Young drivers are being increasingly priced off the roads as rising fuel and insurance costs put car ownership out of reach for many teenagers.
New figures from the Driving Standards Agency show that the number of 17-year-olds taking driving tests has fallen by more than 55,000 in the past three years.
And many people priced out of running a car are looking to motorcycling, with a 17 per cent increase in the number of people taking CBT (compulsory basic training) courses in the past year, according to industry group Get On.
Campaign director Miles Taylor said that “more and more people are looking at the cost of driving a car for a year and seeing they can save thousands of pounds by riding a motorcycle instead, particularly a 125cc model.”
“This sector of the market is currently almost 25 per cent up on last year, with scooters up 30 per cent.”
Taylor said that opting for a motorcycle should be a no-brainer for many who wanted to maintain their transport independence, particularly youngsters at university facing increased tuition fees and rental costs.
Get On provides free riding sessions to give potential motorcyclists a taste of life on two wheels, and Taylor said: “There is a strong interest in bookings from young people and we would encourage them to look at motorcycling as an affordable form of personal transport.”
In the past year, drivers have been hit by an average 40 per cent increase in car insurance premiums combined with record fuel costs, up an average of 15.43p a litre compared to a year ago.
Newly-qualified drivers can face premiums of up to £6000 a year.
Against this background, the number of 17-year-olds taking a driving test has fallen nearly 15 per cent from 384,571 in 2007/8 to 329,307 in the year ending March 2011, the steepest falls coming in the past two years.
In contrast, the number of people taking motorcycle tests increased from 68,792 to 105,362 in the decade up to March 2009.
Robert Balls, of specialist motorcycle broker Bikesure, said the days when youngsters could put themselves on mum and dad’s policy as an “occasional” driver were over, with insurers wising up to a practice known as fronting.
“People keen on getting their independence often used to ride a motorcycle for a few months before they passed their driving test and got their own car at the age of 17 or 18,” he added.
“But we are seeing more people sticking with their motorcycles, or even selling their cars and coming back to bikes.
“The premium for a 125cc motorcycle is often less than a quarter of that for a car, and when you add in lower fuel costs and cheaper road tax you can see the temptation of sticking with two wheels.
“For example, a 17-year-old can insure a 125cc bike for about £400, whereas a car might cost 10 times that, and for some teenagers that’s the only way they can afford their own transport, even if they have passed their driving test.”
Research by Get On shows a saving of over £4000 in the first year, and £3700 a year thereafter, for a new Honda CBR125R compared with a used Peugeot 306, based on a 19-year-old living in Birmingham.
“The Honda can do 158 miles per gallon, and even a BMW F650 can do 76mpg, while it costs £1000 on average just to learn to drive a car before you even think about insurance, but a CBT is, on average, just £125 and can be done in a day,” said Taylor.
“A lot of people whose incomes are being squeezed at the moment are clearly seeing the benefits.”
As for parents worried about the safety of two wheels, Taylor said: “Motorcycles are also a lot safer than they used to be, with features like ABS on many bikes, traction control on some and new modern tyres accident rates as a proportion of riders are coming down.
“Some people still have the perception that all motorcycles are fundamentally dangerous, but with better education of car drivers, the right training, equipment and rider attitude they can be a practical, economic form of transport. And great fun too!”
What’s so good about:
Fuel economy up to four times that of cars
Beat the rush by skipping through traffic jams – journey times typically 30 per cent faster
Significantly cheaper insurance and other running costs
One day to licence pass – with a CBT typically costing just £125 and not £990 for a car
Enjoy the freedom of being out in the open and make the most of the summer breeze
Better for the environment
It’s fun – bikers are happier commuters
You’ll never have to buy de-icer
You never have to clean out empty crisp packets, sweet wrappers or coffee cups
You never have to pick your gran up from the airport
Parking has never been easier
You’ll never need to buy an air freshener
No helmet hair
You can take more than one passenger
There’s room for luggage, or the weekly shopping
Heating, air conditioning, a stereo and, of course, a roof
You can sleep in a car – and entertain guests…
You can drive backwards
You can’t fall off a car
Your dog can come for a drive with you