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 During the past decade several states have repealed or weakened their helmet laws.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
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
200531,455724,4601043,510
200630,476714,6971142,642

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
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
20053,1541521,9531,002244,142
20063,3851621,4971,120264,386
*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 typeDeaths%
Single-vehicle2,04944
Multiple-vehicle2,64256
All crashes*4,697100
*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 helmetHelmetUnknownTotal
Num%Num%Num%Num
Driver1,723392,5385812534,386
Passenger1665313443114311
Total1,889402,6725713634,697

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 helmetHelmetUnknownTotal
Num%Num%Num%Num
No law16278412063209
Partial law1,47161846358132,398
Universal law256121,785854922,090
Total1,889402,6725713634,697

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≤2930-3940-49≥50Total*
Num%Num%Num%Num%Num
19752,475804191312947933,106
19762,565794261314249733,232
19773,2118052913147411234,004
19783,5578060314177410424,448
19793,6277772915212413834,712
19803,6417389618265514934,955
19813,4877484018255514634,737
19823,0827279019247613834,267
19832,9597276519234613534,099
19843,1717281318263616544,425
19853,1607284919238516344,415
19863,0347087720257613134,309
19872,5886883122275713843,832
19882,3096675722278814643,491
19891,8736273524283913643,030
19901,8856080526265817363,128
19911,58058711262831012752,702
19921,24254638282681214362,291
19931,22952647283241414562,346
19941,12151584263381517182,215
19951,05749562263471617282,138
199693245541264082019692,077
1997837415472739619276132,056
1998897405992746521265122,227
1999878366012556423376162,419
2000986356962566624476172,829
20011,108357892571523509163,123
20021,022327672475824638203,187
20031,161328292388724763213,641
20041,256328532294624849223,904
20051,40532963221,003221,088244,460
20061,49632986211,081231,132244,697
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

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

Motorcyclist deaths by age and gender, 2006
AgeMaleFemaleTotal*
Num%Num%Num
<16187852223
16-19168882412192
20-2469695375733
25-2952095285548
30-3443692388474
35-39461905110512
40-44450867414524
45-49494896311557
50-54418904610464
55-5933892298367
60-6922494156239
≥7060972362
Total*4,2859141294,697
*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 typeMaleFemale
Num%Num%
Driver4,2469914034
Passenger39127266
Total*4,285100412100
*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
Year0-1,000 cc1,001-1,400 cc>1,400 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
20052,0695092822861214,142
20062,08548828191,010234,386
*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 cc1,001-1,400 cc>1,400 ccTotal*
Num%Num%Num%Num
Cruiser/standard4322850233586381,538
Touring1<11252342077548
Sport/unclad sport262571643500462
Supersport1,21597202001,254
Off-road4396000045
Other/unknown1322417341539
Total2,08548828191,010234,386
*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/standardTouringSport/unclad sportSupersportOff-roadOther/unknownTotal
Num%Num%Num%Num%Num%Num%Num
19975593016492001135219221581311,878
19986293116882081040120312589292,026
19997163220392291048622352554252,223
200089735250102821155121361575222,591
200197134292103391268524431556192,886
20021,01334365123231168023421529182,952
20031,19235394123991282124562496153,358
20041,24135439124491291425752475133,593
20051,5153751412463111,07326601517124,142
20061,5383554812462111,25429451539124,386

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
 <3030-3940-4950+Total*
Num%Num%Num%Num%Num
Cruiser/standard170112941952434550361,538
Touring11254101813330155548
Sport/unclad sport21346138307516368462
Supersport86169308257161311,254
Off-road29641227490045
Other/unknown12323111211332517232539
Total1,4073291721988231,072244,386
*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 helmetHelmetUnknownTotal
Num%Num%Num%Num
Cruiser/standard71847780514031,538
Touring2384329554153548
Sport/unclad sport1362931668102462
Supersport33927883703231,254
Off-road327111242445
Other333850574587
Unknown2275020345225452
Total1,723392,5385812534,386

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
MonthDeaths%
January1774
February1563
March2786
April45710
May55312
June56912
July62813
August57412
September52411
October3337
November2806
December1684
Total4,697100

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

Motorcyclist deaths by day of week, 2006
Day of WeekDeaths%
Sunday1,00421
Monday45110
Tuesday45010
Wednesday51811
Thursday54712
Friday70515
Saturday1,02222
Total*4,697100
*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 DayDeaths%
midnight - 3am47710
3am - 6am1533
6am - 9am2505
9am - noon3768
noon - 3pm76816
3pm - 6pm98421
6pm - 9pm98021
9pm - midnight68315
Total*4,697100
*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 TypeUrbanRuralTotal*
Num%Num%Num%
Interstates and freeways4359104253911
Other major roads1,192251,448312,64056
Minor roads78917607131,39630
Total*2,427522,190474,697100
*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 typeDeathsEstimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.08Estimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.15
NumNum%Num%
Single-vehicle1,9217794148925
Multiple-vehicle2,459415172239
All Crashes*4,3861,1962771216
*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 dayDeathsEstimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.08Estimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.15
NumNum%Num%
Nighttime (9pm - 6am)1,2156345239332
Other times3,1715621831910
Total4,3861,1962771216

References