Crash risk factors for novice motorcycle riders – Q&A with Dr Holger Moeller

Crash risk factors for novice motorcycle riders – Q&A with Dr Holger Moeller

Dr Holger Möeller is an epidemiologist in the injury division at The George Institute for Global Health, Australia, with expertise in injury epidemiology and the analysis of longitudinal linked health data. His research interests lie in injury epidemiology, health inequalities, quantitative health impact assessment and the use of linked data to inform policy and decision making.

What is the context for your recent research on novice motorcycle riders?

We know that compared to other road users, motorcycle riders have a disproportionately high risk of crashes that result in serious injury or death. Previous studies have linked measures of rider characteristics (e.g. age, gender, education), riding behaviour (e.g. speeding, riding errors, stunts), reason for riding and riding conditions (e.g. commuting, work, recreation, rain, darkness, heavy traffic), riding experience, type of motorcycle, alcohol use, and road conditions with the risk of motorcycle crashes.

Few studies have investigated multiple crash risk factors and their inter-relationship at the same time, thereby making it possible to identify the factors most strongly associated with the risk of a crash. Also there have been limited studies involving novice riders who have the highest risk of crashing.

What did this research find?

Similar to previous studies - when only considering confounders (age, sex and riding exposure) in the analysis, novice motorcycle riders in this cohort were more likely to have been involved in a crash if they:

  • had participated in a pre-learner course;
  • held their learner permit and licence for a shorter time;
  • did not have prior off-road riding experience;
  • rode more kilometres;
  • rode more frequently in challenging conditions (heavy traffic, darkness or adverse weather);
  • had crashed or reported three or more near-crash events prior to the study or,
  • were more prone to errors or engaging in risky riding behaviours.

How does this study contribute new information to existing literature?

After adjusting for rider characteristics, rider training and experience, riding behaviour, riding conditions, purpose of riding, type of motorcycle and riding exposure in the multivariable analysis, only the following measures remained statistically significantly associated with crashing - participation in a pre-learner course, combined time on learner permit and licence, riding exposure before the study, involvement in a near-crash and in a crash before the study.

This indicates that measures of training and riding experience were the strongest predictors of crashing in this group of novice motorcycle riders.

What are the interpretations and implications of this research?

At the time of the study there was no compulsory rider training to obtain a learner permit in the State of Victoria, where it was conducted. It is plausible that riders who voluntarily participated in an unregulated pre-learner course prior to obtaining a learner permit became or remained at high risk of crash after obtaining a rider licence. This may be due to certain characteristics of those who attend such courses (such as being less experienced) or the inability of the range-based programs to sufficiently transfer to on-road environments.

Nonetheless, the findings highlight the need to evaluate the safety benefits of such courses, distinguishing between mandatory versus voluntary courses and whether on-road training is included.

Results also suggest a possible safety benefit of lengthening the time a rider stays on a novice licence (combined learner permit and probationary or restricted licence period).

Since the completion of this this study, Victoria has introduced a graduated licensing system with the aim to improve riding skills and experience and reduce the overrepresentation of novice riders in crash fatalities.

The program comprises three courses: pre-learner (Motorcycle Permit Assessment), learner (Check Ride), and pre-licence (Motorcycle Licence Assessment). Having an interim course between that for the learner permit and the licence is likely to extend the novice licence period and all courses include mandatory on-road training and/or assessment components.

Our findings support the view that such a program might be successful in reducing motorcycle crash rates in novice riders should it provide additional experience for novices. The safety benefits of Victoria’s graduated licensing program and similar initiatives in other jurisdictions should be evaluated to determine if such benefits are realised.