Road Markings and Motorcyclists: Why New “Nudge” Markings Improve Safety

Posted 18th March 2024

For the majority of people, the first thing that’s likely to jump to mind if they are asked to picture a ‘road user’ is someone driving a car. But with 1.46 million motorcycles registered in the United Kingdom, motorcyclists are a stalwart of the British road network, and a recent project in Scotland has made ground-breaking progress in ensuring their safety.


The Place of Motorcycles on British roads

The ubiquity of cars in the UK can make it surprising to learn that, globally, motorcycles are comparably popular with cars as a method of transport. They were also invented nearly exactly the same time as the motorcar, with Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach creating the first internal combustion, petroleum-fuelled motorcycle in 1885 – one year before Carl Benz put his practical, marketable automobile into serial production.

Here in Britain, motorbikes make up just 0.8% of road traffic, but despite this, they are still often considered by enthusiasts to be a cheaper, more convenient and (perhaps most importantly) more enjoyable form of transport. With roughly 60% of car journeys taken with only the driver, some even posit motorcycles as the natural solution to the sometimes frustrating levels of congestion in our towns and cities.

Beyond this, riding a motorcycle is seen by many riders as a way of life. Whether riders are dedicated hobbyists who travel for pleasure or city-centre delivery drivers conveying hot meals to grateful diners, there tends to be a sense of solidarity between those who travel on two wheels and an engine. From Sunday riders to rain-or-shine commuters, anyone who has ridden a motorcycle will be aware of the motorcyclist nod – a gesture of acknowledgement that’s shared on the road.

There is a negative aspect to getting about by motorcycle, however, that even the most committed rider will attest to, and that is the particular vulnerability of motorcyclists on UK roads. Motorcyclists have the highest accident and injury rates per mile travelled of all road user groups, and a recent study in North Wales found that motorcyclists are 50 times more likely to be killed or seriously injured than other drivers.

Some of this can be attributed to the nature of riding a motorcycle. An accident in a car that would be considered fairly minor is potentially catastrophic for a rider who’s so exposed. Simply not being protected by the metal box of a car is enough to increase the risk of injury. Furthermore, a relatively affordable motorbike can reach speeds only achieved by the world’s supercars, which could increase the potential for dangerous driving among thrill-seekers.

Rural riding constitutes 40% of overall motorcycle traffic and contributes 68% of all motorcycle fatalities, which can largely be explained by the fact that rural roads are less predictable than motorways, and unexpected bends can present a particular challenge for even experienced riders. The good news, however, is that motorbike riding is getting safer (in part due to “Think Bike” campaigns which remind car drivers that motorcyclists share the road), and now road safety experts are seeking to improve the statistics even further by helping motorcyclists make the best driving decisions possible.


Road Markings and Nudge Psychology  

The power of nudge psychology has been demonstrated recently in a trial that was rolled out in Scotland, which was designed to help riders navigate notoriously tricky left-hand bends. According to Transport Scotland, since the start of the trials, there have been no motorcycle injury collisions at any of the previously identified accident cluster sites. But how has this been achieved?

The secret lies in new road markings that are based on ‘academic theories on human factors’, which is more commonly known as nudge psychology. As explained by the globally recognised expert in rider behaviour, Professor Alex Stedmon, who led the research, this is the “first time this kind of research has been done to look at dedicated road markings for motorcyclists”. The project has represented “a great opportunity to use applied psychology principles in the real world to support behaviour change for a specific group of vulnerable road users.”

Known as Perceptual Rider Information for Maximising Expertise and Enjoyment (or ‘PRIMEs’), the road markings consist of two diagonal “gateway” lines which are combined with informational signage to prime riders to adapt their riding as they approach a bend. They do this by directing the rider to adopt a better position and by giving the impression that the road is narrowing, which encourages them to take a slower speed.

Nudge Road Markings       Nudge Road Sign

At the end of the trial, video footage which captured over 32,000 motorcycles using the markings over three years and at 22 sites across the West of Scotland demonstrated significant alterations in rider behaviour. This included reductions in speed, improvements in position on the approach and apex of the bend, and better braking behaviour.

Thought to be the largest piece of research into rider behaviour ever conducted, the trial is considered to be a huge success – representing a big step forward with global implications. According to Scottish transport minister Fiona Hyslop MSP, “The evidence on the impact of Project PRIME is astounding. This is a real triumph for road safety, demonstrating what happens when latest academic theory is supported by real-world application – all made possible thanks to Scottish engineering and a strong partnership approach.”

With motorcyclists so overrepresented in casualty statistics, it is hugely encouraging to see the successes of measures which aim to improve their safety. What’s more, it is also interesting to consider how this kind of nudge psychology may be implemented for other road users – we will watch this space to see how the learnings from this trial are rolled out nationwide.



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