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‘Bikes need lower speed limits than cars’

Published: 17 October 2007

Updated: 19 November 2014

Speed limits for motorcycles need to be lower than those set for the rest of the traffic, two leading transport advisors have said. 

Stephen Plowden and Mayer Hillman, transport authors and advisors to the Slower Speeds Initiative, said the measure would improve safety for pedestrians.

The calls came in the build up to an MCN backed mass ride in London this Saturday against road pricing for bikes and calls for motorcycles to be ‘downsized’ from Stephen Plowden, Mayer Hillman and eight road safety groups.  

Hillman and Plowden wrote to MPs in August demanding they insist Government look at limiting the power, weight and speed of motorcycles.

A joint letter signed by signed by eight road safety groups claimed motorcycles were ‘about 1.5 times as likely as cars to be involved in collisions which cause injury to cyclists’ and ‘about 3.8 times as likely as cars to be involved in slightly or serious [sic] injuring pedestrians’.

Mayer Hillman, a senior fellow emeritus at the Government-funded Policy Studies Institute, has now claimed that the high rate of collisions with pedestrians occurs because “on two wheels it’s much more difficult to keep control”. He said: “That’s the nature of a two-wheeled vehicle.

"It’s much easier to keep control of a four-wheel vehicle. It’s that combined with the issue of speed, because on a bicycle you’ve got the same problem of only two wheels but at least you have the consolation that because you are riding at a much lower speed it’s easier to control.”

He said motorcycles consequently needed lower speed limits than cars, although enforcement difficulties made it impractical. “I would certainly veer on the side of lower speed limits,” he said.

Stephen Plowden said that while the “default urban speed limit” was set at 30mph, lower limits were needed for motorcycles. “I’m with Mayer on that,” he said. He claimed special measures were needed for motorcycles because their rate of acceleration was a hazard to pedestrians.

“It means that their speed on impact is likely to be greater but also it means they are more likely to have an accident, particularly as they sometimes can be quite hard to see,” he said. 

Stephen Plowden said he would like to see the default urban speed limit for all vehicles lowered to 20mph. “If that happened, and if it were properly enforced, then I don’t think there would be a case for having a lower speed limit for motorcycles, but I still think there would be a need to do something about the fact they accelerate so much more quickly than other vehicles,” he said.

Craig-Carey Clinch, policy director for the Motorcycle Industry Associations, said the pedestrian and cyclist collision figures quoted by Plowden and Hillman were “inaccurate and full of conjecture” because they did not take into account fault.

He said: “One has to look at the causes of accidents and you tend to find that, even though motorcycles are named by people like Plowden and Hillman et al as being a great threat to pedestrians, when you actually look at the causation factors in pedestrian and cycle accidents, you often find it’s the cyclists or pedestrian failing to look, give way or obey basic road traffic law.”

To join our ride this Saturday against Plowden and Hillman’s calls and road pricing for motorcycles, go to

To find out what other extreme ideas Stephen Plowden and Mayer Hillman have for transport, including a world in which people live more “local lives,” completing most journeys on foot, bicycle or bus, get MCN, on sale Wednesday, October 17, 2007.

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