Public attitudes towards motorcyclists’ safety: A qualitative study from the United Kingdom

  • Published: Accident Analysis and Prevention 49 (2012) 105-113
  • Authors: Musselwhite, E. Avineri, Y. Susilo, D. Bhattachary
  • Date Added: 01 Feb 2017
  • Last Update: 01 Feb 2017
  • Format: html


To examine the perceptions of road user safety amongst different road users and examine the link between attitudes, empathy and skill in motorcycle safety behaviour.


A qualitative study of 228 participants, recruited in groups of ten. Participants took part in three re-convened workshops, each in turn exploring views on risk, the relationships between different road users; and policy interventions to promote road safety.

The participants were recruited from four locations in the UK: London, Bradford, Glasgow and North-West Wales.

Participants belonged to one of the following groups:

Group 1: Young male drivers (17-21 years)

Group 2: Those who drive for work (aged 21-54)

Group 3: Those with children under the age of 16 (aged 21-54)

Group 4: Older people (both drivers and non-drivers aged 55+)

Group 5: Younger working people with no children yet (21-34)

Group 6: Individuals with different attitudes to risk

Each group was comprised of a mix of car drivers, motorcycle riders, cyclists and non drivers.

Key Findings

  • Motorcyclists themselves tend to note that the vulnerability of being on a bike creates the danger, which is largely overcome by experience and skill of the rider, while losing none of the thrill.

  • Motorcyclists tend to view safety in terms of being able to handle the bike, knowing its limitations and capabilities, whereas car drivers are less likely to view this as skill and could view this instead as resulting in reckless behaviour.

  • Those who classify themselves as calculated risk takers on the road (on any mode) show more empathy and understanding to motorcycle riders.

  • Female car drivers were far more negative towards motorcyclists. They were far more likely to view motorcyclist behaviour as not just dangerous but also discourteous and law-breaking.

  • Motorcycle riding identity is strongly linked with the need to ride safely. However, the perception of what is safe riding varies between motorcyclists.

  • Motorcycling has a strong social identity and affiliation that means social norms are easily transmitted amongst the groups, meaning training amongst groups could be easily assembled.

  • There is a strong belief that car drivers are as much to blame for motorcycle accidents, particularly through failing to look properly. However, some riders may feel that the responsibility for safety lies in the hands of the car drivers, rather than themselves. This creates a further divide between road users.

  • In line with previous research, more empathy and indeed positive attitudes are shown towards motorcyclists by those who are motorcyclists, or have previously ridden a motorcycle or have motorcyclists in their immediate family or circle of friends.



Attitudes, Risk, Motorcycle, Qualitative, Empathy