Legal – Pillion Riders and the Law

Should you tell your insurance company you intend to carry a passenger? And what happens if they cause an accident? ABR’s legal expert Andrew Dalton explains all

You wouldn’t think the law has a great deal to say about pillion passengers, but you’d be wrong. If you have a full motorcycle licence, you can carry a pillion passenger as long as they are wearing an approved helmet. That pillion must also have a British Standard approved visor or goggles or go bare eyed.

If you carry a pillion who is not wearing a helmet, and who is not a turbaned adherent of the Sikh faith, as a matter of law, the pillion is committing an offence which you are aiding and abetting. In English law, aiding and abetting an offence carries the same punishment as the actual offence. However, you’d have to get a very annoyed police officer and a determined prosecutor to write you up for aiding and abetting. So, how far does your duty to the pillion extend? You owe your pillion the same duty of care as you owe any other road user, which is to ride with reasonable care and skill and, if as a result of your negligence harm befalls your pillion, your insurer will pay out for the harm caused to them.
Do you need to declare that you carry a pillion on your insurance proposal? The answer is, if you carry a pillion, then you must declare it. As a matter of road traffic law, your insurer must meet the claim of any person who succeeds in obtaining a judgement against you for damages. If that person is your pillion, and you have told your insurer that you do not carry a pillion, your insurer has some pretty hefty remedies against you, the most obvious of which is coming after you for the damages which they have paid out. If you have no assets, they may just make you bankrupt. If you have assets, they will take them off you if they possibly can. Carrying a pillion does not seem to have a significant loading on insurance. Even if you think there is a chance you might occasionally take a pillion, then get pillion cover. My only bikes which do not have pillion cover have no rear footpegs.

But what if your pillion does something stupid? As a young man, I occasionally put my brother on the back of my bike. He was, and is, a big lad. For his amusement, particularly if there was a police officer around, he would cheerfully lean his 16-stone prop forward’s body backwards, pushing my front wheel skywards. Luckily when I was a young man, the police had a sense of humour, although I stopped letting him on the back of my bike. As a matter of law, your insurance covers you for acts of negligence carried out by your pillion but only to third parties if the loss flows from the use of the vehicle. The only time I have seen this become a factor is where a pillion has dismounted too close to a car and scuffed it with a boot. However, claims arising against pillions are very rare, even ones as daft as my brother in his younger days.