Motorcycles have been subject to rules ever since they were introduced. Initially people feared that they would startle horses. Legislation was passed in 1902 against travelling at ‘a greater rate of speed than is reasonable’. The Motor Vehicle Act 1905 required owners to register and license motor vehicles, including motorcycles.
Most early offences were minor. Riders were fined for riding on the footpath to avoid the muddy wheel ruts of roads. Speeding also attracted a fine. In some towns early speed signs were erected – 10 miles (16 kilometres) per hour round corners and 6 miles (9.6 kilometres) per hour across intersections. From 1955 motorcyclists were required to wear helmets when exceeding 50 kilometres an hour. Helmets for motorcyclists and pillion riders became compulsory regardless of speed in 1973.
New Zealand research has shown that a motorcyclist is 14 times more likely to be involved in a crash leading to death or injury than a car driver. Motorcyclists in accidents are protected only by their clothes and helmets. Riders often wear heavy black leather jackets and trousers – for protection against the wind and in case they come off the bike.
In 2007 there were 65,658 registered motorcycles and mopeds, just 2.7% of the vehicle fleet – yet motorcyclists made up nearly 10% of fatalities. From 2001 to 2007 the number of motorcycle registrations rose 28%, but the number of deaths rose by 80%. In 2008 the government was investigating new regulations, including compulsory use of headlights during the day, and not allowing those on learner and restricted motorcycle licences to ride powerful bikes.
Licensing and rules
Motorcycle licence applicants must be at least 15 years old. All new licence applicants go through a three-stage graduated licence system.
Riders of mopeds (small low-powered bikes) do not need a motorcycle licence, but must wear approved motorcycle helmets, obey other rules, and hold a New Zealand vehicle driver licence of any class. Mopeds have a power output of up to 2 kilowatts and are capable of a maximum speed of 50 kilometres an hour. If these are exceeded then the bike is defined as a motorcycle and a motorcycle licence is needed.