Learner Drivers v Learner Riders: How the law differs

CBT test

Earlier this year we highlighted the recent change in law that allows learner drivers to take driving lessons on motorways.

How does the law for learner motorcyclists differ? And what other restrictions apply to motorcyclists?

Can learner motorcyclists ride on motorways?

The Government have confirmed the recent change in law to allow learner drivers on the motorway DOES NOT extend to learner motorcyclists.

Learner motorcyclists are not party to the new legislation, meaning motorways remain out of bounds for riders with “L” plates.

It has been said that one of the main reasons the legislation has not been extended to motorcyclists is because instructors have no control over learner’s bikes, unlike cars which often have dual controls.

Other restrictions learner motorcyclists should know:

  1. You must only learn to ride a “learner approved motorcycle” (“LAM”)
  2. You must clearly display an L plate at the rear of your motorcycle. Alternatively you can wear a high visibility vest with a large “L” printed on the back
  3. You must be supervised by a person who holds an open licence. The supervisor must follow you at a safe distance on another motorcycle or in another vehicle
  4. You cannot carry a pillion passenger.
  5. You must carry your licence with you wherever you ride
  6. You must comply with the no alcohol limit.

How does obtaining a full licence differ for riders?

In order to obtain a full motorcycle licence, a motorcyclist must take and pass a motorcycle theory and hazard perception test similar to obtaining a car driving license.

However, riders must complete a two part practical test on a motorbike with the relevant engine size.

One of the main differences to obtaining a motorcycle license is that there are different categories for a full motorcycle license depending on the size of the engine.

Four categories of a full motorcycle licence

AM Licence: This is a licence for riders over the age of 16 and will allow you to remove the L plates and carry a pillion passenger on your moped or scooter. However, you are only permitted to ride a moped with an engine size of up to 50cc.

A1 Licence: Commonly referred to as a “light motorbike” licence, an A1 licence will allow 17 - 19 year-olds to have a full licence on a machine between 120 and 125cc. You need to have held an A1 full motorcycle licence for a minimum of two years before you can upgrade to an A2 licence by taking another two part practical test.

A2 Licence: One of the more popular bike licences if you are aged between 19 and 24-years-old. To obtain such a license the test and training must be taken on a bike with an engine size of up to 500cc or many training schools run restricted versions of higher powered bikes.

After passing, you can ride any size/cc of motorbike but the power is capped at 35 Kwh (47bhp). When you have held an A2 bike licence for a minimum of two years you can upgrade to an A unrestricted licence by taking another two part practical test on a bigger bike.

An A2 licence is the preferred route for many young riders looking to get a full, unrestricted licence in the quickest time.

A Licence: There are two ways of getting an A class bike licence – sometimes referred to as DAS or Direct Access Course.

  • At age 21+ having held a full A2 licence for a minimum of 2 years
  • At age 24+

The test and training must be taken on a machine of a minimum engine size of 595cc that must produce at least 40 Kwh (54 Bhp).

With this licence you can ride any motorcycle, any engine size – no restrictions!

Why are there so many hurdles to getting a full motorcycle license compared to a driving license?

You may be forgiven for feeling confused and perhaps a little surprised that there are more hurdles to overcome when it comes to obtaining a full motorcycle licence compared to a driving licence.

However it is helpful to keep in mind the main advantage of learning to ride a motorcycle versus a car is once you have your provisional licence and a set of L plates you can ride unaccompanied on a 125cc motorbike anywhere…except on motorways!

Perhaps it is no bad thing motorcyclists have more hoops to jump through. Injuries to motorcyclists are disproportionate to their presence on our roads. Motorcyclists are just 1% of total road traffic, but account for 19% of all road user deaths.

Motorcyclists are advised to ride defensively to reduce vulnerability on the road. This includes making sure you:

  • anticipate the actions of others
  • are alert and observant
  • can slow down and stop if the unexpected happens
  • position yourself in the safest and best place to maximise your visibility of potential hazards
  • take a 'lifesaver' glance over your shoulder before carrying out manoeuvres, so you know where others are and what they’re doing

These behaviours come with experience. Although the process of finally holding a full licence may seem long, the experience gained during the course of completing the different licences will prepare you for the roads and hopefully reduce the chance of becoming part of the above statistic.