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 During the past few years several states have repealed or weakened their helmet laws.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
Year Passenger vehicle occupant deaths Motorcyclist deaths All motor vehicle deaths
Num % Num % Num
1975 30,601 69 3,106 7 44,525
1976 31,724 70 3,232 7 45,523
1977 32,823 69 4,004 8 47,878
1978 34,923 69 4,448 9 50,331
1979 35,026 69 4,712 9 51,093
1980 34,995 68 4,955 10 51,091
1981 33,711 68 4,737 10 49,301
1982 29,654 67 4,267 10 43,945
1983 29,153 68 4,099 10 42,589
1984 30,091 68 4,425 10 44,257
1985 29,847 68 4,415 10 43,825
1986 32,224 70 4,309 9 46,087
1987 33,145 71 3,832 8 46,390
1988 34,105 72 3,491 7 47,087
1989 33,599 74 3,030 7 45,582
1990 32,711 73 3,128 7 44,599
1991 30,810 74 2,702 7 41,508
1992 29,457 75 2,291 6 39,250
1993 29,994 75 2,346 6 40,150
1994 30,816 76 2,215 5 40,716
1995 31,913 76 2,138 5 41,817
1996 32,354 77 2,077 5 42,065
1997 32,331 77 2,056 5 42,013
1998 31,779 77 2,227 5 41,501
1999 32,008 77 2,419 6 41,717
2000 32,109 77 2,829 7 41,945
2001 31,938 76 3,123 7 42,196
2002 32,724 76 3,187 7 43,005
2003 32,166 75 3,641 8 42,884
2004 31,750 74 3,904 9 42,836
2005 31,322 72 4,439 10 43,443

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
Year Passenger vehicle drivers Motorcycle drivers
No valid license Total* No valid license Total*
Num % Num Num % Num
1995 3,056 14 21,456 703 36 1,939
1996 2,953 13 21,631 631 33 1,881
1997 2,900 13 21,702 612 32 1,878
1998 2,942 13 21,627 649 31 2,026
1999 2,931 13 21,899 611 27 2,223
2000 3,127 15 21,819 730 27 2,591
2001 2,977 13 21,862 799 27 2,886
2002 3,279 15 22,537 763 25 2,952
2003 3,123 14 22,200 837 25 3,358
2004 3,024 14 21,952 866 24 3,593
2005 3,129 15 21,880 994 24 4,122
*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
Age Male Female Total*
Num % Num % Num
<16 39 85 7 15 46
16-19 184 89 23 11 207
20-24 597 94 35 6 632
25-29 486 94 29 6 515
30-34 439 91 42 9 481
35-39 429 90 49 10 478
40-44 439 84 86 16 525
45-49 401 85 70 15 471
50-54 384 91 40 9 424
55-59 287 90 33 10 320
60-69 255 94 17 6 272
≥ 70 64 96 3 4 67
Total* 4,004 90 435 10 4,439
*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 type Male Female
Num % Num %
Driver 3,973 99 149 34
Passenger 29 1 286 66
Total* 4,004 100 435 100
*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 ≤29 30-39 ≥ 40 Total*
Num % Num % Num % Num
1975 2,475 80 419 13 208 7 3,106
1976 2,565 79 426 13 239 7 3,232
1977 3,211 80 529 13 259 6 4,004
1978 3,557 80 603 14 281 6 4,448
1979 3,627 77 729 15 350 7 4,712
1980 3,641 73 896 18 414 8 4,955
1981 3,487 74 840 18 401 8 4,737
1982 3,082 72 790 19 385 9 4,267
1983 2,959 72 765 19 369 9 4,099
1984 3,171 72 813 18 428 10 4,425
1985 3,160 72 849 19 401 9 4,415
1986 3,034 70 877 20 388 9 4,309
1987 2,588 68 831 22 413 11 3,832
1988 2,309 66 757 22 424 12 3,491
1989 1,873 62 735 24 419 14 3,030
1990 1,885 60 805 26 438 14 3,128
1991 1,580 58 711 26 410 15 2,702
1992 1,242 54 638 28 411 18 2,291
1993 1,229 52 647 28 469 20 2,346
1994 1,121 51 584 26 509 23 2,215
1995 1,057 49 562 26 519 24 2,138
1996 932 45 541 26 604 29 2,077
1997 837 41 547 27 672 33 2,056
1998 897 40 599 27 730 33 2,227
1999 878 36 601 25 940 39 2,419
2000 986 35 696 25 1,142 40 2,829
2001 1,108 35 789 25 1,224 39 3,123
2002 1,022 32 767 24 1,396 44 3,187
2003 1,161 32 829 23 1,650 45 3,641
2004 1,256 32 853 22 1,795 46 3,904
2005 1,400 32 959 22 2,079 47 4,439
*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
Year 0-1000 cc 1001-1400 cc >1400 cc Total*
Num % Num % Num % Num
1985 2,649 68 613 16 0 0 3,896
1986 2,734 72 620 16 0 0 3,790
1987 2,441 72 601 18 0 0 3,409
1988 2,149 68 615 20 6 <1 3,139
1989 1,831 68 539 20 3 <1 2,682
1990 1,895 68 619 22 5 <1 2,790
1991 1,632 68 545 23 13 1 2,404
1992 1,351 65 517 25 7 <1 2,079
1993 1,330 63 582 27 11 1 2,120
1994 1,199 60 533 27 15 1 1,995
1995 1,174 61 564 29 22 1 1,939
1996 1,102 59 546 29 36 2 1,881
1997 1,053 56 612 33 33 2 1,878
1998 1,140 56 648 32 46 2 2,026
1999 1,073 48 644 29 98 4 2,223
2000 1,341 52 779 30 234 9 2,591
2001 1,540 53 780 27 309 11 2,886
2002 1,475 50 737 25 482 16 2,952
2003 1,620 48 829 25 612 18 3,358
2004 1,775 49 813 23 721 20 3,593
2005 2,051 50 922 22 855 21 4,122
*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
Age 0-1000 cc 1001-1400 cc >1400 cc Total*
Num % Num % Num % Num
<40 1,563 71 308 14 175 8 2,212
≥ 40 488 26 614 32 680 36 1,910
Total 2,051 50 922 22 855 21 4,122
*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 type Deaths %
Single-vehicle 1,934 44
Multiple-vehicle 2,499 56
All crashes* 4,439 100
*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 type Deaths Estimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.08 Estimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.15
Num Num % Num %
Single-vehicle 1,795 729 41 461 26
Multiple-vehicle 2,322 393 17 208 9
All crashes* 4,122 1,124 27 670 16
*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
Month Deaths %
January 135 3
February 125 3
March 221 5
April 414 9
May 453 10
June 506 11
July 591 13
August 563 13
September 594 13
October 438 10
November 269 6
December 130 3
Total 4,439 100

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

Motorcyclist deaths by day of week, 2005
Day of week Deaths %
Sunday 950 21
Monday 467 11
Tuesday 431 10
Wednesday 454 10
Thursday 487 11
Friday 621 14
Saturday 1,028 23
Total* 4,439 100
*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 day Deaths %
Midnight-3am 402 9
3am-6am 137 3
6am-9am 250 6
9am-noon 345 8
Noon-3pm 690 16
3pm-6pm 991 22
6pm-9pm 980 22
9pm-midnight 616 14
Total* 4,439 100
*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 day Deaths Estimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.08 Estimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.15
Num Num % Num %
Nighttime (9pm-6am) 1,065 561 53 370 35
Other times 3,057 564 18 301 10
Total 4,122 1,124 27 670 16

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 Type Urban Rural Total*
Num % Num % Num %
Interstates and freeways 392 9 113 3 505 11
Major roads 1,064 24 1,359 31 2,423 55
Minor roads 683 15 619 14 1,302 29
Total* 2,152 48 2,119 48 4,439 100
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

References