Motorcycles | 2006

Motorcycles are less stable and less visible than cars and often have high performance capabilities. When motorcycles crash, their riders lack the protection of an enclosed vehicle, so they're more likely to be injured or killed. The federal government estimates that per mile traveled in 2005, the number of deaths on motorcycles was about 37 times the number in cars. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. 2007. Traffic safety facts, 2006. Washington, DC: U.S. 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: U.S. Department of Transportation. and about 67 percent effective in preventing brain injuries. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. 1996. Motorcycle helmets: the facts of life. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Transportation. An unhelmeted rider is 40 percent more likely to suffer a fatal head injury compared with a helmeted rider. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. 1996. Motorcycle helmets: the facts of life. Washington, DC: U.S. 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 During the past decade several states have repealed or weakened their helmet laws.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.[ Error ] 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: U.S. Department of Transportation. In contrast, benefits return when helmet laws applying to all riders are reinstated. McSwain, N.E., Jr. and Willey, A.B. 1984. The impact of reenactment of the motorcycle helmet law in Louisiana. Report no. DOT HS 806 760. Washington, DC: U.S. Departement of Transportation.

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 4,697 motorcyclists died in crashes in 2006. 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, reaching a record 11 percent of all motor-vehicle crash deaths in 2006.

Passenger vehicle occupant deaths and motorcyclist deaths, 1975-2006

Motorcyclist deaths as a percentage of all motor vehicle crash deaths, 1975-2006
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 31,455 72 4,460 10 43,510
2006 30,476 71 4,697 11 42,642

In 2006, about a third fewer fatally injured motorcyclists were operating without a valid license (26 percent) than in 1995, but this is still higher than among fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers (16 percent).

Motorcycle driver deaths by license compliance, 1995-2006
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 3,154 15 21,953 1,002 24 4,142
2006 3,385 16 21,497 1,120 26 4,386
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

Forty-four percent of motorcyclist deaths in 2006 occurred in single-vehicle crashes, and 56 percent occurred in multiple-vehicle crashes.

Motorcyclist deaths by crash type, 2006
Crash type Deaths %
Single-vehicle 2,049 44
Multiple-vehicle 2,642 56
All crashes* 4,697 100
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

In 2006, 58 percent of fatally injured motorcycle drivers were helmeted. Helmet use was lower, at 43 percent, for people killed as passengers on motorcycles.  

Helmet use of fatally injured motorcycle drivers and passengers, 2006
No helmet Helmet Unknown Total
Num % Num % Num % Num
Driver 1,723 39 2,538 58 125 3 4,386
Passenger 166 53 134 43 11 4 311
Total 1,889 40 2,672 57 136 3 4,697

In 2006, 85 percent of fatally injured motorcyclists were helmeted in states with helmet laws that cover all riders, in contrast to only 20 percent in states with no helmet law. In states with helmet laws that cover only some riders, 35 percent of fatally injured motorcyclists were helmeted.

Helmet use of fatally injured motorcyclists by helmet law status, 2006
  No helmet Helmet Unknown Total
Num % Num % Num % Num
No law 162 78 41 20 6 3 209
Partial law 1,471 61 846 35 81 3 2,398
Universal law 256 12 1,785 85 49 2 2,090
Total 1,889 40 2,672 57 136 3 4,697

Age and gender

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 2006. However, the absolute number of motorcyclist deaths among all age groups has been climbing since 1999.

Motorcyclist deaths by age, 1975-2006

Motorcyclist deaths by age, 1975-2006
Year ≤29 30-39 40-49 ≥50 Total*
Num % Num % Num % Num % Num
1975 2,475 80 419 13 129 4 79 3 3,106
1976 2,565 79 426 13 142 4 97 3 3,232
1977 3,211 80 529 13 147 4 112 3 4,004
1978 3,557 80 603 14 177 4 104 2 4,448
1979 3,627 77 729 15 212 4 138 3 4,712
1980 3,641 73 896 18 265 5 149 3 4,955
1981 3,487 74 840 18 255 5 146 3 4,737
1982 3,082 72 790 19 247 6 138 3 4,267
1983 2,959 72 765 19 234 6 135 3 4,099
1984 3,171 72 813 18 263 6 165 4 4,425
1985 3,160 72 849 19 238 5 163 4 4,415
1986 3,034 70 877 20 257 6 131 3 4,309
1987 2,588 68 831 22 275 7 138 4 3,832
1988 2,309 66 757 22 278 8 146 4 3,491
1989 1,873 62 735 24 283 9 136 4 3,030
1990 1,885 60 805 26 265 8 173 6 3,128
1991 1,580 58 711 26 283 10 127 5 2,702
1992 1,242 54 638 28 268 12 143 6 2,291
1993 1,229 52 647 28 324 14 145 6 2,346
1994 1,121 51 584 26 338 15 171 8 2,215
1995 1,057 49 562 26 347 16 172 8 2,138
1996 932 45 541 26 408 20 196 9 2,077
1997 837 41 547 27 396 19 276 13 2,056
1998 897 40 599 27 465 21 265 12 2,227
1999 878 36 601 25 564 23 376 16 2,419
2000 986 35 696 25 666 24 476 17 2,829
2001 1,108 35 789 25 715 23 509 16 3,123
2002 1,022 32 767 24 758 24 638 20 3,187
2003 1,161 32 829 23 887 24 763 21 3,641
2004 1,256 32 853 22 946 24 849 22 3,904
2005 1,405 32 963 22 1,003 22 1,088 24 4,460
2006 1,496 32 986 21 1,081 23 1,132 24 4,697
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

Ninety-one percent of motorcyclists killed in 2006 were males.

Motorcyclist deaths by age and gender, 2006
Age Male Female Total*
Num % Num % Num
<16 18 78 5 22 23
16-19 168 88 24 12 192
20-24 696 95 37 5 733
25-29 520 95 28 5 548
30-34 436 92 38 8 474
35-39 461 90 51 10 512
40-44 450 86 74 14 524
45-49 494 89 63 11 557
50-54 418 90 46 10 464
55-59 338 92 29 8 367
60-69 224 94 15 6 239
≥70 60 97 2 3 62
Total* 4,285 91 412 9 4,697
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

Sixty-six percent of the females who died in motorcycle crashes in 2006 were passengers and their deaths represented 87 percent of the passenger deaths. Ninety-nine percent of the males who died were drivers.

Motorcyclist deaths by person type and gender, 2006
Person type Male Female
Num % Num %
Driver 4,246 99 140 34
Passenger 39 1 272 66
Total* 4,285 100 412 100
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

Motorcycle type and engine size

The average engine size of motorcycles whose drivers were killed in crashes went up dramatically in the last few years. Among motorcycle operators killed in 2006, 23 percent drove motorcycles with engine size larger than 1,400 cc, compared to 9 percent in 2000 and less than 1 percent in 1990.

Percentage of motorcycle driver deaths by motorcycle engine size, 1985-2006

Motorcycle driver deaths by motorcycle engine size, 1985-2006
Year 0-1,000 cc 1,001-1,400 cc >1,400 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 2,069 50 928 22 861 21 4,142
2006 2,085 48 828 19 1,010 23 4,386
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

Among the motorcycles whose drivers were killed in 2006, 77 percent of touring bikes had engines larger than 1,400 cc, while 97 percent of supersport bikes had engines of sizes 1,000 cc or smaller.

Fatally injured motorcycle drivers by motorcycle type and engine size, 2006
  0-1,000 cc 1,001-1,400 cc >1,400 cc Total*
Num % Num % Num % Num
Cruiser/standard 432 28 502 33 586 38 1,538
Touring 1 <1 125 23 420 77 548
Sport/unclad sport 262 57 164 35 0 0 462
Supersport 1,215 97 20 2 0 0 1,254
Off-road 43 96 0 0 0 0 45
Other/unknown 132 24 17 3 4 1 539
Total 2,085 48 828 19 1,010 23 4,386
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

In 2006, 35 percent of fatally injured motorcycle drivers were on cruisers or standards and 29 percent were on supersports. In contrast, 30 percent of motorcycle driver deaths were on cruisers and standards and 19 percent were on supersports in 1997. Of the driver deaths on public roadways in 2006, about 1 percent occurred on motorcycles designed for exclusively off-road use. The proportion of motorcycles that could not be classified has decreased substantially over these years.

Fatally injured motorcycle drivers by motorcycle type, 1997-2006
  Cruiser/standard Touring Sport/unclad sport Supersport Off-road Other/unknown Total
Num % Num % Num % Num % Num % Num % Num
1997 559 30 164 9 200 11 352 19 22 1 581 31 1,878
1998 629 31 168 8 208 10 401 20 31 2 589 29 2,026
1999 716 32 203 9 229 10 486 22 35 2 554 25 2,223
2000 897 35 250 10 282 11 551 21 36 1 575 22 2,591
2001 971 34 292 10 339 12 685 24 43 1 556 19 2,886
2002 1,013 34 365 12 323 11 680 23 42 1 529 18 2,952
2003 1,192 35 394 12 399 12 821 24 56 2 496 15 3,358
2004 1,241 35 439 12 449 12 914 25 75 2 475 13 3,593
2005 1,515 37 514 12 463 11 1,073 26 60 1 517 12 4,142
2006 1,538 35 548 12 462 11 1,254 29 45 1 539 12 4,386

Seventy percent of fatally injured drivers of cruisers or standards in 2006 were at least 40 years of age, compared with 88 percent of touring bike drivers. Sixty-nine percent of fatally injured supersport drivers in 2006 were under age 30.

Fatally injured motorcycle drivers by age and motorcycle type, 2006
  <30 30-39 40-49 50+ Total*
Num % Num % Num % Num % Num
Cruiser/standard 170 11 294 19 524 34 550 36 1,538
Touring 11 2 54 10 181 33 301 55 548
Sport/unclad sport 213 46 138 30 75 16 36 8 462
Supersport 861 69 308 25 71 6 13 1 1,254
Off-road 29 64 12 27 4 9 0 0 45
Other/unknown 123 23 111 21 133 25 172 32 539
Total 1,407 32 917 21 988 23 1,072 24 4,386
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

Seventy percent of fatally injured supersport drivers and 68 percent of sport/unclad sport drivers were helmeted in 2006.  Only 51 percent of fatally injured drivers of cruisers and standards were helmeted.

Helmet use of fatally injured motorcycle drivers by motorcycle type, 2006
  No helmet Helmet Unknown Total
Num % Num % Num % Num
Cruiser/standard 718 47 780 51 40 3 1,538
Touring 238 43 295 54 15 3 548
Sport/unclad sport 136 29 316 68 10 2 462
Supersport 339 27 883 70 32 3 1,254
Off-road 32 71 11 24 2 4 45
Other 33 38 50 57 4 5 87
Unknown 227 50 203 45 22 5 452
Total 1,723 39 2,538 58 125 3 4,386

When and where they died

Seventy percent of motorcyclist deaths in 2006 occurred during the six months of April-September. Fatalities peaked during July and were lowest during December-February.

Motorcyclist deaths by month, 2006
Month Deaths %
January 177 4
February 156 3
March 278 6
April 457 10
May 553 12
June 569 12
July 628 13
August 574 12
September 524 11
October 333 7
November 280 6
December 168 4
Total 4,697 100

Fifty-eight percent of motorcyclist deaths in 2006 occurred during Friday-Sunday.

Motorcyclist deaths by day of week, 2006
Day of Week Deaths %
Sunday 1,004 21
Monday 451 10
Tuesday 450 10
Wednesday 518 11
Thursday 547 12
Friday 705 15
Saturday 1,022 22
Total* 4,697 100
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

Forty-two percent of motorcyclist deaths in 2006 occurred between 3pm and 9pm. Another 28 percent occurred between 9pm and 6am.

Motorcyclist deaths by time of day, 2006
Time of Day Deaths %
midnight - 3am 477 10
3am - 6am 153 3
6am - 9am 250 5
9am - noon 376 8
noon - 3pm 768 16
3pm - 6pm 984 21
6pm - 9pm 980 21
9pm - midnight 683 15
Total* 4,697 100
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

More than half of motorcyclist deaths in 2006 occurred on major roads other than interstates and freeways.

Motorcyclist deaths by location of crash, 2006
Road Type Urban Rural Total*
Num % Num % Num %
Interstates and freeways 435 9 104 2 539 11
Other major roads 1,192 25 1,448 31 2,640 56
Minor roads 789 17 607 13 1,396 30
Total* 2,427 52 2,190 47 4,697 100
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

Alcohol involvement

Twenty-seven percent of fatally injured motorcycle drivers in 2006 had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) 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, 2006
Crash type Deaths Estimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.08 Estimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.15
Num Num % Num %
Single-vehicle 1,921 779 41 489 25
Multiple-vehicle 2,459 415 17 223 9
All Crashes* 4,386 1,196 27 712 16
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

Fifty-two percent of motorcycle drivers killed at night (9pm - 6am) in 2006 had BACs at or above 0.08 percent.

Estimated number and percent of fatally injured motorcycle drivers with high BACs by time of day, 2006
Time of day Deaths Estimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.08 Estimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.15
Num Num % Num %
Nighttime (9pm - 6am) 1,215 634 52 393 32
Other times 3,171 562 18 319 10
Total 4,386 1,196 27 712 16

References