Safety fear over biker tests

Motorcyclists from North Yorkshire will face long journeys to take their driving test following the introduction of new European regulations from September.

Motorbike schools in Scarborough, York, and rural parts of the area could become casualties of the changes which will mean that learners can no longer be tested on public roads but at designated test centres.

Scarborough Tory MP Robert Goodwill fears the seaside town – and York – could be among the hardest hit by the new regime.

Although North Yorkshire is England's largest county the nearest test centres will be far away in Hull and Darlington.

Former Scarborough police chief David Short, the North Yorkshire-based national campaigns manager for the Motorcycle Action Group, is concerned that forcing inexperienced riders to journey such distances, while also under stress about the test, will lead to tragedies.

The Government has been aware since 1997 that a European Directive changing the motorcycle test – including a 50km emergency stop – would be coming into force this September.

But Mr Goodwill says muddled thinking led to a failure to appreciate that 50km translates to 32mph which would be breaking the speed limit in built up areas and makes it impossible to continue with on-road testing.

The Driving Standards Agency responded with plans for a network of testing centres around the country including Leeds, Sheffield, Darlington and Hull.

But because the test centres require more than two acres of concrete runway to perform the brake test they have not been popular with planners. Moves to develop a test centre at Rufforth, near York, to provide a North Yorkshire site, have so far come to nothing.

Mr Short said: "The test centres will reduce from 225, including places like Scarborough, York, and Northallerton, to 66 for the whole of the UK. It is a right dog's dinner.

"The people likely to suffer most are in the rural areas where motorcycles provide a cheap form of transport to get young people to work.

"There is not only a potential loss of instructors but it will deter people from riding bikes which can help cut congestion and save fuel."

North Yorkshire has had more than it share of tragedies due to attraction of the county's scenic roads to mature riders on powerful machines, known as born again bikers.

"Now some of our most vulnerable and inexperienced riders are going to be put in a risk situation by having to travel long distances over roads which may be strange to them, while also stressed out because of the test," added Mr Short.

Motorcycle campaigners are pressing Ministers to delay the introduction of the new rules while contingency plans are worked out, including the temporary use of brown field sites to test local riders.

The Driving Standards Agency said: "The centres need to be located in areas with easy access to the regional road network and within a short travelling time of a variety of road conditions."

Learners would still be able to practice in their home towns and this was an advantage because the test was designed to assess their ability to drive – not just learn the road layout of one particular area, the spokesman added.

But Mr Goodwill said it was human nature that novice riders would want to learn in the places where they would be tested and demand for lessons in Scarborough would fall sharply, placing many businesses at risk. One Scarborough school was already looking at renting garage space in Hull.