young People and Road Safety 2007


In the last decade, the growth in motorcycling and the associated road trauma has largely been among riders aged 25 and over who already have car licences and are taking up riding for the first time or returning to riding, mainly for recreation. Yet the fatality rate (expressed in terms of distance travelled) for 17-25 year old motorcyclists is three times that of riders aged 26-39 years and is more than 30 times higher than for 17-25 year old car drivers (ATSB, 2002).

More recently, sales of scooters and mopeds have increased at a greater rate than for other types of on-road motorcycles and much of the marketing is aimed at the young. We know little about the crash involvement of scooters and mopeds and whether they are safer for young people (or riders of all ages) than other motorcycles. There are difficulties in defining motor scooters and mopeds and identifying them in crash and other data bases. This paper presents analyses that compare the nature and extent of young rider moped crashes with motorcycle crashes in Queensland in 2001 to 2005. While the number of motorcycle crashes involving young riders increased by 83% during this period, the number of moped crashes increased by 208%. Riders aged 17-24 were involved in 38% of moped crashes but only 25% of motorcycle crashes. The severity profiles of motorcycle and moped crashes were similar. The interpretation of these data and its implications for licensing and other countermeasures will be discussed.


Australia, in common with other developed countries, is experiencing a boom in the sales and use of motorcycles. The number of motorcycles registered increased by 20% from 2001 to 2005 (ABS, 2006), the strongest growth of any vehicle type in Australia. From a public health perspective, the increase in motorcycling presents an enormous challenge because motorcycle riders and their pillion passengers are especially vulnerable in crashes. Across Australia, the number of motorcyclist (rider and pillion) fatalities has risen from 175 in 1997 to 238 in 2006 (Australian Transport Safety Bureau, 2007).

There have been two major changes that have contributed to the growth in motorcycling – more older riders and the growth in popularity of scooters.

The numberof older motorcyclists killed or injured in crashes has increased in the last decade in many developed countries including the United States (National Center for Statistics and Analysis Research and Development, 2005; Stutts, Foss & Svoboda, 2004), Great Britain (Sexton, Broughton, Elliott & Maycock, 2004) and Australia (Australian Transport Safety Bureau, 2005).

Yet the crash rate of older riders, even inexperienced ones, is lower than for younger riders, so improving the safety of younger riders remains a priority.

Figure 1 shows that the fatality rate for motorcycle riders aged 17-25 in 1998ACRS Conference: Infants, Children and Young People and Road Safety 2007 2000 was 47 deaths per 100 million vehicle kilometres travelled, which is three times the figure for riders aged 26-39 (14.5) and six times the figure for riders aged 40 and over (7.7) (ATSB, 2002). Of particular concern, is that the fatality rate for young motorcyclists was about thirty times greater than for young drivers (1.3), the group for which much countermeasure development has been taking place.

While the increase in older riders began in the 1990s, in the last decade the biggest increase in sales of new powered two-wheelers is among scooters and mopeds. National sales figures for January to June 2006 (fcai.com.au) show that new scooter and moped sales increased by 64.4% from the same period the previous year (which had recorded a 30% growth from the previous year). New scooters and mopeds are now the largest segment of the on-road motorcycle market. Mopeds comprised five of the ten best-selling new onroad motorcycles in Australia in January to June 2006.

Scooters and mopeds are being aggressively marketed as low cost alternatives to the car for commuting. New mopeds are being sold for less than $2,000, with claims that fuel costs are lower than public transport. With increasing fuel prices, commuting to work on a scooter or moped may be becoming increasingly attractive. Furthermore with the increasing expense and space limitations of parking in metropolitan areas, commuters may be looking toward two wheeled transport as a means of reducing parking fees (Wigan, 2000). In recent decades, most motorcycling has been for recreation (e.g., Reeder, Chalmers & Langley, 1996; Haworth, Mulvihill & Symmons, 2002; Harrison & Christie, 2004; Haworth & Mulvihill, 2005), but this trend may be changing, particularly for scooters and mopeds.

There is little Australian research regarding the safety of scooters and mopeds. The lack of an official definition of a motor scooter means that crash and registration data for these vehicles are not easily available. Informally, vehicle design is commonly used to differentiate between a motorcycle and a scooter. A motorcycle has a step-over design where the rider must step over the vehicle to mount it. Most scooters have a step-through design and smaller wheels than motorcycles. Most scooters are small-capacity automatic low speed machines but there are also very large capacity touring scooters.

In contrast, the Australian Design Rules state that a moped has two or three wheels, an engine cylinder capacity not exceeding 50 ml and a speed not exceeding 50 km/h. Despite this definition, mopeds are not reliably identified in crash data in most Australian jurisdictions.

Early investigations of moped safety in Australia included surveys of riders and preliminary crash data reported by Wigan and his colleagues in the late 1970s and an inquiry into the safety of mopeds by the Victorian Parliamentary Road Safety Committee in 1979 which focused on licensing issues. The Committee’s 1993 Inquiry into Motorcycle Safety in Victoria also made recommendations about moped definitions and licensing.

Several more recent Australian surveys of motorcyclists have gathered information about type of motorcycle ridden and self-reported crash 3 ACRS Conference: Infants, Children and Young People and Road Safety 2007 experience. Unfortunately, there were generally few scooters and mopeds in these samples, making the results less reliable than for (then) more popular types of motorcycles. In addition, relatively few of the respondents were young riders.

In Harrison and Christie’s (2003) survey of riding exposure by NSW motorcyclists, only 3.9% of respondents were scooter riders. Scooter riders rode less distance per year than other riders and rode more in urban areas, on lower speed roads. They rode relatively more on weekdays and were relatively older. The self-reported crash rate for scooter riders (crashes per 100,000 kms) was the lowest of all motorcyclists. A subsequent analysis of claims data from the NSW Motor Accidents Authority (Christie, 2003) showed that scooters comprised less than 5% of all motorcycle claims between 1989 and 1999 and that very few of these scooter riders were aged below 25 years.

However, the percentage of scooter injuries that were MAIS 4 or above (severe injury, critical injury or maximum injury virtually unsurvivable) was higher than for any other type of motorcycle.

In the survey of NSW motorcyclists reported by de Rome, Stanford and Wood (2004), 3.4% of respondents rode a “light commuter/scooter”. These riders were less likely to report having been involved in a crash, but their crashes were more likely to be multiple vehicle. The survey identified that scooter riders were less likely to wear protective clothing than other riders.

Most of the research into the safety of scooters and mopeds comes from Europe where these vehicles have traditionally been very popular. Studies from Sweden, Britain and Holland have reported higher crash risks for mopeds and scooters than other motorcycles, but differing results have been found in France and Greece. In 1998, the Swedish National Road and Transport Research Institute showed that, per kilometre travelled, there is a 20 times higher risk of being injured when travelling by moped (and 10 times higher risk when travelling by motorcycle) than by car (Aare, 2003). Sexton et al. (2004) concluded that British moped and scooter riders have the highest accident risk (adjusted for mileage) of any motorcycle riders and these vehicles tend to be ridden by those riders with least experience. Dutch data (SWOV, 2006) shows that the crash rates for bicycles and cars are 10 to 20 times lower than the rates of the motorized two-wheelers. The values for the motorcycle are an average of 55% lower than those for both light-mopeds and mopeds. The crash rate for riding a light-moped is higher than riding a moped. These data reflect that while the standard vehicle speed for the lightmoped is 25 km/h and for the moped 45 km/h, wearing of a helmet is obligatory for the moped but not for the light-moped. This data is interesting in that it suggests that the high crash risk for the moped is not just a reflection of the high risk of young riders, in that the rate for the moped is greater than for the motorcycle for all ages from 18 to 39.

Other studies have found differing results. Yannis, Golias and Papadimitriou (2005) investigated the combined effects of driver age and engine size on motorcycle crashes in Greece. Once the influence of driver age on accident fault was taken into account, engine size had no effect. In France the risk of 4 ACRS Conference: Infants, Children and Young People and Road Safety 2007 being injured in a moped accident is equivalent to motorcycles and up to 7-10 times higher than for car drivers. But the risk of being fatally injured by a moped accident is lower than in motorcycle accidents (1.8 - 2 times) (Filou, 1995; Filou et al., 1994 cited in Noordzij 2001).

The recent SUNflower+6 study found that the Netherlands has a greater percentage of moped riders among the road deaths than Sweden or the United Kingdom, with many of the road deaths among 15-19 year olds being moped riders in all three countries (Wegman et al., 2005, cited in SWOV, 2006). Dutch research shows that the crash rate for all 15-17 year old moped riders is more than 50 times higher than the average for all other age groups and transport modes. This is partly to do with the transport mode: the crash rate for moped riders is nearly 40 times higher than the average for all age groups and other transport modes and partly to do with their age: the crash rates for 15-17 year olds are about 4 times greater than for the other age groups and all transport modes. SWOV concludes that “in the hands of young road users, the moped is a dangerous vehicle”.

The possible causes for the high crash rate of mopeds were identified as: the combination of inexperience, overestimation of their own skills, and riding many kilometres among young (especially male) riders, insufficient knowledge of converting traffic rules into safe traffic behaviour, speed (especially for young riders) and not wearing a helmet.

The European studies of scooter and moped safety are of limited relevance to Australia, because until recently in many European countries, moped licences could be obtained by riders as young as 14 or 15 and helmet wearing was not mandatory in some countries for slow mopeds.

Given the increase in popularity of scooters and mopeds and the lack of current Australian information about their safety, an analysis of Queensland crash data was undertaken. Queensland has about one-third of all Australian scooter sales. Mopeds are allowed to be ridden with only a car licence, and comprised 83.6% of new scooter sales in the first half of 2005 (Black, 2005).

While scooters cannot be easily identified in the crash or registration data, mopeds are identifiable in the registration data, which provided the opportunity to analyse a matched crash and registration data file.


Queensland Transport supplied spreadsheets containing details of: (1) registration information for all vehicles that were coded as motorcycles in their crash data for 2001-05; (2) crash information for all motorcycles in crashes;

(3) information about all crashes involving motorcycles; and (4) information about all casualties in crashes involving motorcycles. The crash and registration files were merged to allow the more specific vehicle information in the registration data (make, model and body type) to be used to distinguish the different types of powered two-wheelers in crashes.

5 ACRS Conference: Infants, Children and Young People and Road Safety 2007 The characteristics of the merged data set are summarised in Figure 2. The data set contained information on 7609 powered two wheelers (PTWs) reported to be involved in road crashes from 2001 to 2005. The registration number was recorded for 7224 of these vehicles, allowing matching with the registration data. Of the vehicles for which registration number was not recorded, 253 (3.3%) were coded as unregistered, 58 (0.7%) were coded as “unknown”, 69 (0.9%) coded “98”, and 5 were hit and run crashes.

Of the 7224 vehicles for which registration data was available, 1016 (14.1%) had no information on make, model, or body type. A further 552 were missing model information only. Where information on body type was available, 5965 (96.1%) were coded as motorcycles, 227 (3.7%) as mopeds, 8 (0.1%) as motor trikes, and 8 (0.1%) as sidecars. How many of the PTWs coded as motorcycles are traditional stepover motorcycles and how many are scooters, or some other classification cannot be direct ascertained from the data.

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