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Europe and mandatory riding gear

Dolf Willigers looks at the next motorcycle issue on the European agenda: mandatory motorcycle clothing.

Who thought that after the new rules on type approval, the third driving license directive and the European wide mandatory periodical technical inspections for motorcycles we had our fair share of ‘Brussels’, should perhaps adjust his or her expectations, because the next item is at your doorstep.

This one is called 89/391/EEC, or in words “COUNCIL DIRECTIVE of 12 June 1989 on the introduction of measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health of workers at work”. This scheme forms the basis of yet another scheme, namely 89/656/EEC, or the “COUNCIL DIRECTIVE of 30 November 1989 concerning the minimum safety and health requirements for the use by workers of personal protective equipment at the workplace (third individual directive within the meaning of Article 16, paragraph 1 of Directive 89/391/EEC).”

Are you still there? I write out the titles of those directives in full, to make clear what they are about. So the first order is about ‘action’ and the second focusses on ‘personal protective equipment’. Both aimed at ‘employees’. The latter directive originates a range of requirements which ‘personal protective equipment by workers’ should meet. Anyway, if you’re just riding around in your free time this doesn’t affects you. Well, not yet, but that may change… More on that later.

I’m going to harass you with a third directive, the last one. That directive is 89/686/EEC, the “COUNCIL DIRECTIVE of 21 December 1989 on the approximation of the laws of Member States relating to personal protective equipment.” By (personal) protection is meant ‘a piece of equipment or means of understanding intended to be worn or held to protect against one or more hazards that threaten their health and safety may constitute a person’. This sounds more like something you as a rider may have to deal with, and that is correct. Based on these guidelines, the standards are established which – for example – helmets and protectors of your motorcycle gear must meet. These standards are established by the CEN (Comité Européen de Normalisation), in which the 33 European national standards bodies are cooperating. For motorcycle jackets and trousers for professional motorcycle riders the safety requirements are described in detail in standards EN 13595-1 to EN 13595-4. These four standards include general requirements, the determination of wear resistance, determining tear resistance, cut resistance determination. These standards are based on two levels of protection: one that applies to speeds up to 50 kilometres (35 miles) per hour and one for higher speeds and thus considering a higher level of protection. Remember these standards well, because we are going to encounter them again later.

The first difference between the first two and the last directives is that 89/319 and 89/656 are targeted at employees, in our case at people who ride for their work as police motorcyclists, ambulance drivers, employed couriers. Directive 89/686 applies generally. All motorcycle helmets for all motorcyclists in Europe must meet the same requirements. But there is another difference. On the basis of the directive for professional motorcycle riders (let’s just call it that from here) much more is regulated than in the general directive. That’s because the directives 89/319 and 89/656 concern the obligation of the employer to his employee to ensure proper protection, and by the way also the obligation from the employee when it comes to the use of PPE. To enforce such an obligation it has to be well described. The general directive, 89/686, is only about the adaptation between the Member States. Until now, the European Commission has not found it necessary to include motorcycle clothing such as coats and rousers. This just might change.

You read it right: ‘until now’ and ‘change’. Because what is happening? Since 1989 different parties have urged to apply the EN 13595 standards not only to ‘professional’ otorcycle gear, but to all motorcycle gear. Uhm, have you ever noticed that nowadays motorcycle cops and the boys on bikes of road authorities are very, very visible? That has to do with these standards. We sense nowadays a new pressure on the European Commission to widen the scope of the EN 13595 standards. Safety is hot in Brussels, and especially when it yields subsidy. Grants to investigate the safety of motorcyclists or another investigation to devise new or amended standards for new targets. The Spanish Institute CIDAUT is such a club that runs on this kind of community funds. Recently they completed the MOSAFIM project. The project name stands for ‘Motorcyclists Safety Improvement through better road behavior of the equipment and first aid devices’. On the website of MOSAFIM they state that “this project is put forward by a consortium that brings together an extensive background in PTW safety R&D from a laboratory (CIDAUT Foundation), the wide knowledge on biomechanics (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität), the experience on electronic devices for motorcycles (Metasystem) and the collaboration of the most important motorcycling federation (FIM- Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme)”. Two research centers, which run on grant money, an ICT company and a motorsport federation that is trying to get a foothold as general motorcycling advocate.

On 17 December 2013 the results of the project were presented. Not in Brussels, as you would expect, but at CIDAUT in Valladolod (Spain), so any critical questioners would stay away. On the conclusions of MOSAFIM I can be brief: broadly it means that the standards for professional motorcycle gear should apply to all motorcycle gear. The same applies to gloves and boots. If it goes wrong the eCall system should operate (a proposal to introduce that system for cars and light trucks was recently adopted by the European Parliament) and should be using sophisticated electronic equipment to establish the nature of injuries and the appropriate treatment. Hence the participating of an IT company in the project.

Of course it looks quite nice: minimum requirements for safe motorcycle gear, but is that true? It isn’t. First of all, we’re not just talking of equalizing the minimal requirements of the clothes for professional motorcycle riders and other riders, but we are also talking about the mandatory wearing of approved motorcycle gear. Anytime, anywhere. Also in your own town, just doing an errand. If the safety lobby gets its way, in a few years you must always put on your MC gear first. Are we against wearing proper riding gear? On the contrary! It’s just we find this is still something for which only we riders are responsible.

There is another aspect the research MOSAFIM does not mention: sometimes, just sometimes you’re better off without the stuffy gear. This fact is endorsed by scientific studies, for example, the Australian Gear Study of the George Institute for Global Health, (Liz de Rome et al, Sydney, 2011) concluded : “These findings have implications for policy decisions related to Encouraging the use of motorcycle protective clothing, However mandating use is not recommended at this stage“. The reason given for this is “mandating use of protective equipment is unlikely to be either feasible or effective, given known ergonomic issues, the lack of global standards and the lack of quality control in motorcycle protective clothing as evidenced by the failure rates in this study”. Meaning: the researchers doubt the effectiveness of protective agents, there are still too many ergonomic problems, there are no global standards and often the quality control fails.

In this last paragraph we look at the conclusions of the Gear Study again. First, the question of effectiveness. The researchers discovered that some injuries were more common with riders who wore protective clothing and other resources like spine protectors in relation to riders who didn’t. About the ergonomic aspect investigator Liz de Rome told me a few years ago: “protection is very good if you fall off the bike, but if that happens because you faint from the heat because of your motorcycle gear, you are better off not wearing it.” About the quality she told us that just expensive suits from leading brands often failed because of insufficient quality of the stitching. Incidentally, this is not so strange when you consider that manufacturers are responsible for monitoring compliance with the European standards. They mark their own paper.

The reservations in the Gear Study show exactly our own reservations. One standard for the whole of Europa doesn’t take into account the local circumstances : the same requirements apply for northern Sweden as for southern Spain, the quality control system fails, there is still insufficient clarity about the effectiveness of the various protective means. And there this other thing: we want to be treated like the adults we are.

Written by Dolf Willigers