Scooter safety vs. motorcycles
August 27, 2006 7:52 AM   Subscribe

I've been curious of late -- I've been seeing post after post about how dangerous motorcycles are (compared to cars) and how they aren't REALLY that dangerous, etc. etc. etc. Anyway, my question is, how do motorscooters stack up in comparison, safety-wise?
posted by DoctorFedora to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If you drive where the roads are smooth, without potholes, or speed bumps, or other pavement irregularities, there's probably not much difference. When you encounter holes in the road, a scooter's smaller tires can be deflected more easily, because they generate less gyroscopic effect. Also, a motorcycle's larger tire will roll over some holes that a scooter tire will fall into, which can cause a strong jolt to the suspension.

Other differences have more to do with (some) motorcycles having more power and greater capacity for speed. That becomes an operator issue; if you go 60 mph on two wheels and hit something, you'll probably die. If you hit something at 120, you'll almost certainly die.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:17 AM on August 27, 2006

Dangerous for whom? Safety is usually framed in terms of risk for the rider/driver, but it's equally valid to consider risk for other road users.

In terms of risk for the rider, you may find these USENET threads informative: Thread 1. Thread 2.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 8:23 AM on August 27, 2006

Motorcycles are about 16 times as dangerous per passenger mile.

That being said, not all motorcycle accidents are created equal. The Hurt Report, while older, studied many of the causes of motorcycle accidents. You can be much safer if you avoid riding at night, after drinking, and avoid speeding, these being prime factors for single-rider accidents. For multiple-vehicle collisions, and you can bet motorcycles lose at these, you can wear very bright colors, and use headlight modulators and flashing brake lights to help cars see you.

The best thing to do, if you are interested, is take a course like that offered by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation. Statistics show that people who learn to ride through a course like this, instead of being self taught, have a significantly lower accident rate.
posted by procrastination at 8:53 AM on August 27, 2006

Oh, motorscooters. I would suppose many of the same statistics apply.
posted by procrastination at 8:57 AM on August 27, 2006

if you go 60 mph on two wheels and hit something, you'll probably die. If you hit something at 120, you'll almost certainly die.

Make no mistake, the thing that will kill you while riding on two wheels is the brain-dead driver crossing paths with you, not your machine's ability to go fast.

It's my belief that a motorcycle is safer than a scooter because of its ability to accelerate away from danger. For example, if a car is entering my lane, 99% of the time I will go full throttle.

Hitting the brakes may cause someone behind me to run into me. I probably don't have time to look behind me (either with the mirrors or by turning my head). But I can see in front of me, and my motorcycle can out-accelarate most cars by quite a bit.

I'm not sure you have that same exit strategy on a scooter. That means you have to trust the brain-dead driver behind you is paying attention. No thanks.
posted by letitrain at 9:30 AM on August 27, 2006

One other observation is that motorcycles have better handling than scooters. So you are in a better position to avoid an obstacle on a motorcycle than a scooter. In certain situations this may save your life.

Motorcycles are about 16 times as dangerous per passenger mile.

That's a little misleading, because your chances of dying while riding a motorcycle are still very very low. To put it into perspective, the probability of dying while on a bike is 0.000000334 per passenger mile, while for cars it's 0.000000013. The point being is that 16 times a really small number is still a really small number.
posted by epimorph at 9:50 AM on August 27, 2006

... so if you drive, like, 3 million miles, you're dead meat for sure.
posted by reklaw at 10:15 AM on August 27, 2006

I don't have any fancy statistics to link to, but a week ago my husband was hit by a car on his big Yamaha scooter (250cc) and was lucky to get away with only bumps, scratches and a broken ankle. The scooter itself is a complete wreck.

leiitrain has it completely right I'm afraid. It's the drivers who don't care that are the problem. So whether you ride a 50, 100 or 250 cc scooter you need to be aware that other drivers probably aren't going to be paying attention to you as much as you are to them.

procrastination as some good suggestions as well, and I think they apply just as well to scooters as to motorcycles.

Here in Japan there are a lot of scooters on the road. The smaller scooters seem to get in less trouble than the bigger ones as they can sneak right onto the side or the footpath even in trouble.

In our personal post-accident review we decided not to invest in another 250cc scooter but to go down to 100cc (which is much smaller but still has some accelaration leeway), no more pillion riding, and definitely to up the protective gear. As the Doctor who treated my husband said - wearing a helmet really did prevent his brains from being leaked over the road.
posted by gomichild at 10:30 AM on August 27, 2006 [1 favorite]

50cc scooters are death machines.

In Japan, the speed limit for 50cc scooters is 30km/h whereas most roads have speed limits of 50km/h.

If you try riding at 30km/h, cars/trucks will tail-gate you so closely you could reach back and touch them. When they pass you, they will usually pass within inches of your knee.

If you try riding at 60km/h (the speed at which an average 50cc scooter would max out), you have the police to watch out for and you still have the cars/trucks tail-gating because on a 50km/h road most traffic travels at 65-70km/h.

In addition to this, scooters are much lighter than motorcycles and have tiny wheels so hitting a rock or pothole can have devastating consequences.

Scooters also have poor braking and acceleration so you have a much harder time avoiding oncoming threats.

Finally, the lights on scooters tend to be smaller and weaker so you will be more difficult to spot at night - especially when it is raining.

The ONLY advantages I found to owning a 50cc scooter were the ability to lift/carry it for short distances and the option to load it into my van. The former was very helpful immediately after the Kobe earthquake (when many roads were broken) and the latter helpful during university (students were not allowed to come to the campus by car).

These advantages do not justify the risks involved with scooters.

If a motorcycle is an option, please get one.

Motorcycles have much more weight, bigger tires, excellent brakes, phenomenal acceleration, better handling/control, bigger/brighter lights and can be used on expressways (which tend to be safer because there is nothing pulling out of side streets).

And, since the acceleration on a motorcycle will blow away most vehicles with four wheels, the only time people tail-gate or otherwise come near you is when you let them.

If you do get a motorcycle:

1) Motorcycle safety school (as mentioned above).

2) Pay for top of the line gear. I survived two accidents. In my second accident, the motorcycle didn't survive. In retrospect, a good helmet gave me the ability to string together this sentence and good gloves gave me the ability to type it out. Seriously, if you are not prepared to get good gear, get a car. Even with good gear, motorcycle accidents hurt. The gear, however, will make the difference between a few weeks/months of disability, permanent disability and death.
posted by cup at 11:11 AM on August 27, 2006

Risk levels are relative and change depending on your skill and experience and focus.

To me there is only one safety issue with cycles/scooters; you're focus and awareness. In a car you can practically go autopilot through entire States before having to pay attention to anything. On cycles you have to be aware of everything if you want to lower the risk levels; the condition of the pavement, the gravel on the turns, knowing how to break, not over-correcting mistakes or drifts, not out-speeding your headlights (that is the ability to have enough time to react to whatever appears in your headlights) the awareness of making sure others SEE you so they dont change into your lane on top of you or run into the back of you because they fixated on a target area in front of you.

I rode my scooter and before that my old BMW in Manhattan and NYC your a few years and you can pay attention and drive slow and reasonable, focus on the 99% of things you should be and have that 1% kill you.

You let your focus down and the risk will rise exponentially, you WILL have an accident and only luck will determine if you have a story to tell or donate your liver.

That said, with conditioned experience (not putting yourself into driving situations that are complex and require a ton of focus) you can develope the awareness skill to a point that you can really enjoy biking. IT can be awesome, especially scooters which some scoff at but are a lot of fun. Good luck.
posted by Kensational at 11:48 AM on August 27, 2006

Something that's rarely mentioned is that motorcycles are much more dangerous in rural areas than urban areas. This might be important for somebody considering a scooter, as I assume this would be used primarily in an urban area.

A few years ago, I found some statistics on Minnesota traffic accidents. I can't seem to find the web page that had the information, but it divided stats out into columns based on the size of the town where the accidents occured. It's impossible to get a risk per passenger mile figure from this info, but from looking at the numbers for urban vs. rural accidents and referencing the standard figures about how dangerous motorcycles are compared to cars (such as that 16x figure), I was able to estimate that riding a motorcycle in the city is actually not much more dangerous than riding a car, perhaps it was even within a factor of 2. It's hard to recall exactly, but I think the only statistic that seemed to remain relatively high after taking geography into account was the chance that you would be injured IF involved in an accident (interestingly, I seem to remember the chance that you would be killed if involved in an accident being similar for both cars and motorcycles in urban areas).

This was all cursory and very unscientific--not an analysis I would stand by if pressed--but it definitely piqued my interest and might be something to look at more closely. Whatever the case, wearing a helmet and protective clothing will help you out a lot if you happen to get in a crash, whether you're on a motorcycle or a scooter.
posted by dsword at 12:34 PM on August 27, 2006

Based on my own unscientific observations of riding for 15 years -- 7 in urban, 8 inter-city riding, with healthy, dead, and crippled ride colleagues on both motorcycles and scooters. Bottom line: the rider is the biggest factor in accident probability through proactive and reactive behaviours -- however hardware can severely affect this.

The extra power that a motorcycle gives you is far more likely to kill you than save you. Now, I don't know where this whole idea of more power being a safety plus came from -- I suspect it's part of marketing BS, but I have NEVER experienced nor heard of an incident where accelerating out of trouble was the case. It's always swerving and braking skills that gets one out of tight situations that observation and anticipation did/could not prevent.

On the other hand, when someone gets killed or really hurt on a bike, it's because they're doing something like 100kph into something stationary -- this includes cars running reds and turning left in front of you. If you're speeding and hit a car that's run a light, you have to take some credit for how hurt you are. Broadsiding or hoodmounting a car at 40KpH is a totally different story from hitting at 70 or 100KpH. But all bikes, even some scooters can do 100KpH you say...

It's pretty hard to resist winding out a bike, no matter 15hp or 150hp, and the more HP, the faster you're going to get to 100KpH. As for the thrill, I know of at least a couple of riders that gave up crotch rockets for 100cc 2-stroke vespas because they provided a similar flowing feeling without the insane power. Within the city, that means you hit maybe 60Kph (instead of 100+) between lights when you're having fun winding it up.

I'll admit braking on a scooter is crappy, and generally cars stop shorter than any bike, so I have nothing to say about that.

As many have already pointed out, good gear is critical. I've had ride buddies get hit wearing full hard armour, and they just bounce back up like the Terminator, except now the Terminator is swearing like a sailor.

And don't get me started on rain or snow riding -- I don't know WTF I was thinking riding year-round for the first 5 years.
posted by Extopalopaketle at 5:01 PM on August 27, 2006

On my Vespa in Atlanta, if I am traveling even 1 mile below the posted speed limit, cars will attempt to pass me. Even when the passing is impractical or improbable or even unnecessary. (I have a 200cc P)

I believe this to be a lack of respect for scooters that you may not encounter on a motorcycle.
posted by clunkyrobot at 11:44 AM on August 28, 2006

Interesting viewpoints. I've owned and ridden scooters over the past 19 years or so. Everything from a 50cc Spree to the 250cc Reflex I have now.

A 50cc scooter is good for running down to the grocery store for milk or a few groceries. If you can find a place to put them on the scooter, that is. Many folks use milk crates. On a good day 50cc will get you to 30mph but not very fast. If you live in a small town or a place with a lot of walking folks, they're good.

I have had 80cc and 125cc scoots too (Honda and Yamaha). The 80cc Elite was pretty nice. Good for getting me around town, to and from work on the not-so-main streets (Buffalo, NY for what its worth). Unfortunately it was stolen. 80cc got me up to about 45mph.

The 125 Riva was pretty sweet. I think I could push it to 55mph or so. I used it primarily for my commute to work and such.

For me, the difference between a scooter and motorcycle was made most obvious in my accident. I was riding (the speed limit) one day and coming up from under a viaduct (railroad overpass, road dips to go under it) with a limited sight distance. As my luck would have it someone had parked his full size 1970s pickup truck across my lane (he was making a left-hand turn from oncoming traffic and waiting for ... who know what, something). I had almost no difference to stop but I slammed on my brakes and steered left. I hit the rear of the truck and flew over it. Fortunately, I survived with only a small scar (from the helmet strap I'd guess) on my chin.

What I noticed in the aftermath was that the entire right side of my scooter was destroyed. Most scooters are like motorized lawnchairs. If I'd been riding a motorcycle, my right leg would have been caught between the bike and the truck. Instead, there was pretty much nothing holding me back.

As for the lack of respect drivers give motorcyclists and scooters? I see it all the time, whether I'm driving my car or scooter. People around here regularly drive 5-10mph over the speed limit. And they'll ride right up your ass regardless of what you're driving.
posted by jdfan at 2:09 PM on August 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

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