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.
  • Some motorcycles are riskier than others. Supersport motorcycles are built for racing, modified for street use, and are popular with riders under the age of 30. A report from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found that riders of supersport motorcycles have driver death rates nearly four times higher than those for drivers of other types of motorcycles.

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

  • The latest available data form the Government Accounting Office (GAO) shows that motorcycle crashes cost $16 billion 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.
  • 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 December 2017

  Universal law Partial law (1)
State    
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    
Indiana   17 and younger 
Iowa    
Kansas   20 and younger 
Kentucky   20 and younger  (4), (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 X  
Montana   17 and younger 
Nebraska X  
Nevada X  
New Hampshire    
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 (4)
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 and Kentucky, 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. Texas exempts riders 21 years or older if they either 1) can show proof of successfully completing a motorcycle operator training and safety course or 2) can show proof of  having 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).

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

Motorcycle Helmet Use, 1998-2017 (1)

 

Year Percent Year Percent
2000 71% 2013 60%
2005 48 2014 64
2010 54 2015 61
2011 67 2016 65
2012 60 2017 65

(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, 2007-2016

Year Fatalities Registered
motorcycles
Fatality rate per
100,000 registered
motorcycles
Vehicle miles
traveled
(millions)
Fatality rate per
100 million vehicle
miles traveled
2007 5,174 7,138,476 72.48 21,396 24.18
2008 5,312 7,752,926 68.52 20,811 25.52
2009 4,469 7,929,724 56.36 20,822 21.46
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 5,286 8,679,380 60.90 20,445 25.85

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

View Archived Tables

Motorcyclist Injuries And Injury Rates, 2007-2016

Year Injuries Registered
motorcycles
Injury rate per
100,000 registered
motorcycles
Vehicle miles
traveled (millions)
Injury rate per
100 million vehicle
miles traveled
2007 103,000 7,138,476 1,443 21,396 481
2008 96,000 7,752,926 1,238 20,811 461
2009 90,000 7,929,724 1,130 20,822 430
2010 82,000 8,009,503 1,024 18,513 443
2011 81,000 8,437,502 965 18,542 439
2012 93,000 8,454,939 1,099 21,385 434
2013 88,000 8,404,687 1,052 20,366 434
2014 92,000 8,417,718 1,088 19,970 459
2015 88,000 8,600,936 1,028 19,606 451
2016 NA 8,679,380 NA 20,445 NA

NA=Data not available.

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

View Archived Tables

Occupant Fatality Rates By Vehicle Type, 2006 And 2015

 

Fatality rate Motorcycles Light trucks Passenger cars
2006      
     Per 100,000 registered vehicles 72.42 13.01 13.08
     Per 100 million vehicle miles traveled 40.14 1.10 1.11
2015      
     Per 100,000 registered vehicles 57.85 7.70 9.48
     Per 100 million vehicle miles traveled 25.38 0.72 0.89
Percent change, 2006-2015      
     Per 100,000 registered vehicles -20.1% -40.8% -27.5%
     Per 100 million vehicle miles traveled -36.8 -34.5 -19.8

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

View Archived Tables

Motorcyclists Killed or Injured, by Time of Day and Day of Week, 2015

  Day of Week    
  Weekday Weekend Total
  Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent
Motorcyclists killed            
Midnight to 3 am 148 5.8% 267 11.1% 415 8.3%
3 am to 6 am 92 3.6 101 4.2 193 3.9
6 am to 9 am 229 9.0 65 2.7 294 5.9
9 am to Noon 234 9.2 207 8.6 441 8.9
Noon to 3 pm 411 16.1 339 14 750 15.1
3 pm to 6 pm 606 23.7 417 17.3 1,023 20.6
6 pm to 9 pm 480 18.8 595 24.6 1,075 21.6
9 pm to Midnight 345 13.5 411 17 756 15.2
Unknown 11 0.4 13 0.5 29 0.6
Total 2,556 100.0% 2,415 100.0% 4,976 (1) 100.0%
             
Motorcyclists injured            
Midnight to 3 am 1,000 2.5% 2,000 6.0% 4,000 4.1%
3 am to 6 am 1,000 1.8 1,000 2.6 2,000 2.2
6 am to 9 am 6,000 12.1 2,000 5 8,000 9.1
9 am to Noon 7,000 13.8 4,000 11.3 11,000 12.7
Noon to 3 pm 8,000 16.3 7,000 19.5 16,000 17.7
3 pm to 6 pm 14,000 27.5 6,000 17.1 20,000 23.1
6 pm to 9 pm 9,000 17.0 11,000 28.3 19,000 21.7
9 pm to Midnight 5,000 9.0 4,000 10 8,000 9.4
Total 51,000 100.0% 37,000 100.0% 88,000 100.0%

(1) Includes 5 motorcyclists killed on unknown day of week.

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

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Vehicles Involved In Crashes By Vehicle Type And Crash Severity, 2006 And 2015

  Fatal crashes Injury crashes Property damage-only
crashes
  2006 2015 2006 2015 2006 2015
Passenger cars            
Involved in crashes 24,260 19,534 1,794,000 1,785,000 4,046,000 4,438,000
Rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled 1.50 1.37 111 126 250 312
Rate per 100,000 registered vehicles 17.70 14.66 1,309 1,340 2,953 3,331
Light trucks (1)            
Involved in crashes 22,411 18,675 1,202,000 1,198,000 2,932,000 3,197,000
Rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled 1.94 1.37 104 88 254 235
Rate per 100,000 registered vehicles 22.85 14.66 1,225 941 2,990 2,509
Motorcycles            
Involved in crashes 4,963 5,076 84,000 84,000 15,000 13,000
Rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled 41.19 25.89 694 430 128 66
Rate per 100,000 registered vehicles 74.31 59.02 1,251 980 230 150

(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, 2016

    Alcohol-impaired driving fatalities (1)
Person type Total killed Number Percent oftotal killed
Vehicle occupants      
     Driver 18,610 6,067 33%
     Passenger 6,407 1,880 29
     Unknown occupant 79 2 2
     Total 25,096 7,949 32%
Motorcyclists 5,286 1,600 30%
Nonoccupants      
     Pedestrian 5,987 807 13
     Pedalcyclist 840 91 11
     Other/unknown 252 50 20
     Total 7,079 948 13%
Total 37,461 10,497 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.

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Drivers In Fatal Crashes By Blood Alcohol Concentration (Bac) And Vehicle Type, 2006-2015 (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+
2006 24,162 27% 23% 22,307 28% 24% 4,729 2% 1% 4,961 34% 26%
2007 22,765 27 23 21,719 27 23 4,601 2 1 5,306 35 27
2008 20,379 27 23 19,095 26 23 4,040 3 2 5,405 36 29
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 17,992 26 23 17,131 25 22 3,753 3 2 5,075 35 27
2013 17,731 27 23 16,738 25 21 3,858 4 2 4,769 34 27
2014 17,757 26 22 17,017 25 22 3,697 3 2 4,692 36 29
2015 19,413 25 21 18,570 23 20 3,996 2 2 5,071 34 27

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

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

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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