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Road safety risks revved up by motorcycles

22 April 2014

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Paul Burke is a Fellow in the Arndt-Corden Department of Economics. His research interests include economic growth and development, energy economics, environmental and natural resource economics, Asia-Pacific economies and empirical political economy. He teaches Microeconomic Analysis and Policy (IDEC8016) and Environmental Economics (IDEC 8053) at Crawford School.

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Asia’s rapidly developing economies should prepare for a full-throttle increase in motorcycle numbers, a new study from Crawford School has found.

Globally, around 300,000 motorcyclists lose their lives in road crashes each year, mostly in developing countries. That’s more than one every two minutes. Many others are injured.

A new study by researchers at Crawford School has used data for 153 countries over the period 1963-2010 to examine how motorcycle dependence evolves as economies develop.

The study, co-authored by Crawford School’s Dr Paul Burke and Dr Shuhei Nishitateno , found that the number of motorcycles per thousand population on average increases until a mid-range income of around $8,000 per person per year, and then subsequently declines.

“Motorcycles are a very popular form of transport in many countries, particularly those entering the middle-income club. They are more affordable than private cars. In crowded cities they are also often more convenient,” Dr Burke said.

“Our research suggests that many low-income countries should plan for a sharp increase in motorcycle use over coming years. The uptake of motorcycles is likely to be largest in densely-populated countries, where two-wheeled travel is particularly popular.”

Although efforts to improve road safety for motorcycle users have increased in recent years, the study found evidence that motorcycle use continues to be a relatively risky form of transport.

“Motorcyclists are vulnerable road users. In some Asian developing countries, motorcyclist deaths account for more than half of all road-related deaths. Our analysis finds strong evidence that driving a motorcycle tends to be more dangerous than driving a four-wheeled vehicle,” he added.

Extra attention is being paid to global road safety through the United Nations’ Decade of Action for Road Safety, and the study has implications for where policymakers’ attention should be focused.

“It is important that road sector policies help to ensure that motorcycle travel is as safe as it can be. It is also important that safer forms of travel – such as urban light-rail – are available to the public where feasible,” Dr Burke said.

The study also investigated a number of other factors affecting road deaths. Among the findings is that countries with higher alcohol consumption per adult have higher road death rates.

The two researchers are continuing their work on analysing the factors affecting road death rates around the world.

The paper can be accessed from the Journal of Transport Geography. The open access working paper version is available at:

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