When I decided to start riding on 2 wheels, I wanted to know the safest option to get me on the road. I mean, I kept hearing how dangerous it was to ride a motorcycle. My gut told me that scooters would be safer because they were slower. But was my gut right?
While scooters are more likely to have a smaller motor and therefore reach lower speeds, they are not inherently any safer than a motorcycle. However, there is evidence the risk of an accident or fatality is lower for scooter riders when compared to motorcycle riders.
If you’re sitting here with some version of – ‘is a scooter safer than a motorcycle?’ or ‘is a motorcycle safer than a scooter?’ or ‘is a scooter or motorcycle safe?’, these questions are reasonable and quite understandable!
Your safety is the most important aspect of any decision even beyond this 2 wheel riding discussion. This article will provide an answer to the numerous questions on the safety of scooters and motorcycles that you might have as a newbie.
Factors That Contribute to How Safe a Scooter or Motorcycle Is
Motor scooters typically have a lower speed range and can be easily maneuvered. This has made people think that scooters are safer than motorcycles.
Scooters are simply a type of motorcycle, so essentially, they really are equally dangerous. You can find more information on the differences between scooters and motorcycles here. Being on 2 wheels vs 4 and without the ‘cage’ of a car makes it an apples to apples comparison.
However, research has shown that a scooter is safer than a motorcycle. A motorcycle has an higher tendency of getting into an accident compared to a motor scooter. According to research, 3.4% of accidents in motorcycles are fatal while just 1% of crashes in scooters are fatal. The research showed that the difference in crash fatality was in one way or the other related to the circumstances in which the vehicles were used, however.
So a motorcycle and scooter have similar risk profiles, but motorcycle riders tend to be in situations that make an accident slightly more likely.
Generally, motorcycles are more powerful (bigger & faster) on top of weighing more.
The physics of a 45 mph crash is negligible compared 50 mph. While there is a statistical difference, the ability of your body to withstand the 5 mph force difference is the negligible part.
Another component to this conversation is how they are used. Both scooterists and motorcyclists can be motivated to buy one or the other for a variety of reasons, but someone making a purchase for a toy versus a form of transportation is likely baked into this conversation.
Correlation. Causation. I can make assumptions, but ultimately, accidents caused by speed, traffic rule violations, drunk riding, or dangerous driving makes up approximately 15% of scooter accidents versus 23% of motorcycle accidents. Study here that dives into this.
Size and physical appearance
Generally, scooters engines are small in size and weight, moderate speed when compared to a motorcycle. This makes them less powerful and more easily maneuvered.
A motorcycle on the other hand tends to be more powerful, bigger, heavier, and have a higher speed which makes it to be more difficult to maneuver.
As a beginner, it is easier to ride a scooter with no prior experience than it is to ride a motorcycle. This is also due to its size, weight, speed, and power.
That said, beginner riders on either a scooter or full-on motorcycle means they lack experience to help navigate tricky situations when riding.
I struggled to find actual statistics here to illustrate where scooters vs motorcycles could be compared. Regardless, I highly recommend taking a specific motorcycle course even if not required for a motorcycle license where you ride, and then PRACTICE THOSE SKILLS REGULARLY GOING FORWARD.
For some reason that is still unknown to me, scooter riders tend to not use safety gear, and this gets baked into the stat covered here as the historical performance of actual riders.
In this study, they found that a mere 17% of scooter and moped riders wear a helmet. 90% aren’t insured. I digress!
Yes, there are motorcyclists that ride motorcycles in casual wears and flip-flops but they are not as common as what I see with people who ride scooters. They just casually ride the scooter with practically no safety gear like they would when sitting in a taxi.
At a minimum, you’ll want to wear a helmet, a riding jacket, and a pair of gloves. There is no difference between scooter or motorcycle here.
Most riders tend to overlook the gloves, but it is important to wear gloves as the hand is now considered one of the most major sites of injuries from a two-wheeled vehicle accident. Blame this on the natural reaction we have to use our hands to protect us when we fall.
Wheel Size and Stability
The wheel size of a motorcycle is 16” or larger. This makes the motorcycle a lot more stable when riding at a higher speed and it helps to reduce a motorcycle crash risk.
Scooter tires and wheel size ranges from 10” to 16” with most in the 10-12″ area.
This smaller tire on the scooter makes it relatively unstable when going high speeds.
There are motorcycle options (think adventure bikes) equipped for rough terrains (think gravel roads), but think of scooters tires as more suitable for urban commuters with less problematic road conditions.
Reduce Your Riding Risks
Although there are risks attached to riding any two-wheeled vehicle, there are still some ways to prevent accidents or at least reduce the risk of them occurring. In this part of this write up we will discuss the things you can do to be safe on either a scooter or a motorcycle
To reduce the fatality of an accident in case it occurs, it is important to wear all necessary safety gear. Gear doesn’t guarantee safety, but it improves your risk greatly.
ATGATT means All the Gear All the Time. Gear includes a helmet (preferably a full-face helmet), a riding jacket, a pair of riding gloves, eye protection, ankle boots, and riding jeans.
Notice each of those elements covers you from head to toe, and motorcycle specific riding gear has abrasion resistant fabrics and pads that help absorb impact.
It is important to practice safe riding to avoid a motorcycle accident (scooter or not!). If you are not required to take a class for a motorcycle licence, I still think you’d benefit from it even if you’re someone that rode dirt bikes or something as a kid.
Riding on the road is very different, and I was surprised that they had me do things like navigate over a 4″ x 4″ wooden post. Sudden stops. Crazy turns. Things I wouldn’t have known to practice on my own.
By practicing for the worst, you’ll be more likely to react from that knowledge instead of from an uninformed place of panic.
Riding a scooter or motorcycle means you are not as big or prominent as cars and trucks.
I quite literally came too close to running into a pedestrian recently. A runner made a turn to cross the road unexpectedly at a really bad time compared to where I was, and he didn’t see me out of the corner of his eye. I was on the right side of the lane, another scooterist was riding in the left side of the lane in a staggered formation, and there was an oncoming car.
That runner looked up at the very last minute. He just didn’t see us.
While you can’t change the size of your scooter, you can still do things to improve your visibility. Choose colors that stand out.
Ensure that your headlights are working and bright and make sure to use them when you are riding at night.
Use reflective gear or add reflective stickers. They don’t have to be cheesy, but they add to visibility particularly after dark.
Use that horn! That’s what it is there for.
Drinking, Drugs – Not When Riding
I feel like this one has been beaten into our brains already, but driving while drunk or under any influence is illegal. And dangerous.
To you. AND OTHERS.
You can pre-ride your scooter or motorcycle in your garage before you ride to be sure it is in good condition. Check out this video for more on what you can do. I generally run through this on Sundays as I prepare for the upcoming week at a minimum myself.
We can say that both scooters and motorcycles are both safe and can both be dangerous when not handled properly. From research, Most accidents occur as a result of the rider’s mistakes or the mistakes of other drivers on the road.
It is important as a rider who is either riding a motorcycle or scooter to do everything you can to reduce the risk of accidents.
My favorite helmet:
It’s important to learn from your own experience, but let’s speed up the learning curve by learning from others along the way. These are sources used in this article, in addition to, our own personal research to provide you the best resource!
Haworth, N., Greig, K., & Nielson, A. (2009). Comparison of risk taking in moped and motorcycle crashes . SAGE Journals. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.3141/2140-20.
Miggins, M., Lottenberg, L., Liu, H., Moldawer, L., Efron, P., & Ang, D. (2011, July). Mopeds and scooters: Crash outcomes in a high traffic state. The Journal of trauma. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4010945/.