Is Motorcycle Licence Reform Coming? If so, it’s About Time…

MCIA and NMC both add weight to push for change in the UK's motorcycle training and licensing system

motorcycle training

A proposed fundamental reform of the motorcycle test and licensing system is back in the news following the National Motorcycle Council (a coalition of UK rider groups) adding its suggestions to those of the MCIA (the UK’s motorcycle industry association) launched last Autumn.

To which I say: ‘Great! Let’s get on with it (without compromising safety of course). It’s about blummin’ time…’

And I’m not the only one.

In case you missed it – and it’s quite a bureaucratic pea-souper matching that of the current licensing structure, so it’s highly possible – I’ll try to explain:

Simply, since 1983 (when the 125 learner law came in), there have been, at my count, around 17 significant changes to the motorcycle licence/test system, so it’s no wonder if anyone’s confused. I know I am, and that’s after putting together two recent ‘learner guide’ bookazines…

The basics of CBT, A1, A2 and A licences, as introduced in 1997, remain, but test formats, category definitions and more have been repeatedly tweaked, with the most significant revision in 2013 when the 50cc AM class (and other things) was added. 

I could go on, but I can tell you’re starting to drift off and I haven’t the space (or will… or confidence) to detail it all here. If you’re interested in a full breakdown of historical revisions, there’s a good one here.

The point is: it’s far too complicated, has been for years, and as a result is having a detrimental effect both on getting youngsters on two wheels and, by dint, bike sales. I’ve two teenagers, both mildly into bikes, who have never bothered largely due to complexity and cost. Both now have cars. 

Even if you accept the basic concept of progressive licence bands (I’m not against it, I just think it’s muddled and over-complex), the current structure is confusing and wasteful – and you don’t have to take my word for it.

“The progressive access through the definitely needs to change," Mark Jaffe, owner of Phoenix Motorcycle Training, told Visordown recently. “In terms of A2 to upgrade, that could very easily be done by additional training rather than just by going back and doing the same test again.”

So, what’s going on now? Basically, there’s a lot of talk about making revisions to make getting a licence simpler and more accessible… but nothing’s been done yet.

The Motorcycle Industry Association’s ‘Licence to Net Zero’ initiative says licence reform is essential and ‘aims to make acquiring a moped, motorcycle or other powered light vehicle (PLV) licence simpler, fairer, safer and more accessible for all’.

While the NMC (which is comprised of bodies such as the BMF, ACU, IAM RoadSmart and TRF) has now issued its ‘A Fresh Approach to The Motorcycle Licence’ document whose basic principle, it says, is to ‘make the licensing regime easier to understand and access’.

OK, so far, so good. But the proof of the pudding is what happens if anything actually changes.

There’s little point going into the details of each plan here. If you want to read the full proposals, the MCIA's is here, and the NMC's is here.

But it is encouraging that the NMC plan, in particular, is proposing simplification via things like combining the current two test modules into one single ‘event’ and scrapping the A2 category altogether.

They, the NMC, in the form of Executive Director Craig Carey-Clinch, also say: “It is clear that a fundamental review is needed. This is not about ripping everything up and starting again, but learning from what works and what doesn’t work, to create an evolved system that is fit for purpose and much easier for novice riders to understand and access.

“With motorcycle safety such a high priority, we urge Ministers to give the Group the tools it needs to develop a motorcycle licensing regime that improves safety, rewards progress and is more accessible – also taking account of future changes in technology and rider needs as motorcycling and training practice continues to evolve.”

Similar things have been said before, of course, nothing has actually changed yet, there’s a long way to go and history has made me a cynic about such things – but I am hopeful. 

But whatever happens, can you just get on with it, and quickly, please? Maybe that way my two will still become motorcyclists in my lifetime…