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Role of motorcycle type in fatal motorcycle crashes

Teoh, Eric R.; Campbell, Marvin
Journal of Safety Research
December 2010

Introduction: Motorcycles vary in design and performance capability, and motorcyclists may select certain motorcycle types based on driving preferences. Conversely, motorcycle performance capability may influence the likelihood of risky driving behaviors such as speeding. Both mechanisms may affect fatal crash risk when examined by motorcycle type. Although it was not possible to estimate the effect of each mechanism, the current study analyzed fatal crash data for evidence of motorcycle type differences in risky driving behaviors and risk of driver death.
Methods: Street legal motorcycles were classified into 10 types based on design characteristics and then further grouped as cruiser/standard, touring, sport touring, sport/unclad sport, supersport, and all others. For each motorcycle type, driver death rates per 10,000 registered vehicle years and the prevalence of fatal crash characteristics such as speeding were analyzed. Differences among motorcycle types concerning the effect of engine displacement were examined using Poisson regression.
Results: Overall, driver death rates for supersport motorcycles were four times as high as those for cruiser/standard motorcycles. Fatally injured supersport drivers were most likely to have been speeding and most likely to have worn helmets, but least likely to have been impaired by alcohol compared with drivers of other motorcycle types. The patterns in driver factors held after accounting for the effects of age and gender. Increased engine displacement was associated with higher driver death rates for each motorcycle type.
Conclusion: Strong effects of motorcycle type were observed on driver death rates and on the likelihood of risky driving behaviors such as speeding and alcohol impairment. Although the current study could not completely disentangle the effects of motorcycle type and rider characteristics such as age on driver death rates, the effects of both motorcycle type and rider age on the likelihood of risky driving behaviors were observed among fatally injured motorcycle drivers.
Impact on industry: Certain motorcycle designs, particularly supersport motorcycles, are associated with increases in risky driving behaviors and higher driver death rates. At present, there are no proven countermeasures for this situation. However, existing countermeasures such as helmet laws and automated speed enforcement could have a substantial benefit.