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Riding safely with road-safe motorcycles

Nov 2020

Vehicle Technology

Throughout Europe, statistics show that most accidents involving motorcycles are caused by the human factor in the situation. Other risk factors commonly involved include the road conditions, the weather conditions, and obstacles in the road. In addition to this, the number of accidents where technical defects can also play a role should not be undeestimated – which makes it all the more important to carry out regular safety inspections on motorcycles.

In many EU countries, periodical vehicle inspections have been a requirement for two-wheeled motor vehicles for many years, just as they are for other motor vehicles. In the DEKRA accident database, the proportion of vehicles found to have technical defects after having been involved in a traffic accident was 20 percent for motorcycles, 50 percent for mopeds, and around 80 percent for small mopeds.

In Germany, the majority of the motorcycles subjected to general inspections in 2018 were found to be in good technical condition. According to figures published by the Kraftfahrt-Bundesamt (Federal Motor Transport Authority), 87.7 percent of the over 1.75 million motorcycles inspected in total showed no signs of defects. With regard to the defects found in the individual assemblies, lighting systems were the most common problem area, accounting for over 36 percent of all defects. In almost 17 percent of the motorcycles with defects, the axles/wheels/tires/suspension assembly was the most common problem area, followed by the braking system and the chassis/frame/structure, which accounted for 11.4 and 9.7 percent of all defects respectively.

TUNING OF MOPEDS AND SMALL MOPEDS REMAINS A PROBLEM

For many teenagers, especially in rural areas, the small moped – or, increasingly, the e-bike – is the gateway to personal motorized mobility. Subject to a minimum age of 15 in Germany and 14 in Switzerland, it represents a real alternative to a bicycle, the bus, or relying on their parents to drive them around.

However, the fact that these vehicles’ top speed is restricted to 25 km/h is a limitation that many users still see as unreasonable. As a result of this, tampering with the technology of a vehicle in order to increase its speed has long been common for those that own these vehicles.

Due to changes made to the European per-mit laws in 2002, the traditional small moped has increasingly fallen out of favor and been super-seded by throttled motor scooters. Where tuning was once focused on modifying mechanical aspects such as the carburetor, the exhaust, and the transmission ratio, a vehicle’s electronic systems are now the more common target of any illegal tweaks. Tailormade tuning kits for different vehicles are available to purchase online. Similar tuning procedures are commonly carried out on light motorcycles, which have a legally limited top speed of 45 km/h. Likewise, the choice of tuning kits available for pedelecs is increasing constantly.

Most users of tuned two-wheeled vehicles are not fully aware of the potential risks of such modifications. Tuning a vehicle invalidates its type ap-proval, making it illegal to use it on public roads. In addition to this, increasing its top speed moves means that a different driver's license class is required, meaning its user may be guilty of operating a motor vehicle without a driver’s license. The increased speed also presents a further problem for traditional small mopeds and pedelecs, which are often not designed to handle such velocities.

Traveling at a higher speed subjects the vehicle to much greater strain, which leads to a risk of component failure. Likewise, the braking systems on some of these vehicles are not designed to handle the higher speeds that can be achieved through tuning. Since tuning invalidates the type approval, insurance companies can reduce their payouts, or completely refuse to pay out at all in case of damage incurred during an accident. In light of this, it is important both as a follow-up to accidents and as part of general traffic monitoring procedures to determine whether vehicles have been modified illegally. If the police spot a vehicle on the road that seems unusual, they can have it inspected for illegal technical modifications by their own specialists or experts.

THE PERCENTAGE OF TWO-WHEELED VEHICLES WITH ILLE-GAL TECHNICAL MODIFICATIONS IS CONSPICUOUSLY HIGH.

DEKRA Accident Research collects the results of these inspections after traffic checks and accidents in its own database. Tuning measures designed to increase the vehicle’s top speed are often found in two-wheeled motor vehicles during such inspections, especially in light motorcycles and small mopeds. The analysis for 2001 to 2018 shows that there was evidence of illegal technical modifications in 69.5 percent of the small mopeds that were investigated after an accident, and in 32.3 percent of the mopeds investigated after an accident. By way of comparison, only 2.4 percent of the cars investigated after accidents within the same period showed signs of illegal modification. The percentage of vehicles found to have illegal technical modifications following traffic checks was also conspicuously high, especially among two-wheeled vehicles. These types of modifications were found in 85.1 percent of the small mopeds that were investigated, 67.6 percent of the mopeds, and 72.2 percent of the motorcycles with license plates. The figures for traffic checks are naturally higher, since these vehicles are deliberately pulled over by police before being subjected to the additional expert inspection based on this initial suspicion.

As yet, no conclusive statistics are available for pedelecs. Nevertheless, the large range of tuning kits and the initial accident research findings indicate that this also represents a potential problem area. However, manufacturers of pedelec motors and the relevant professional associations have both expressed an interest in ensuring that these vehicles do not undergo tuning, and are prepared to take extensive countermeasures to prevent this from happening.

The risk of being killed in an accident is 18 times higher for motorcyclists than for car drivers. In light of this, technical systems for communication between motorcycles and cars are being designed to reduce the risk of accidents and improve road safety.

There is currently no data available on e-scooters for the German market, as they have only been approved for use on public roads since summer 2019. The design of these vehicles, which are subject to approval for use on the road, limits their speed to a maximum of 20 km/h. However, vehicles which have no chance of approval are still available, some of which can reach much higher speeds and would thus be unable to obtain a type approval. Since most markets are not currently subject to the same strict regulations as the German market and the majority of e-scooters on the road are owned by sharing service providers anyway, it remains to be seen whether this market ever becomes attractive to manufacturers of tuning kits.

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