Different rules for motorcycles in the UK


Motorcycling is popular in the UK, both as a means of transport and as a pastime (scooters and motorcycles have become fashionable again in recent years), with over one million motorcyclists. In recent years, motorcycle accidents have been greatly reduced by the compulsory wearing of helmets, better bikes and protective riding gear, better training and defensive riding by bikers. In general, laws that apply to cars also apply to motorcycles.

However, there are a few special points that apply to motorcyclists in particular:

  • A moped can be ridden at the age of 16 with a provisional licence. A moped is defined as a ‘motorised cycle’ with an engine of not more than 50cc. Anything larger is classified as a motorcycle. The maximum legal speed a moped can be ridden is 30mph (50kph).
  • A full motorcycle licence can be obtained at the age of 17 after passing a test.
  • British standard (or equivalent) approved crash helmets are compulsory for both riders and passengers.
  • It’s illegal for a motorcycle rider with a provisional licence to carry a pillion passenger (unless the pillion passenger holds a full motorcycle licence). To carry a pillion passenger, a motorcycle must be fitted with a dual seat and footrests.
  • You must use dipped headlights, day or night.
  • You must have valid third party insurance.
  • You cannot ride a motorcycle over 250cc until you’ve held a full motorcycle licence for two years.

Motorists with a full motor car licence (British or foreign) may ride a motorcycle (up to 125cc) without passing a test or obtaining a special licence. Unlike a motorcyclist with only a provisional licence, it isn’t compulsory for a qualified motorist to take a test for a moped. An ‘L’ (learner) plate must, however, be displayed.

Insurance for motorcycles is high and similar to that for cars. The cost of insurance depends on your age (riders under 25 pay much more), type and cubic capacity of your motorcycle, and the length of time you’ve held a licence. No-claims discounts are lower than for cars (the maximum is 20 or 25 per cent only) and policies usually carry an excess.

Since July 1996, all learner riders throughout the EU have had to follow a course of training designed to take them safely through stages to a full licence. After an initial compulsory basic course, riders receive a provisional licence that allows them to ride bikes up to 12bhp for two years. After taking a test, they’re limited to machines up to 33bhp for a further two years. ‘Mature’ riders aged 21 or over can qualify to ride larger bikes after accelerated training.

An MOT handbook on motorcycle safety entitled How Safe Is Your Motorcycle? is produced by the Vehicle Inspectorate and the Home Office publishes a leaflet Put the Brakes on Bike Theft (available from police stations and libraries). Essential reading for all bikers is Sorry Mate, I Didn’t See You by Tim Monaghan (Crown Publications).

This article is an extract from Living and working in Britain. Click here to get a copy now.

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