At some point everybody has to be a complete beginner. Age, imo, isn't too much of an issue, but skills and experience for different levels of bike are what matter.
Nobody should get a licence until they've proved that they're competent at that level. It isn't just themselves that they might kill. Proof of competence has to be by a proper test, and if the test is rigorous most riders will have to take training to be able to pass it.
The EU also demands a minimum level of experience on slower bikes before being being allowed to progress to faster ones. This seems sensible to me. The stats show that it works. There are short cuts for mature (over 19 and over 24) riders. The older EU system with short cuts to unlimited licences for all over 21s has failed despite the high training and testing requirements. The accident rate for this group is very high by EU standards.
Other countries don't have the power restrictions, but don't allow the older riders to short cut the experience requirement before getting a full licence. That's possibly an equally valid way of producing a safe rider, but in my experience as an instructor doesn't produce such a good rider (good and safe are not the same thing) as the EU method.
I think there's a general agreement amongst experienced riders that a system that allows a complete beginner to get on to a powerful bike because he can answer a few questions and start and stop the bike is inadequate, but the minority who don't agree do tend to be very vociferous - freedom is more important than safety and it's perfectly safe anyway for a newby to take a supersport on the street. Some of the more libertarian tendency don't seem to care if an innocent bystander is killed or crippled by an untrained incompetent biker as long as their precious 'freedom' isn't impinged on. I've seen a car cut in half lengthways by an idiot on a bike who couldn't steer it at high speed. He was killed, bu so were three of the four people in the car.
One other point. A lot of what I've said applies equally to the American car licence. Also, as bikes are so different to cars, they shouldn't require a car licence first. In many countries it's more common for people to start on a bike or scooter before progressing to a car. They tend to be better car drivers as a result.
There's been a lot of research that shows that re-testing would not cut accident rates. Regular medical checks might, but surprisingly the older drivers wouldn't be particularly at risk. From the eyesight point of view the drivers with the worst eyesight are the 30 - 50 group who's sight is deteriorating but who are not willing to accept that they need glasses. Diabetes, epilepsy and most other conditions that can affect driving abilty are not particularly age dependent, so 5 yearly checks for all drivers, and a medical before getting your first licence are worth thinking about. And while there are problems with stats, they're a lot better than anecdotes and personal opinions, which are worth shit as evidence.
Odd that a lot of the riders who're against tiered licensing or proper testing are in favour of limiting older drivers, who the stats show are safer. Can't have it both ways guys.
Back to the original question. For the States, is it too easy to get behind the handlebars of a bike? The answer is yes, but it's also too easy to get behind the wheel of a car.
Last edited by williamr; 11-08-2012 at 07:15 AM.