Motorcycle vs Scooter safety stats?

I’ve been arguing with a friend about the safety of motor scooters vs motorcycles. The reason this debate began was because I pointed out that motor scooter riders often don’t wear helmets and protective clothing and I think that’s ill-advised.

I think that a motorcycle is generally a safer vehicle than a motorscooter (I’m thinking the little Vespa types you see around university campuses). Most scooters are slow and under-powered, so are not only hard to see, but less able to keep up with traffic. They can’t accelerate out of the way as easily as motorcycles, either. My other point was that the smaller tires don’t turn as well and are likely to throw you off if you even hit a pot hole in the road. The small tires, especially, seem unsafe to me.

The problem is that I can’t find statistics that either back me up on this or prove me wrong. There are a lot of variables to consider, of course, not least of which is that probably there are more macho big-risk takers amongst the motorcycle population than the scooter population. If so, the two groups are apples and oranges and can’t effectively be compared through accident/injury rates.

Can anyone find convincing statistics comparing the safety of these two vehicles?

I didn’t find stats, but I did find a couple of discussions:
Scooter vs. motorcycle + safety
Motorcycle vs. scooter + safety

I would think that if you are riding in traffic on a two-wheeled vehicle, it would be safer to be on a higher powered vehicle. I would also think it would be better to have larger wheels rather than small ones. Therefore, my first instinct would be that a motorcycle is safer. In terms of statistics, I don’t know, I’m just saying what my common sense tells me.

I see scooter riders all over the place and maybe 30 percent of them wear helmets, and I have NEVER seen one wearing a jacket.

I would think, though, that generally, if you wear proper protective clothing, follow the traffic rules, and ride defensively and with caution, you will be safe on either a scooter or a motorcycle.

AFAIK, scooters are much more dangerous in the same environment. Scooters are so slow they generally aren’t allowed on highways, whereas motorcycles are. However, if you restrict usage of the motorcycle to the same type of usage as a scooter, I have to say the motorcycle is much safer. Yeah, you’re right: with scooters, the lack of power makes it difficult to get out of a jam, visibility is worse, and, in general, scooters get no respect from other drivers. Tire-wise, the situation is even worse than you mention: Not only is handling poor and potholes dangerous, but the little-known problem with scooters is braking performance is poor. Their low power engines mean you don’t need large tires (for more traction) but also means traction during braking is poor.

You guys need to tighten your helmet laws. It’s even law to wear one for a push bike down in this part of the world.

[[I would think, though, that generally, if you wear proper protective clothing, follow the traffic rules, and ride defensively and with caution, you will be safe on either a scooter or a motorcycle.]]

Well, unless you get rear ended while stopped at an intersection. That’s the only thing that worries me on a bike.

The problem with those sites, Johnny, which are like the ones I found too, are that they are all Scooter sites. I’m looking for a third party study. All the crash studies I’ve seen lump motor scooters in with motorcycles.

As for helmet laws, they vary state by state in the US. And injuries/deaths generally go way down in a state as soon as such a law is passed. That’s the only way to compare statistics re. injuries/fatalities between riders wearing helmets and those not wearing helmets. Because otherwise, again, you’re comparing apples to oranges. Among the population who choose not to wear helmets, there are likely to be more people who take other unnecessary risks, drink and show off on their bikes than there are in the population who wear protective gear.

Other than for the cool retro look (and maybe price), for the life of me I can’t figure out why someone would choose to buy a scooter. Some may be attracted by the fact that they shift gears automatically. Which to me is another negative.

I’m not too worried about getting rear ended, though I did get bumped once. I always keep the bike in gear and tend to watch behind me and try and leave a place to run if I see something I don’t like. It’s also one of the reasons I feel we should be allowed to lane share so we can get out of the way.

Well you can get a motorcycle cheaper then a scooter, I know the Ninja 250 comes in cheaper or about the same as a Vespa, and I’m sure you could find a few used bikes that are about the same. I think, at least here in Maryland, you don’t need a license to ride one which means no classses or taking tests. I think this is going to start to cause problems down the road when more people start buying them and not knowing what they are doing.

I bought my barely-used Ninja for $2400. I wonder if the motorcycle safelty class would even be helpful for scooter riders? Do they countersteer and lean into turns? It would be interesting to see how they did at emergency stops, too.

I have no numbers to back it up, but I would think that because of the lower operating speeds typical of scooters the accidents that do happen tend to incur less severe injuries. Mostly road rash, sprains, and the like. Motorcycles operating at higher speeds are going to create a lot more hurt when they crash.

…So possibly higher crash rate, lower injury rate in scooter drivers.

I think you have to be careful about generalising about scooters, the Yamaha T-Max is plenty powerful enough to keep up with traffic, as would the Piaggio X9 or the Suzuli AN400, Gilera Nexus, and they have the brakes to match.

Lower speed typically just means less road rash, as you slide a shorter distance.

Don’t need a helmet because scooters are slower? I challenge anyone who believes that to run (on foot) and dive headfirst into a brick wall.

Helmets are pretty much limited to stopping the brain injury that occurs due to gravity carrying your head onto the pavement. Such injurys occur on bicycles, and scateboards as well as motorcycles…it’s just silly to believe that scooter riders are immune.

Yes, and that is why I specified in my original post that I’m referring to the little Vespa type scooters you see putting around universities. There are several scooters out there will “real” wheels and enough power to comfortably tour on. I’m talking here about scooters with 150cc and less.

Daily scooter rider here (through NYC rush hour traffic almost every workday), though I ride a Vespa it is a GT200 with 12" wheels, not the 150cc ones with 10" wheels you specifically mentioned. Still, it is clearly smaller and less powerful (at 200cc) than most “standard” motorcycles, and with smaller wheels.

I did take the MSF course, where I was allowed to ride my scoot but elected to take the chance to learn to ride a standard motorcycle. It was fun and I thought about getting one, but stuck with the scooter due to the nature of my riding (almost all in the city, and almost never on the highway). Yes, I can countersteer and lean in turns and all that jazz on the scoot.

I always ride with a full face helmet, motorcycle gloves and jacket. I do see many scooterists (especially during the summer) riding around with half-helmets in shorts and t-shirts and sandals like it’s a big skateboard or something. These people are in for a world of pain if they ever take a fall.

…as I did just two months ago. An SUV cut me off and I hit the brakes, managing to avoid rear-ending the car in front of me, but unfortunately also instinctively turned the front wheel to the side as well, which immediately threw me off the bike at about 35 mph. (The MSF teaches that you should keep the forks straight while making an emergency full-stop brake, but the instinct to flinch away from impact – and to also steer in the direction you are looking – is very hard to overcome.)

I hit the pavement with my hands and knees, slid 20 feet or so on my chest, and took a bit of a bump on the side of the head (I dove for the curb to get out of the street in case the car behind me was about to run me over – fortunately, the driver was paying attention).

All the stuff I wore did its job in keeping me only in bruises, except for my right knee which got very ripped up (my khakis did not hold up against the asphalt, needless to say). The leather palm of my right glove was shredded, and the carbon fiber knuckle guards ground down by a couple of centimeters – what if I’d been barehanded? My Kevlar exterior jacket had a scratch pattern about 5 inches long down the front – what if that’d been just a cotton T-shirt?

(I now also wear knee/shin armor under my pants.)

Would this have played out any differently had I been on a “full” motorcycle? I don’t see how. Braking distance is probably longer on a larger bike (such as a Harley) due to the greater weight. The GT200 is 315 lbs. and has dual single disc brakes; a Harley Sportster 883 (the smallest in the fleet) is 550 lbs., also with dual single disc brakes. I haven’t looked up the respective braking distances but based on those two figures alone, I would guess the scooter has a shorter braking distance.

Being bigger and heavier lends stability when riding at highway speeds, and the idea of being able to “accelerate out of trouble” is also a highway rider’s thinking; my scooter tops out at about 70mph, with very little acceleration available beyond 60mph, and the occasional highway stints I have had on it have been pretty nerve-wracking. On the other hand, if you have a full-out accident on the highway at speed, you are in big, big trouble no matter what armor/helmet gear you have on, and riding a bigger bike will not help you.

On the other hand, most motorcycle accidents happen in city driving, the most common ones involving cars making a left turn right in front of you because “they didn’t see you”. This is equally as likely to happen to you on a motorcycle as a scooter, and here is where the gear really does its job. That Steelers QB who shattered his face in exactly this kind of accident recently would have done no better or worse on a scooter, since he was riding at what would be a normal speed for even a 150cc scooter (45mph or so). What mattered was that he was not wearing a full-face helmet (those silly half-shell helmets don’t protect the face at all).

In city riding, my 200cc scooter has plenty of acceleration to get away from almost any car, and the smaller wheels also make it far more maneuverable at low speeds in weaving through stopped cars. For me, gridlock is something that Happens To Other People, including the guys on the Harleys.

Finally, most modern scooters have CVT transmissions, providing clutchless “twist-and-go” riding. No worries about stalling out in an intersection at low speeds, or taking mental energy away from constantly scanning for taxis, pedestrians and bike messengers to worry about being in the right gear.

If I ever had to do significant highway riding I’d probably get a Suzuki SV650 or a Kawasaki Ninja 500R. But since I basically ride only in the city, I find the scooter is the perfect two-wheeled motor vehicle!

Many scooter riders (especially those in more suburban areas where scooters are much rarer than in denser cities) report getting some amount of flak for wearing motorcycle safety gear, mostly from non-riders. “Why are you getting all dressed up like that? You’re ONLY riding a scooter!”

The standard reply is that it hurts just as much falling at 30 mph from a scooter as it does from a Harley. Usually they get it at that point, but some people will persist, saying, “that’s not fast enough to get hurt.”

“Oh really? How about I throw you out of a moving car at 30 mph… You wanna be wearing shorts and a t-shirt, or what I’ve got on?”

There are plenty of stylin’-first, safety-last posers on scooters, of course, just as there are on Harleys. For the cruiser riders, it’s all about riding with as small a helmet as you can get away with by law (none in many states), in a muscle shirt or leather vest and jeans and boots. Sometimes they wear fingerless gloves but mostly I see barehanded riding. For scooter riders, it’s about riding around like a SoHo fashion model in everyday street clothes (or silk business suits and dresses) with a half-face helmet and sunglasses.

The only riding subculture that seems to put a premium on safety gear are sportbike riders, who deck out in matching riding jackets and pants and full-face helmets and gloves in bright racing colors… Probably because the whole image they’re trying to cultivate is “lookit me, I’m gonna go FAST and I know it”.

Uh, or like me, I’m cultivating the “I don’t want to get hurt if I fall off this thing, so I’m wearing lots of padding and bright colors so you’ll more likely see me.” I would have thought that’s what you would think after your fall, too!

But thanks for your perspectives, robardin. My Ninja 250 weighs only 300 lbs. and also gets blown around too much to ride on the freeway (even though it will go fast enough). Next time you’re in New Mexico, we can have a contest and see who can zip around in traffic better; you on your scooter or me on my motorcycle. It does sound like a scooter might be a good choice for where you ride, though.

ps - I find it’s not that hard to ride defensively and avoid left turners in front of me. I assume they all fall into two categories: those who can’t see me and those who are aiming for me. I give em the right of way.

Well, yes, there are the “sensible” people (who wear the gear because it’s safe), and the “stylin’” people. I was just commenting that for the sportbike riders, fortunately, the “stylin’” in fashion for them happens to involve wearing the safety gear.

The Ninja 250 is only 300 lbs? I know the things can get up to near 100 mph. No wonder they call 'em crotch rockets.

I’ve been to NM (Albquequerque), it’s what I would consider pretty empty. So yeah, motorcycle country to me! :wink:

Actually, most motorcycle accidents happen at speeds scooters are also capable of. According to the aptly-named Hurt Report, the definitive study of motorcycle accidents, median crash speed is 21.5 mph. That’s probably because the number one cause (about 75% of the time) is collision with a passenger vehicle caused by (2/3rds of the time) the passenger vehicle violating the motorcycle’s right-of-way, which mostly happens around intersections and driveways. Indeed, limited-access highways such as the interstate are the safest way to travel on a bike because that eliminates the number one hazard: cars pulling out in front of you.

There are a number of reasons people buy scooters. Among practical reasons, automatic transmission is one of them. Some people really don’t want to deal with shifting. Another is licensing. In most states, if the engine size is below X cc’s (where X can vary), you don’t need a motorcycle license to ride it. Over that, then you need a motorcycle endorsement, along with all the training and testing requirements that go along with that. Scooters as a group in general (ignoring the giant maxi-scooters for a moment) tend to also be smaller and lighter and have a lower center of gravity than your average motorcycle. That makes it easier to handle if you are in a crowded urban area or are a person of smaller stature.

Some of it has to do with perception. Scooters appear less threatening to people who aren’t so mechanically-inclined. Everything is covered up by bodywork, car-like. OTOH, motorcycles have the engine and other mechanicals exposed for all to see. Even sportbikes have cutouts in the bodywork around crankcases and swingarms and such, or large vents that let you see the engine inside. There is also the perception that motorcycles are dangerous, ridden either by crazy idiots with a death wish or big scary bikers, while scooters are cute and safe and ridden by nice people, Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday and all that.

FWIW, I currently ride a Suzuki DL650, and at one time I did ride a scooter (Honda Spree).