An ex police motorcycle Sgt and Tactical Pursuit Advisor, Dave Yorke has advised police forces around the UK and further afield, as well as addressing The International Association of Auto Theft Investigators (IAATI) conference on how to deal with the criminal and anti-social use of motorcycles. He has owned everything from mopeds at 16 through sportsbikes, off roaders, supermotos and currently rides a Honda Africa Twin…
A few years ago I was at the Isle of Man ferry terminal in Liverpool, sitting on an unmarked police Fireblade, waiting for the late afternoon ferry to disembark from the TT.
I was wearing black leathers, but the standard police white Shoei – coupled with the handcuffs strapped to my ankles – did show out if you were paying attention. Nonetheless it was really easy to join the first group of riders leaving the ferry, heading off home into the fading evening sunlight after having had a great time on the Isle of Man.
My unmarked Fireblade was pretty easy to spot once you took more than a passing look…
Riding along in the group, I could see that some people had realised I was a copper, but up at the front it was getting a little bit giddy. Before anyone had a chance to try and emulate the run from Kates cottage to the Creg, I put on the covert blues and, combined with a red traffic light, the whole show came to a halt.
Cruising up to the front, I could see Mr Pole Position’s bike was wearing a small plate, but other than it that looked fine; the tyres looked good, the exhaust was a decent aftermarket one and the rider had good kit on. They hadn’t bolted when they saw the blues and then ran a red light, and when I rolled alongside and said just keep the speed down, the rider nodded and raised their right hand in a little apologetic wave.
That was the end of that; a little bit of forewarning gave everyone a chance to think about their riding and get home happy after the TT…
Every year, the police and their partners run a campaign targeted solely at motorcycles and reducing casualties. This year (2021) it takes place between 5 and 18 April.
It’s usually around the start of Spring, but now it’s set to be pretty close to the lifting of the covid travel restrictions, there’s a good possibility that loads of riders and bikes won’t have been out for months. Anyway, it turns out that the police rather like forewarning us riders that they’ll be out there, because they listed the operation on their calendar for all to see.
It’s called the ‘National 2 Wheels Operation’ and is a joint exercise with Highways England, The Fire Brigade, The National Police Chiefs Council and the rather nattily named NRPOII – National Roads Policing Operations Intelligence and Investigations. It just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?
The first week of the operation is all about communications, before they start the enforcement during the second week. Although that doesn’t mean people can rely on discretion during the communications phase.
The NPCC, which co-ordinates the national operation, told me it was really down to individual forces as to how they communicated what was taking place in a particular force area, so I asked Sgt Dave Bottomley from the Metropolitan Police’s Roads and Transport Policing Command, Motorcycle Safety Team, what the operation will look like in London: “The Met are aiming for a two-pronged approach during the campaign,” he told me. “The first week will be geared more towards Communication.
“We’ll be using our Met Twitter account (@MPSRTPC) quite heavily, sharing road safety tips, vehicle maintenance ideas, Angry Al videos from 2WheelsLondon and good-news stories from during the week. Our Motorcycle Safety Team will be running the first BikeSafe events of the season; for the more motorcycle centric news, we use our BikeSafe London Facebook and Instagram profiles to engage with bikers. The plan is to be light-hearted but with a serious side to it.”
“Week two will see more emphasis on enforcement,” Sgt Bottomley told me, but the focus isn’t just on riders – it’s on car drivers too. “P2W [Powered Two Wheeler] casualties last year in London stayed constant despite lower traffic levels overall, and there will be an emphasis on the Fatal 4 offences [drink and drug driving, speeding, using a mobile phone and not wearing a seat belt] as well as enforcing against behaviours that put bikers in danger – this very much does include the behaviours from car drivers and other road users that cause danger.
“We recognise that this time of year is traditionally when a lot of riders dust off their bikes and start to take advantage of the better weather, so our aim is for them to have a safe start to the motorcycling season and enjoy their riding whilst staying within their limits.”
Surrey and Sussex Police are also taking part in the operation, so I asked them what the campaign would look like in their area. In a statement issued on their website Chief Inspector Michael Hodder of the Surrey and Sussex Roads Policing Unit, said: “It would appear a number of riders have no regard not only for their own safety, but for those they endanger too.
“They also seem to have left their common sense at home whilst forgetting how their loved ones would feel if they hurt themselves or someone else by the stupidity of their selfish riding.”
We’re also urging the public to share our social media messaging over the next three weeks, which will encourage motorcyclists to enjoy the ride responsibly, considerately and safely.”
The statement accompanied a re-release of a video from 2019, which shows a fair bit of dangerous riding. It’s a shame it’s from 2019 though; I would have like to have seen them use something more recent…
Dorset Police, in conjunction with DocBike, have recently launched a road sign that encourages drivers to thing about whether they have seen bikes. Similarly, it asks riders whether they’re visible on the approach to a junction, and while it’s more of a longer-term plan than the national two-week operation, it’s a great idea.
So, after the first week of communications the enforcement side of things will really kick in, but what will the police be looking at when they get to this stage of the operation?
Speeding for one. It’s a given that police will be enforcing the speed limits, especially so soon after lockdown restrictions being lifted and lots of people heading out for the first time in months.
Strictly speaking, anything over the posted speed limit is the point at which you can land in the realms of prosecution, but the police and road safety partnerships operate on a discretionary (there’s that word) limit of 10% + 2mph where they don’t take action.
Above that and up to 10% + 9mph is speed awareness course territory – if a rider is eligible for one – and then above that it’s straight prosecution.
Action ranges from a verbal warning to a speed awareness course and prosecution. The bare minimum for prosecution is at least three points on a driving licence and a fine of £100 via a fixed penalty. Riders might though get offered a speed awareness course, which generally costs around £100 but don’t put points on a licence. You can attend one if you haven’t been on one in the previous three years.
I haven’t been on one, but I have heard that some people find them as a nice wakeup call and reminder. I’ve also had people asking for a course rather than the points, but it’s not really designed an easy option to keep in your back pocket.
John Milbank, BikeSocial Consumer Editor: “I have been on one, and did find it useful, not to mention the fact that it doesn’t affect your licence, and you don’t need to tell your insurer unless they ask (and no decent insurer will). There are plenty of interesting bits through the day, and if you go in with an open-mind you could actually get quite a lot out of it. I wrote this feature about speed limits after attending mine.
“The only thing that can ruin these courses is the minority of attendees who spend the day arguing with the tutors, breaking the rules about mobile phones, or are just indignant that their offence led to them having to spend a day in class.”
The fines can be higher in court, although get a not guilty decision and that’s the end of the matter. A court can raise the fine in a guilty case up to a maximum £1,000 or £2,500 if the offence is on a motorway, based on the person’s wage. They can also up the penalty points as they see fit, and it could end up in disqualification.
Penalty points stay on your licence for four years in all cases.
Bikes are so much more manoeuvrable than cars and have the ability to complete overtakes where many other vehicles can’t, but solid white lines on roads are an absolute no-no. Rule 129 of the Highway Code deals with sections of road where the white line nearest you is solid: "You MUST NOT cross or straddle it unless it is safe and you need to enter adjoining premises or a side road.
“You may cross the line if necessary, provided the road is clear, to pass a stationary vehicle, or overtake a pedal cycle, horse or road maintenance vehicle, if they are travelling at 10 mph or less.”
I doubt anyone is going to get a verbal warning for a full-on overtake on a section of solid white lines; more likely it will be a straight £100 fine and three points on a driving licence. Just be sure that any overtake you do is completed before a solid line starts.
Worn tyres are dangerous and can land you in trouble with the law
If you’re stopped, the police will likely be looking at the state of your bike. Lots of motorcycles get pulled out from garages in early spring where they’ve been sheltering from the worst of the elements all winter. The temptation is to wake up on a Sunday morning and realise that it’s a really nice day to take the bike out and in all the excitement forget that it doesn’t have an MOT, is SORNed, or might not even have insurance.
ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) cameras can be set to flag document offences, and they’re easy to fall foul of after a winter break. You should also check your emails and bank regularly – I’ve lost count of the times I dealt with people who had recently had a change in circumstances and the direct debit for insurance had failed. They hadn’t read emails from their insurers and as a result they weren’t insured.
No MoT is a non-endorseable fixed penalty (which means no points) of £100. It can be higher at court; up to £1,000 and as much as £2,500 if the bike has already had a dangerous fault MOT fail and continues to be ridden.
Generally in spring-time it will be riders that have forgotten that the MOT has run out or are just sneaking in that sunny Sunday ride early in the season.
No tax is an £80 non-endorseable fine, plus you’ll have to pay all the charges since it was last taxed, so any money saved by SORNing over the winter is lost. It’s easy to tax a bike online and doing so means your motorcycle won’t have ANPR cameras twitching, which removes a talking point if you do get stopped.
Having no insurance on a bike is a big one. It starts at £300 and six points on a driving licence, so just one no insurance code – an IN10 – means the rider is halfway to a ban.
Then there’s the costs involved in seizure and storage, which have to be paid to get the bike back.
Vehicles don’t have to be seized at the roadside – I would often let someone else drive a car away if they could prove they were insured to drive it – but let’s face it, if someone is on their own, the bike is getting recovered. An IN10 code on a driving licence stays there for four years from the date of the offence.
I would definitely say to check emails and the bank just to make sure that if there’s been a change in circumstances and a direct debit has failed then it can be rectified. I have met people who honestly had no idea that they weren’t insured as they hadn’t done the above and were unaware that the insurance had been cancelled.
It’s an easy tilt of the head for a cop to look at tyres. They should have a minimum 1mm of tread left across three quarters of the tyre, and visible tread on the rest. They shouldn’t be under-inflated and shouldn’t have chunks missing out of them either.
Starting at a £100 fine and three points on a driving licence, the penalty for worn tyres can go up in court to £2,500 and the offence code – CU30 – stays on a licence for four years from the date of the offence.
Strangely, it’s not the plate, it’s the size of the characters along with the spacing between and around the border that matters. Using the correct ‘Charles Wright’ font, each character must be 64mm high and 44mm wide, and have a spacing of 10mm from eachother, along with a margin of 11mm from the edge of the plate to the edge of the character.
A motorcycle can’t show its entire registration on one line either – it’s got to be split into two lines. Taking all that into account, a 9”x7” registration plate fits.
You can get a verbal warning, a £100 non-endorseable fine or up to a £1,000 fine in court. In extreme cases the DVLA can withdraw the offending registration, meaning a rider won’t be able to use it at all. Of course, it’s also a very noticable, and could lead to other issues coming to light if you are stopped.
People caught could receive a £50 fixed penalty fine for not maintaining their exhaust, or for using a vehicle with an altered exhaust system so it makes more noise. They’re both construction and use offences, so don’t carry any penalty points, but they could be used in conjunction with either the Vehicle Defect Rectification Scheme – where you have to take the vehicle to an MoT garage to show its been fixed – or in conjunction with a Sec 59 notice (Section 59 of the Police Reform Act), which could mean that a second offence in 12 months can result in a vehicle being seized
There isn’t a penalty for having a legally-tinted visor during daylight hours, which should allow 50% of the light through and be marked with the BSi kite mark or CE regulation mark.
Specialist police officers can carry a Tintman as part of their kit; a calibrated light measuring device that returns results instantly.
Riding with a legally-tinted visor at night could land you with a £50 non-endorsable fine for having a visor not as prescribed, as could riding with a more heavily-tinted race visor during the day. The main difference comes when riding at night or in really poor visibility, where a rider could be wide open to a prosecution after a collision if someone else was killed or seriously injured.
Think about dangerous driving offences; imagine being a juror and being asked to decide whether someone wearing a dark visor that they couldn’t see out of properly falls far below the standard expected of a competent and careful driver, and it would be obvious that driving in that way would be dangerous.
There’s an easy option to avoid that question and I don’t know why anyone would want to restrict their vision to that extent.
That number plate is definitely illegal. Photo by John Ryan Flaherty
Discretion is a thing in the police; I didn’t pull that rider with the slightly small plate on the way home from the TT, and many officers might consider overlooking a dark visor on a bright sunny day. But combine that with a screamingly loud exhaust, or ride like a fool, and you’ll greatly increase your chances of being stopped.
I think it’s great that the Met are looking at behaviours in motorists that cause injury to motorcyclists. That and Dorset Police’s work with DocBike are the way forward. Plus you can keep an eye out on the social media of your local force to see how they keep you updated on the operations they’re running.
Still, even with all this forewarning, some riders won’t help themselves…