“I wouldn’t be alive today without my air jacket”: how axing VAT from a remarkable item of safety kit could save the lives of thousands of motorcyclists.
The remarkable story of a motorcyclist, whose life was saved by an air jacket, is being hailed by the UK’s leading road safety charity, IAM RoadSmart, as a reason why the item should be granted a zero per cent VAT rating to make them more affordable to riders, and help reduce the disproportionate risks of death and injury that motorcyclists face.
Motorcyclists account for 13 per cent of casualties and 20 per cent of deaths on Britain’s roads, despite only making up between 1 and 3 per cent of road users.* And when 51-year-old Lee Vigor, a Development Test Rider from Nuneaton, collided with a vehicle at over 50 miles per hour on the A429 from Stow-on-the-Wold to Moreton-in-Marsh, he could have easily added to the tragic casualty statistics.
Fortunately, Lee was wearing an air jacket, an item of personal protective equipment (PPE) which inflates in a fraction of a second after a rider falls from a motorcycle, and offers more than 50 times the protection of standard back protectors.
Following a collision with the vehicle, Lee was rushed to hospital with leg and hip injuries, but owing to his air jacket, his torso and back remained unharmed. In fact, when the staff at the hospital put Lee through the MRI machine, they did so five times, as they could not believe that there were no major injuries to the areas the air jacket had protected.
Lee commented: “For me there is no doubt that without my air jacket, I wouldn’t be alive today. The injuries I sustained to my leg and hip were significant, but I am incredibly grateful that my back and my internal organs were protected by my air jacket – something that I had only been wearing for two years prior. You hope you never have to need it, but I now see an air jacket as an essential piece of kit for anyone who rides a motorcycle.”
And yet despite its profound safety benefits, market analysis conducted by one of the UK’s leading air jacket distributors, Helite UK, has revealed that, of the 1.4 million UK motorcyclists who ride regularly, as little as 1-in-25 motorcyclists actually own an air jacket. This comes after motorcycle usage has risen by 4 per cent in recent years, meaning that potentially thousands more new riders are not being protected.*
IAM RoadSmart attributes financial cost as one of the main reasons why so few motorcyclists have purchased an air jacket. Research commissioned by the charity discovered that, of over 500 motorcyclists surveyed, nearly two thirds (64 per cent) stated that the cost has prevented them from purchasing safety wear.
Meanwhile, another question contained in the same survey, which generated over 2,000 responses from both car and motorcycle drivers, found that 70 per cent thought that the government should make PPE more affordable for motorcyclists. IAM RoadSmart believes that this could be achieved by bringing air jackets in line with the zero per cent VAT rating on other items, such as helmets.
Antony Kildare, CEO at IAM RoadSmart, said: “Lee’s story is an astonishing one, and it is amazing to see that he has lived to tell the tale. The fact that he survived a high-speed incident highlights the potential air jackets possess in saving riders from crashes that would have otherwise led to a tragic death or life-changing injuries.
“IAM RoadSmart wants air jackets to become a fundamental part of motorcyclists’ safety wear, just as much as a helmet or gloves, but if our research is anything to go by, cost is preventing most from accessing this potentially life-saving equipment.
“When you consider that zero per cent VAT has long applied to helmets, we see no good reason why this cannot also be applied to air jackets, and this will surely make the product more accessible to the wider motorcycling community. This is especially the case when air jackets can be worn again and again, and can last for years, even after a collision.”
Peter Riley, Managing Director at air jacket distributor, Helite UK, added: “Lee is just one of our valued customers who has told us that an air jacket saved his life, and we are pleased that his story is being shared to raise awareness about the benefits of this type of safety wear.
“We are proud to stand with IAM RoadSmart to call on the government to make safety wear more financially accessible. This cost would surely outweigh the millions the NHS spends every year treating motorcyclists who have been injured.”
Lee concluded: “The beauty of motorcycling is freedom to choose how you travel – and we need to make the option of being as safe as possible an easier choice to make.”
To learn more about IAM RoadSmart’s motorcycle campaign, recognising them as vulnerable road users, visit here https://www.iamroadsmart.com/research-and-policy/motorcycle-safety-campaigning-for-change.
*Motorcycling and the Future of Transport, NMC, MCIA – February 2023