Mini-motos: from fad to panic in record time
Why has the UK home secretary declared war on miniature motorbikes? Because it’s summer, the season for silly government initiatives.
As another bunch of mini motorbikes met their fate in the jaws of the crusher, UK home secretary John Reid told waiting reporters he was getting tough with the ‘yobs’ who ride these miniaturised two-wheelers. When you run a department beset by organisational paralysis and an absence of purpose, it’s clearly time to launch a crackdown on toys.
Mini motos, to give them their popular name, are ‘at best a nuisance, running through to a menace, and at worst very, very dangerous’, says Reid (1). In the press release that accompanied his photo op, he says: ‘I know people are experiencing increasing problems from the menace of misused mini-motos. This must stop. It is not acceptable to ride these vehicles on our streets or parks and the guidance we are giving to police and users is clear – irresponsible use will be punished.’ (2)
From now on, police will have the power to seize the bikes and crush them. Drivers of the bikes could face fines and get penalty points added to their licence – or have points added in the future if they’re too young to have a driving licence yet.
Mini motos, largely thanks to very cheap imports from China, have become a new and very popular hobby for kids. There are magazines about them and a rising number of moto-clubs and organised races. If used with a modicum of common sense, they look like they could be great fun. They are, however, illegal to use on public roads without a driving licence, number plates and headgear.
There’s no doubt they can also be a major irritant, particularly as they’re extremely loud. Trying to watch TV in the comfort of your own home can be trial when it sounds like the local kids have turned the street into racetrack.
But how big a ‘menace’ are these bikes? Having children whizzing around our streets at high speed with minimal safety gear could hardly be regarded as prudent – but kids do tend to have a lot less fear about these things than adults. And most of the time, they’re right to be less fearful. As Oliver Pugh of spiked‘s friendly neighbourhood dealer, Clerkenwell Motorcyle Centre, pointed out, being very close to the ground – as one is on a mini-moto – is an advantage. ‘If you come off, you’re going to get grazed but you’re unlikely to get badly hurt because you haven’t got as far to fall.’ Pugh was less than impressed with the proposals, which he described as a distraction from more pressing issues.
Also, kids can often achieve quite high speeds on ordinary bikes, too, and they aren’t legally obliged to wear safety equipment while riding those. In 2005, 20 children were killed on Britain’s roads on pedal bikes. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) believes at least four children have been killed on mini motorbikes in the past two years. Riding mini motos is not a risk out of all proportion to other activities that children engage in.
Reid’s Home Office is really keen to extend its Respect Agenda. As society has become more atomised, the government has started to represent any form of petty misbehaviour as a ‘menace’. As Louise Casey, the government co-ordinator for respect, says in the Home Office press release on mini-motos: ‘Everyone has the right to enjoy living in their communities in peace and safety, without the fear of being mown down or being forced to listen to the screech of these mini-bikes.’ (3) The risk of being seriously injured is linked with the irritation of noise in order to justify increasingly extensive government intervention.
The biggest problem with Reid’s announcement is that the whole thing is ridiculous and probably impractical. But then again, that has never stopped this Labour government from jumping on the nearest passing bandwagon, especially in the quiet summer months. In 2000, for example, a memo from Tony Blair was leaked in which he suggested he needed a bit of a popularity boost. ‘We should think now of an initiative, eg, locking up street muggers’, wrote Blair: ‘Something tough, with immediate bite which sends a message through the system. Maybe, the driving licence penalty for young offenders. But this should be done soon and I, personally, should be associated with it.’
The idea that penalty points would be a deterrent to a child years away from possessing a licence is just the kind of brainwave that sounds good on a press release, but will make no difference in the real world. Crushing mini motorbikes might look good for the cameras, but it is little more than an inconvenience. ‘What are they going to do? Are we going to have police on trailbikes chasing kids across parks?’, says Oliver Pugh. ‘Even if they do confiscate the bike, they’re so cheap they’ll just buy another. And I’ll sell it to them.’
(1) Mini-motorbikes ‘will be crushed’, BBC News, 2 August 2006
(2) Mini-motos face the crush, Home Office, 1 August 2006
(3) Mini-motos face the crush, Home Office, 1 August 2006
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