Motorcycles | 2005

Motorcycles are less stable and less visible than cars and often have high performance capabilities. For these and other reasons, motorcycles are more likely than cars to be involved in crashes. When motorcycles crash, their riders lack the protection of an enclosed vehicle, so they're more likely to be injured or killed. Per mile traveled in 2004, the number of deaths on motorcycles was about 34 times the number in cars. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. 2005. Traffic safety facts, 2004. Washington, DC: US Department of Transportation.

Research published in 1995 shows that five crash types account for 86 percent of fatal motorcycle crashes: motorcycle runs off road (41 percent), motorcycle or other vehicle runs traffic control (18 percent), head on (11 percent), car turns in front of motorcycle (8 percent), and motorcycle goes down in roadway (7 percent). Preusser, D.F.; Williams, A.F.; and Ulmer, R.G. 1995. Analysis of fatal motorcycle crashes: crash typing. Accident Analysis and Prevention 27:845-51.

Because serious head injury is common among fatally injured motorcyclists, helmet use is important. Helmets are about 37 percent effective in preventing motorcyclist deaths Deutermann, W. 2004. Motorcycle helmet effectiveness revisited. Report no. DOT HS-809-715 Washington, DC: US Department of Transportation. and about 67 percent effective in preventing brain injuries. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. 2005. Traffic safety facts, 2004. Washington, DC: US Department of Transportation. An unhelmeted rider is 40 percent more likely to sustain a fatal head injury compared with a helmeted rider. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. 1996. Motorcycle helmets: the facts of life. Washington, DC: US Department of Transportation. Yet only 20 states and the District of Columbia mandate helmet use by all riders. Death rates from head injuries have been shown to be twice as high among motorcyclists in states with no helmet laws or laws that apply only to young riders, compared with states where laws apply to all riders. Sosin, D.M.; Sacks, J.J.; and Holmgreen, P. 1990. Head injury-associated deaths from motorcycle crashes: relationship to helmet use laws. Journal of the American Medical Association 264:2395-99. During the past few years several states have repealed or weakened their helmet laws. In 1997 helmet laws in Texas and Arkansas were weakened to apply only to younger riders. Kentucky weakened its law in 1998, Florida weakened its law in 2000, and Pennsylvania weakened its law in 2003. Louisiana weakened its law in 1999 but reverted to universal coverage in 2004. Repealing or weakening helmet laws so they don't apply to all riders has been followed by increases in deaths. Preusser, D.F.; Hedlund, J.H.; and Ulmer, R.G. 2000. Evaluation of motorcycle helmet law repeal in Arkansas and Texas. Washington, DC: US Department of Transportation. Kyrychenko, S.Y. and McCartt, A.T. 2006 Florida weakened motorcycle helmet law: effects on death rates in motorcycle crashes. Traffic Injury Prevention 7:55-60. Ulmer, D.G. and Northrup, V.S. 2005. Evaluation of the repeal of the all-rider motorcycle helmet law in Florida. Report no. DOT HS-809-849. Washington, DC: US Department of Transportation. In contrast, benefits return when helmet laws applying to all riders are reinstated.[ Error ]

The following facts are based on analysis of data from the U.S. Department of Transportation's Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS).

Trends

A total of 4,439 motorcyclists died in crashes in 2005. Motorcyclist deaths had been declining since the early 1980s but began to increase in 1998 and have continued to increase. Since 1997 motorcyclist deaths have more than doubled.

Passenger vehicle occupant deaths and motorcyclist deaths, 1975-2005

Motorcyclist deaths as a percentage of all motor vehicle crash deaths, 1975-2005
YearPassenger vehicle occupant deathsMotorcyclist deathsAll motor vehicle deaths
Num%Num%Num
197530,601693,106744,525
197631,724703,232745,523
197732,823694,004847,878
197834,923694,448950,331
197935,026694,712951,093
198034,995684,9551051,091
198133,711684,7371049,301
198229,654674,2671043,945
198329,153684,0991042,589
198430,091684,4251044,257
198529,847684,4151043,825
198632,224704,309946,087
198733,145713,832846,390
198834,105723,491747,087
198933,599743,030745,582
199032,711733,128744,599
199130,810742,702741,508
199229,457752,291639,250
199329,994752,346640,150
199430,816762,215540,716
199531,913762,138541,817
199632,354772,077542,065
199732,331772,056542,013
199831,779772,227541,501
199932,008772,419641,717
200032,109772,829741,945
200131,938763,123742,196
200232,724763,187743,005
200332,166753,641842,884
200431,750743,904942,836
200531,322724,4391043,443

In 2005 about a third fewer fatally injured motorcyclists were operating without a valid license (24 percent) than in 1995, but this was still higher than among passenger vehicle drivers (15 percent).

Motorcycle driver deaths by license compliance, 1995-2005
YearPassenger vehicle driversMotorcycle drivers
No valid licenseTotal*No valid licenseTotal*
Num%NumNum%Num
19953,0561421,456703361,939
19962,9531321,631631331,881
19972,9001321,702612321,878
19982,9421321,627649312,026
19992,9311321,899611272,223
20003,1271521,819730272,591
20012,9771321,862799272,886
20023,2791522,537763252,952
20033,1231422,200837253,358
20043,0241421,952866243,593
20053,1291521,880994244,122
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

Age and gender

Ninety percent of motorcyclists killed in 2005 were males.

Motorcyclist deaths by age and gender, 2005
AgeMaleFemaleTotal*
Num%Num%Num
<16398571546
16-19184892311207
20-2459794356632
25-2948694296515
30-3443991429481
35-39429904910478
40-44439848616525
45-49401857015471
50-5438491409424
55-59287903310320
60-6925594176272
≥ 7064963467
Total*4,00490435104,439
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

Sixty-six percent of the females who died in motorcycle crashes in 2005 were passengers, and their deaths represented 91 percent of the passenger deaths. Ninety-nine percent of the males who died were drivers.

Motorcyclist deaths by person type, 2005
Person typeMaleFemale
Num%Num%
Driver3,9739914934
Passenger29128666
Total*4,004100435100
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

In the early 1980s the proportion of fatally injured motorcyclists 40 and older started to increase, from 9 percent of all rider deaths in 1982 to 15 percent in 1991 and 47 percent in 2005. However, the absolute number of motorcyclist deaths among all age groups has been climbing since 1999.

Motorcyclist deaths by age, 1975-2005

Motorcyclist deaths by age, 1975-2005
Year≤2930-39≥ 40Total*
Num%Num%Num%Num
19752,475804191320873,106
19762,565794261323973,232
19773,211805291325964,004
19783,557806031428164,448
19793,627777291535074,712
19803,641738961841484,955
19813,487748401840184,737
19823,082727901938594,267
19832,959727651936994,099
19843,1717281318428104,425
19853,160728491940194,415
19863,034708772038894,309
19872,5886883122413113,832
19882,3096675722424123,491
19891,8736273524419143,030
19901,8856080526438143,128
19911,5805871126410152,702
19921,2425463828411182,291
19931,2295264728469202,346
19941,1215158426509232,215
19951,0574956226519242,138
19969324554126604292,077
19978374154727672332,056
19988974059927730332,227
19998783660125940392,419
200098635696251,142402,829
20011,10835789251,224393,123
20021,02232767241,396443,187
20031,16132829231,650453,641
20041,25632853221,795463,904
20051,40032959222,079474,439
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

Motorcycle engine size

The average engine size of motorcycles whose drivers were in fatal crashes went up dramatically in the last few years. Among motorcycle operators killed in 2005, 21 percent drove motorcycles with engine sizes larger than 1400 cc, compared with 9 percent in 2000 and less than 1 percent in 1990.

Percentage of motorcycle driver deaths by motorcycle engine size, 1985-2005

Motorcycle driver deaths by motorcycle engine size, 1985-2005
Year0-1000 cc1001-1400 cc>1400 ccTotal*
Num%Num%Num%Num
19852,6496861316003,896
19862,7347262016003,790
19872,4417260118003,409
19882,14968615206<13,139
19891,83168539203<12,682
19901,89568619225<12,790
19911,63268545231312,404
19921,35165517257<12,079
19931,33063582271112,120
19941,19960533271511,995
19951,17461564292211,939
19961,10259546293621,881
19971,05356612333321,878
19981,14056648324622,026
19991,07348644299842,223
20001,341527793023492,591
20011,5405378027309112,886
20021,4755073725482162,952
20031,6204882925612183,358
20041,7754981323721203,593
20052,0515092222855214,122
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

In 2005 only 8 percent of fatally injured operators younger than 40 drove motorcycles with engines larger than 1400 cc, compared with 36 percent of riders 40 and older.

Motorcycle driver deaths by motorcycle engine size and driver age, 2005
Age0-1000 cc1001-1400 cc>1400 ccTotal*
Num%Num%Num%Num
<401,563713081417582,212
≥ 404882661432680361,910
Total2,0515092222855214,122
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

Crash types

Forty-four percent of motorcyclist deaths in 2005 occurred in single-vehicle crashes, and 56 percent occurred in multiple-vehicle crashes.

Motorcyclist deaths by crash type, 2005
Crash typeDeaths%
Single-vehicle1,93444
Multiple-vehicle2,49956
All crashes*4,439100
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

Twenty-seven percent of fatally injured motorcycle drivers in 2005 had blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) at or above 0.08 percent; among single-vehicle crashes this was 41 percent.

Estimated number and percent of fatally injured
motorcycle drivers with high BACs by crash type, 2005
Crash typeDeathsEstimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.08Estimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.15
NumNum%Num%
Single-vehicle1,7957294146126
Multiple-vehicle2,322393172089
All crashes*4,1221,1242767016
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

When they died

Seventy-one percent of motorcyclist deaths in 2005 occurred during the six months of May-October. Fatalities peaked during July-September and were lowest during December-February.

Motorcyclist deaths by month, 2005
MonthDeaths%
January1353
February1253
March2215
April4149
May45310
June50611
July59113
August56313
September59413
October43810
November2696
December1303
Total4,439100

Fifty-nine percent of motorcyclist deaths in 2005 occurred during Friday-Sunday.

Motorcyclist deaths by day of week, 2005
Day of weekDeaths%
Sunday95021
Monday46711
Tuesday43110
Wednesday45410
Thursday48711
Friday62114
Saturday1,02823
Total*4,439100
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

Forty-four percent of motorcyclist deaths in 2005 occurred between 3pm and 9pm. Another 26 percent occurred between 9pm and 6am.

Motorcyclist deaths by time of day, 2005
Time of dayDeaths%
Midnight-3am4029
3am-6am1373
6am-9am2506
9am-noon3458
Noon-3pm69016
3pm-6pm99122
6pm-9pm98022
9pm-midnight61614
Total*4,439100
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

Fifty-three percent of motorcycle drivers killed at night (9pm–6am) in 2005 had BACs at or above 0.08 percent.

Estimated number and percent of fatally injured motorcycle drivers with high BACs by time of day, 2005
Time of dayDeathsEstimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.08Estimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.15
NumNum%Num%
Nighttime (9pm-6am)1,0655615337035
Other times3,0575641830110
Total4,1221,1242767016

Where they died

More than half of motorcyclist deaths in 2005 occurred on major roads other than interstates and freeways.

Motorcyclist deaths by location of crash, 2005
Road TypeUrbanRuralTotal*
Num%Num%Num%
Interstates and freeways3929113350511
Major roads1,064241,359312,42355
Minor roads68315619141,30229
Total*2,152482,119484,439100
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

References