Background on: Motorcycle crashes

Overview

Motorcyclists are more vulnerable on the road and are more likely to be injured or killed than car occupants. Motorcycle crashes cost billions of dollars per year in direct costs such as emergency services, medical costs including rehabilitation, property damage, loss of market productivity including lost wages, loss in household productivity and insurance costs, including claims and the cost of defense attorneys.

Motorcycle Crashes: Fatalities and Injuries

  • Motorcyclists are much more likely than passenger car occupants to die or become injured in a crash.
  • Older riders appear to sustain more serious injuries than younger riders. A Brown University study cited declines in vision and reaction time, along with the larger-sized bikes that older riders favor, which tend to roll over more often, and the increased fragility among older people as the causes.

Motorcycle Crashes: Driver Behavior

  • Alcohol use is a major factor in motorcycle crashes.  Alcohol impaired motorcycle riders are also less likely to use helmets.
  • Speeding is another major factor in fatal crashes.

Motorcycle Crashes: Insurance Claims

  • A  Highway Loss Data Institute report shows that supersport motorcycles had the highest relative overall collision losses when compared with nine other motorcycle classes.
  • Based on collision coverage results for 2011 to 2015 model motorcycles insured under private passenger motorcycle policies, relative overall losses for super sport models were indexed at 352, compared with 100 for all motorcycles.
  • The high overall losses for supersport models were driven up by their high claim frequency.

Motorcycle Crashes: Economic Losses

  • A study from the Government Accounting Office (GAO) shows that motorcycle crashes cost $16 billion in direct costs in 2010 such as emergency services, medical costs including rehabilitation, property damage, loss of market productivity including lost wages, loss in household productivity and insurance costs, including claims and the cost of defense attorneys.
  • The GAO found that market productivity loss produced the largest cost, 44 percent of total costs, followed by medical costs, at 18 percent. Other costs such as long-term medical costs were not included.
  • The GAO recommends that NHTSA grants to states for motorcycle safety be expanded from motorcyclist training and motorist awareness efforts to include programs that increase helmet use, safety awareness and educating police about motorcycle safety.
  • In addition, the GAO urges NHTSA to identify research priorities, conduct research on promising strategies, implement a graduated licensing model (See also Background On: Teen Drivers) and encourage motorcyclists to improve their visibility to other motorists. 

Motorcycle Crashes: Safety

  • Motorcycle Helmets: Helmets have been shown to be very effective in preventing deaths and reducing injuries in motorcycle riders.
  • Training Courses: The Motorcycle Safety Foundation sponsored by motorcycle manufacturers and distributors, works with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), state governments and other organizations to improve motorcycle safety through education, training and licensing. The organization also works with the states to integrate rider safety and skills in licensing tests. It promotes safety by recommending motorcycle operators wear protective gear, especially helmets, ride sober and ride within their skill limits. Riders who complete approved safety courses may be eligible for insurance discounts. The discounts are mandatory in some states.
  • Antilock Braking Systems (ABS): Stopping a motorcycle is more complex than stopping a car. Motorcycles have separate brakes for the front and rear wheels, and braking hard can lock the wheels and cause the bike to overturn. Not braking hard enough can put the rider into harm’s way. With ABS, a rider can brake fully without fear of locking up. The system automatically reduces brake pressure when a lockup is about to occur and increases it again after traction is restored. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) reports that the rate of crashes is significantly lower for motorcycles equipped with optional antilock brakes than for the same models without them.
  • Motorcycle Helmet Use Laws: Less than half of all states have laws that require all motorcyclists to wear helmets, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Some states require that only people under a specific age wear helmets (see chart). A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) study covering 10 states found that when universal helmet laws, which pertain to all riders, were repealed, helmet use rates dropped from 99 percent to 50 percent. In states where the universal law was reinstated, helmet use rates rose to above 95 percent.

Charts and Graphs

State Motorcycle Helmet Use Laws

As of June 2021

State Universal law Partial law (1)
Alabama X  
Alaska   17 and younger (2)
Arizona   17 and younger
Arkansas   20 and younger
California X  
Colorado   17 and younger and their passengers 17 and younger
Connecticut   17 and younger
Delaware   18 and younger (3)
District of Columbia X  
Florida   20 and younger (4)
Georgia X  
Hawaii   17 and younger
Idaho   17 and younger
Illinois   No law
Indiana   17 and younger
Iowa   No law
Kansas   20 and younger
Kentucky   20 and younger (5)
Louisiana X  
Maine   17 and younger (5)
Maryland X  
Massachusetts X  
Michigan   20 and younger (6)
Minnesota   17 and younger (5)
Mississippi X  
Missouri   25 and younger, over 25 with proof of financial responsibility
Montana   17 and younger
Nebraska X  
Nevada X  
New Hampshire   No law
New Jersey X  
New Mexico   17 and younger 
New York X  
North Carolina X  
North Dakota   17 and younger (7)
Ohio   17 and younger (8)
Oklahoma   17 and younger
Oregon X  
Pennsylvania   20 and younger (9)
Rhode Island   20 and younger (9)
South Carolina   20  and younger
South Dakota   17 and younger
Tennessee X  
Texas   20 and younger (10)
Utah   20 and younger
Vermont X  
Virginia X  
Washington X  
West Virginia X  
Wisconsin   17 and younger (5)
Wyoming   17 and younger

(1) Universal laws cover all riders; partial laws cover young riders or some adult riders.
(2) Alaska's motorcycle helmet use law covers passengers of all ages, operators younger than 18, and operators with instructional permits.
(3) In Delaware, every motorcycle operator or rider age 19 and older must carry an approved safety helmet.
(4) In Florida the law requires that all riders younger than 21 years wear helmets, without exception. Those 21 years and older may ride without helmets only if they can show proof that they are covered by a medical insurance policy.
(5) Motorcycle helmet laws in Kentucky, Maine, Minnesota, and Wisconsin also cover operators with instructional/learner's permits. Maine's motorcycle helmet use law also covers passengers 17 years and younger and passengers if their operators are required to wear a helmet.
(6) In Michigan, the law requires that all riders younger than 21 years wear helmets, without exception. Those 21 years and older may ride without helmets only if they carry additional insurance and have passed a motorcycle safety course or have had their motorcycle endorsement for at least two years. Motorcycle operators who want to exercise this option also must be 21 or older and carry additional insurance.
(7) North Dakota's motorcycle helmet use law covers all passengers traveling with operators who are covered by the law.
(8) Ohio's motorcycle helmet use law covers all operators during the first year of licensure and all passengers of operators who are covered by the law.
(9) Pennsylvania's motorcycle helmet use law covers all operators during the first two years of licensure unless the operator has completed the safety course approved by the Department of Transportation or the Motorcycle Safety Foundation. Rhode Island's motorcycle helmet use law covers all passengers (regardless of age) and all operators during the first year of licensure (regardless of age).
(10) Texas exempts riders 21 or older if they can either show proof of successfully completing a motorcycle operator training and safety course or can show proof of having a medical insurance policy.

Source: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Highway Loss Data Institute.

Motorcycle Helmet Use, 2000-2019 (1)

 

Year Percent Year Percent
2000 71% 2015 61%
2005 48 2016 65
2010 54 2017 65
2013 60 2018 71
2014 64 2019 71

(1) Based on surveys of motorcyclists using helmets meeting Department of Transportation standards. Surveys conducted in October for 1996-2000 and in June thereafter.

Source: U.S. Department of Transportation, National Occupant Protection Use Survey, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's National Center for Statistics and Analysis.

View Archived Tables

Motorcyclist Fatalities And Fatality Rates, 2010-2019

 

Year Fatalities Registered
motorcycles
Fatality rate per
100,000 registered
motorcycles
Vehicle miles
traveled
(millions)
Fatality rate per
100 million vehicle
miles traveled
2010 4,518 8,009,503 56.41 18,513 24.40
2011 4,630 8,437,502 54.87 18,542 24.97
2012 4,986 8,454,939 58.97 21,385 23.32
2013 4,692 8,404,687 55.83 20,366 23.04
2014 4,594 8,417,718 54.58 19,970 23.00
2015 5,029 8,600,936 58.47 19,606 25.65
2016 5,337 8,679,380 61.49 20,445 26.10
2017 5,226 8,664,108 60.32 20,149 25.94
2018 5,038 8,659,741 58.18 20,076 25.09
2019 5,014 8,596,314 58.33 19,688 25.47

Source: U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration; Federal Highway Administration.

View Archived Tables

Motorcyclist Injuries And Injury Rates, 2010-2019

 

Year Injuries Registered
motorcycles
Injury rate
per 100,000
registered motorcycles
Vehicle miles
traveled (millions)
Injury rate
per 100 million
vehicle miles traveled
2010 82,000 8,009,503 1,028 18,513 445
2011 82,000 8,437,502 968 18,542 441
2012 93,000 8,454,939 1,103 21,385 436
2013 89,000 8,404,687 1,056 20,366 436
2014 92,000 8,417,718 1,093 19,970 461
2015 89,000 8,600,936 1,032 19,606 453
2016 (1) 104,000 8,679,380 1,203 20,445 511
2017 89,000 8,664,108 1,023 20,149 440
2018 82,000 8,659,741 945 20,076 408
2019 84,000 8,596,314 975 19,688 426

(1) NHTSA began using police-reported crash data from the Crash Report Sampling System, replacing the National Automotive Sampling System
General Estimates System (GES). NCSA has also changed the methodology of estimating people nonfatally injured in motor vehicle traffic crashes.

Source: U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration; Federal Highway Administration.

View Archived Tables

Occupant Fatality Rates By Vehicle Type, 2010 And 2019

 

Fatality rate Motorcycles Light trucks Passenger cars
2010      
     Per 100,000 registered vehicles 56.41 9.55 9.23
     Per 100 million vehicle miles traveled 24.40 0.86 0.83
2019      
     Per 100,000 registered vehicles 58.33 6.80 9.42
     Per 100 million vehicle miles traveled 25.47 0.64 0.89
Percent change, 2010-2019      
     Per 100,000 registered vehicles 3.4% -28.8% 2.1%
     Per 100 million vehicle miles traveled 4.4% -25.6% 7.2%

Source: U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

View Archived Tables

Motorcyclists Killed, by Time of Day and Day of Week, 2019

 

  Day of Week
  Weekday Weekend Total
  Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent
Motorcyclists killed            
Midnight to 3 am 158 6.0% 269 11.3% 427 8.5%
3 am to 6 am 95 3.6 93 3.9 188 3.7
6 am to 9 am 227 8.7 65 2.7 292 5.8
9 am to Noon 206 7.9 189 7.9 395 7.9
Noon to 3 pm 473 18.1 337 14.1 810 16.2
3 pm to 6 pm 618 23.7 405 16.9 1,023 20.4
6 pm to 9 pm 459 17.6 601 25.1 1,060 21.1
9 pm to Midnight 362 13.9 422 17.7 784 15.6
Unknown 14 0.5 9 0.4 35 0.7
Total 2,612 100.0% 2,390 100.0% 5,014 (1) 100.0%

(1) Includes motorcyclists killed on unknown day of week.

Source: U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Safety Administration.

View Archived Tables

Vehicles Involved In Fatal Crashes By Vehicle Type, 2010 And 2019

 

Vehicle involved 2010 2019
Passenger cars    
Involved in crashes 17,804 19,582
Rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled 1.18 1.42
Rate per 100,000 registered vehicles 13.16 15.06
Light trucks (1)    
Involved in crashes 17,491 19,830
Rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled 1.53 1.28
Rate per 100,000 registered vehicles 17.09 13.53
Motorcycles    
Involved in crashes 4,651 5,114
Rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled 25.12 25.98
Rate per 100,000 registered vehicles 58.07 59.49

(1) Trucks with 10,000 pounds or less gross vehicle weight. Includes pickups, vans, truck-based station wagons and utility vehicles.

Source: U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Vehicle miles traveled - USDOT, Federal Highway Administration, revised by NHTSA; Registered passenger cars and light trucks - R.L. Polk & Co; Registered motorcycles - USDOT, Federal Highway Administration.

View Archived Tables

Persons Killed In Total And Alcohol-Impaired Crashes By Person Type, 2019

 

    Alcohol-impaired crash fatalities (1)
Person type Total killed Number Percent of
total killed
Vehicle occupants      
     Driver 17,880 5,818 33%
     Passenger 5,807 1,664 29
     Unknown occupant 57 2 3
     Total 23,744 7,483 32%
Motorcyclists 5,014 1,689 34%
Nonoccupants      
     Pedestrian 6,205 816 13
     Pedalcyclist 846 106 12
     Other/unknown 287 48 17
     Total 7,338 970 13%
Total 36,096 10,142 28%

(1) Alcohol-impaired driving crashes are crashes that involve at least one driver or a motorcycle operator with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 grams per deciliter or greater, the legal definition of alcohol-impaired driving.

Source: U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

View Archived Tables

Drivers In Fatal Crashes By Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) And Vehicle Type, 2009-2018 (1)

 

  Passenger car Light truck Large truck Motorcycles
    Percent   Percent   Percent   Percent
Year Total BAC = 0.01+ BAC = 0.08+ Total BAC = 0.01+ BAC = 0.08+ Total BAC = 0.01+ BAC = 0.08+ Total BAC = 0.01+ BAC = 0.08+
2009 18,344 27% 23% 17,878 27% 23% 3,182 3% 2% 4,601 36% 29%
2010 17,710 27 24 17,385 25 22 3,456 2 1 4,647 36 28
2011 17,401 27 24 16,706 25 21 3,594 3 1 4,761 37 29
2012 18,171 26 23 17,230 25 21 3,774 3 2 5,108 35 28
2013 17,850 27 23 16,810 25 21 3,872 4 2 4,795 35 27
2014 17,802 26 22 17,040 25 22 3,701 3 2 4,703 37 29
2015 19,688 25 21 18,763 24 21 4,019 2 1 5,126 34 26
2016 20,730 24 21 19,951 23 20 4,152 3 2 5,414 32 25
2017  20,895   24   21   19,847  23 20  4,600  4 3  5,316  35 27
2018 20,175  24   21  19,663 22 19 4,786 5 3 5,108 33 25

(1) NHTSA estimates alcohol involvement when alcohol test results are unknown.

Source: U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Safety Administration.

View Archived Tables

 

Additional resources

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration 

The Motorcycle Safety Foundation

The Motorcycle Industry Council

Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety

 

© Insurance Information Institute, Inc. - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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Facts + Statistics: Motorcycle crashes