Do Different Speed Limits For Motorcycles And Cars Make Sense? EU Says No

1 month, 4 weeks ago - 30 December 2023, rideapart
2022 Triumph Tiger Sport 660
2022 Triumph Tiger Sport 660
Draft EU driving license program updates will thankfully move forward without that provision.

On December 7, 2023, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) who are seated on the Transport and Tourism Committee approved a list of revisions to European Union driving license rules. In the end, the group approved a draft position containing several common sense revisions, including things like a minimum two year probationary period for new drivers and making a digital driving license available for drivers to use on their smartphones. 

This matters to motorcyclists as general road users, of course. Also, many riders drive cars when they're not riding. However, it's also significant because the MEPs simultaneously rejected some previously proposed changes that would have placed different speed limits on motorcyclists depending on what type of license they hold (A1, A2, or A).

We're Not Kidding, Someone Proposed Adopting Different Speed Limits For Motorcyclists Riding In Europe

The motorcycle-specific speed limit proposals that were rejected were these. Regardless of any general posted speed limit on a given motorway or road, riders would face the following:

  • Riders with A1 licenses could not exceed a speed of 90 kilometers per hour (or 55 miles per hour)
  • Riders with A2 licenses could not exceed a speed of 100 km/h (or 62 mph)
  • Riders with A licenses could not exceed a speed of 110 km/h (or 68 mph)

For those unfamiliar with Europe's tiered motorcycle licensing scheme, here's how it works:

  • A1 license holders must be at least 16 years of age. Qualifying A1 bikes must not have a displacement larger than 125cc or have bikes that produce power greater than 11 kilowatts (or roughly 14.7 horsepower)
  • A2 machines must not make more than 35 kW (or 46.9 horsepower)
  • A-level motorbikes can be any bikes, completely unrestricted, but the rider must have an A license to ride them.

Why Propose Different Speed Limits For Different Tiers Of Motorcycle Licenses?

The reason stated by Rapporteur Karima Delli, who initiated the proposal, was road safety and a desire to minimize and hopefully to eliminate road deaths in the EU by 2050. The goal is admirable, but it's not clear how a speed differential between some of the most vulnerable vehicle operators on the road and the cars and trucks around them would achieve that goal.

Evidently, enough MEPs found fault with this proposal that they rejected it. Considering that the current general vehicle speed limit found in EU member states is 120 to 130 km/h (or about 74.5 to 80 mph), the flaws in this proposal are plain to see. 

Why This Proposal Was A Terrible And Unsafe Idea For Riders

Even if you've never ridden in your life, chances are good that you've probably driven in a situation where other traffic is going at what seems to be much lower than the posted speed limit.

In reality, it could only be 10 or 15 miles per hour under. But if you're stuck behind that driver, it's just frustrating.

As other traffic on the road that wants to get around the slow-moving vehicle, most of the time, you couldn't possibly care less why they're going so slowly. You care much more that they're in your way. You get frustrated and upset, and you pass them as soon as you possibly can. Maybe you flip them off, or you yell out your window at them.

Do we need to have a talk about road rage here? Because this is also one of the many ways that you get road rage. It's far from the only way, but egregiously slow driving generally tends to make the blood pressure rise in anyone stuck behind that vehicle.

Now, let me ask you a question. Regarding vehicles, did you picture two cars in the scenario I just proposed? If you did, now try picturing a motorbike as the slow-moving vehicle, and a car or truck as the one stuck behind it, wanting to get past this super slow thing blocking its way.

Instantly, the power dynamic shifts. Cars and trucks are much larger vehicles than bikes. If they pass or push a bike too aggressively, most of the time, it's the rider who's going to get injured (or at least have their vehicle suffer damage.) The driver, meanwhile, might have a few scratches and dents in their car, but will likely not have to go to the hospital. There is a major imbalance in risk levels here.

Unless they also ride, most drivers of cars and trucks simply don't care enough about bikes to notice that "oh, that's an A1 bike, so they can only legally go THIS fast." Instead, they'll just see a slow motorbike, and they'll get annoyed and want to get around it. 

If you're interested in promoting road safety, why would you intentionally provoke more aggressive road behavior, especially when all that aggro would be directed at the people you say you want to protect?

We don't know for certain why the MEPs rejected this proposal, but on behalf of anyone riding in Europe, we're glad that they did.

This is a major victory for the European motorcyclists’ lobby. Different speeds for different license holders is the most ridiculous and dangerous proposal I have heard in a long time," the Federation of European Motorcyclists' Associations general secretary Wim Taal said in a statement.

"This would not only discourage a lot of road users to switch to powered two-wheelers, it would also put motorcyclists in an unacceptable unsafe situation. A victory like this once again proves how important it is to have strong motorcyclists’ organisations throughout Europe," he concluded.

Here Are The Updated EU Driving License Requirements That Are In The Draft Legislation

  • Driving licenses will be valid for at least 15 years on motorcycles, cars, and tractors. 
  • Driving licenses will be valid for five years on trucks and buses.
  • Some exceptions to the above may be made.
  • A suggested mandatory health check may be required for issuance and/or renewal of a driving license.
    Inexperienced drivers would have a probationary period of two years, during which stricter penalties would be imposed for infractions such as drunk driving.
  • Due to the current shortage of skilled professional drivers of trucks and buses, 18 year olds might be allowed to obtain their license for trucks and buses that could carry up to 16 passengers, as long as they hold a certificate of professional competence. Otherwise, the age limit would be raised to 21. Another proposed change would see 17 year olds be able to drive trucks if they were also accompanied by an experienced driver.
  • A driver skills test update is proposed, which would include topics such as e-bikes, e-scooters, phone usage, driving in snow and slippery weather conditions, driver assistance systems, and more.
  • Adoption of a single digital driving license for EU member states is proposed, which would be available on a driver's smartphone, and would be completely equivalent to a physical, handheld license that you might carry in your wallet.

What Happens Next?
The draft proposals agreed upon by the MEPs "will possibly be voted on by the full house of the European Parliament in January 2024 plenary session," according to the European Parliament's official release on the subject. Stay tuned.

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