Motorcycles | 2007

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 2006, the Numberber of deaths on motorcycles was about 35 times the Numberber in cars. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. 2008. Traffic safety facts, 2007. Washington, DC: US Department of Transportation.

Because serious head injury is common among fatally injured motorcyclists, helmet use is important. Helmets are about 37 percent effective in preventing motorcycle deaths Deutermann, W. 2004. Motorcycle helmet effectiveness revisited. Report no. DOT HS-809-715 Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. and about 67 percent effective in preventing brain injuries. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. 1996. The Crash Outcome Data Evaluation System (CODES): Technical Report. Report no. DOT HS-808-338. 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 During the past decade several states have repealed or weakened their helmet laws.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: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. 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: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

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 5,037 motorcyclists died in crashes in 2007. 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 12 percent of all motor vehicle crash deaths in 2007. More motorcyclists were killed in crashes in 2007 than in any year since the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began collecting FARS data in 1975. In contrast, at 28,896, fewer passenger vehicle occupants died in crashes in 2007 than in any year in this time period.

Passenger vehicle occupant deaths and motorcyclist deaths, 1975-2007

Passenger vehicle occupant and motorcyclist deaths as a percentage of all motor vehicle crash deaths, 1975-2007
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 30,628 72 4,699 11 42,708
2007 28,896 70 5,037 12 41,059

In 2007, fatally injured motorcyclists were less likely to be operating without a valid license than in 1998 (26 percent vs. 31 percent), but this is still higher than among fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers (15 percent).

Passenger vehicle and motorcycle driver deaths by license status, 1998-2007
Year Passenger vehicle drivers Motorcycle drivers
No valid license Valid license Total* No valid license Valid license Total*
Num % Num % Num Num % Num % Num
1998 2,942 13 18,543 86 21,627 649 31 1,360 67 2,026
1999 2,931 13 18,764 86 21,899 611 27 1,592 72 2,223
2000 3,127 15 18,454 85 21,819 730 27 1,841 71 2,591
2001 2,977 13 18,628 85 21,862 799 27 2,064 72 2,886
2002 3,279 15 19,032 84 22,537 763 25 2,167 73 2,952
2003 3,123 14 18,863 85 22,200 837 25 2,504 75 3,358
2004 3,024 14 18,726 85 21,952 866 24 2,702 75 3,593
2005 3,154 15 18,572 85 21,953 1,002 24 3,116 75 4,142
2006 3,423 16 17,941 83 21,592 1,134 26 3,219 73 4,387
2007 3,180 15 16,975 83 20,381 1,232 26 3,442 73 4,727
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

Forty-four percent of motorcyclist deaths in 2007 occurred in single-vehicle crashes, and 56 percent occurred in multiple-vehicle crashes.

Motorcyclist deaths by crash type, 2007
Crash type Deaths %
Single-vehicle 2,218 44
Multiple-vehicle 2,817 56
All crashes* 5,037 100
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

In 2007, 58 percent of fatally injured motorcycle drivers were helmeted. Helmet use was lower, at 47 percent, for people killed as passengers on motorcycles.

Helmet use of fatally injured motorcycle drivers and passengers, 2007
  No helmet Helmet Unknown Total
Num % Num % Num % Num
Driver 1,855 39 2,749 58 123 3 4,727
Passenger 162 52 145 47 2 1 309
Total* 2,017 40 2,895 57 125 2 5,037
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

In 2007, 86 percent of fatally injured motorcyclists were helmeted in states with helmet laws that cover all riders, in contrast to only 19 percent in states with no helmet law. In states with helmet laws that cover only some riders, 37 percent of fatally injured motorcyclists were helmeted.

Helmet use of fatally injured motorcyclists by helmet law status, 2007
  No helmet Helmet Unknown Total
Num % Num % Num % Num
No law 189 78 46 19 7 3 242
Partial law 1,550 60 968 37 79 3 2,597
Universal law 278 13 1,881 86 39 2 2,198
Total 2,017 40 2,895 57 125 2 5,037

Age and gender

In the early 1980s the proportion of fatally injured motorcyclists 40 and older started to increase, rising from 9 percent of all rider deaths in 1982 to 15 percent in 1991 and 49 percent in 2007. However, the absolute number of motorcyclist deaths among all age groups has been climbing since 1999.

Motorcyclist deaths by age, 1975-2007

Motorcyclist deaths by age, 1975-2007
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 1,495 32 984 21 1,085 23 1,134 24 4,699
2007 1,543 31 1,030 20 1,141 23 1,318 26 5,037
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

Ninety-one percent of motorcyclists killed in 2007 were males.

Motorcyclist deaths by age and gender, 2007
Age Male Female Total*
Num % Num % Num
<16 23 79 6 21 29
16-19 188 90 20 10 208
20-24 685 95 38 5 723
25-29 547 94 36 6 583
30-34 443 92 37 8 480
35-39 510 93 40 7 550
40-44 488 87 74 13 562
45-49 514 89 65 11 579
50-54 459 88 60 12 519
55-59 356 91 36 9 392
60-69 311 93 23 7 334
≥ 70 67 92 6 8 73
Total* 4,593 91 444 9 5,037
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

Sixty-three percent of the females who died in motorcycle crashes in 2007 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 and gender, 2007
Person type Male Female
Num % Num %
Driver 4,564 99 163 37
Passenger 29 1 280 63
Total* 4,593 100 444 100
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

Motorcycle type and engine size

Engine sizes of motorcycles whose drivers were killed in crashes went up dramatically in the last few years. Among motorcycle drivers killed in 2007, 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, 1985-2007

Motorcycle driver deaths by motorcycle engine size, 1985-2007
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 2,179 50 860 20 1,014 23 4,387
2007 2,382 50 910 19 1,109 23 4,727
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

Among the motorcycles whose drivers were killed in 2007, 76 percent of touring bikes had engines larger than 1,400 cc, while 98 percent of supersport bikes had engines of sizes 1,000 cc or smaller.

Fatally injured motorcycle drivers by motorcycle type and engine size, 2007
  0-1,000 cc 1,001-1,400 cc >1,400 cc Total *
Num % Num % Num % Num
Cruiser/standard 465 28 521 31 659 40 1,659
Touring 4 1 136 23 447 76 588
Sport-touring 12 34 22 63 0 0 35
Sport/unclad Sport 317 62 167 33 0 0 510
Supersport 1,337 98 15 1 0 0 1,362
Off-road 62 95 0 0 0 0 65
Other/unknown 185 36 49 10 3 1 508
Total 2,382 50 910 19 1,109 23 4,727
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

Seventy-two percent of fatally injured drivers of cruisers or standards in 2007 were at least 40 years old, compared with 90 percent of touring bike drivers. Sixty-five percent of fatally injured supersport drivers in 2007 were younger than 30.

Fatally injured motorcycle drivers by age and motorcycle type, 2007
  <30 30-39 40-49 50+ Total *
Num % Num % Num % Num % Num
Cruiser/standard 172 10 295 18 552 33 640 39 1,659
Touring 12 2 48 8 182 31 346 59 588
Sport-touring 0 0 5 14 12 34 18 51 35
Sport/unclad Sport 229 45 166 33 77 15 38 7 510
Supersport 886 65 352 26 98 7 24 2 1,362
Off-road 48 74 9 14 7 11 1 2 65
Other/unknown 103 20 103 20 139 27 163 32 508
Total 1,450 31 978 21 1,067 23 1,230 26 4,727
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

At 89 percent, helmet use was highest among fatally injured drivers of sport-touring motorcycles in 2007. Seventy-four percent of fatally injured supersport drivers and 69 percent of sport/unclad sport drivers were helmeted in 2007. Forty-nine percent of fatally injured drivers of cruisers and standards were helmeted.

Helmet use of fatally injured motorcycle drivers by motorcycle type, 2007
  No helmet Helmet Unknown Total
Num % Num % Num % Num
Cruiser/standard 797 48 815 49 47 3 1,659
Touring 289 49 284 48 15 3 588
Sport-touring 4 11 31 89 0 0 35
Sport/unclad Sport 148 29 350 69 12 2 510
Supersport 328 24 1,006 74 28 2 1,362
Off-road 44 68 20 31 1 2 65
Other 35 36 58 60 3 3 96
Unknown 210 51 185 45 17 4 412
Total 1,855 39 2,749 58 123 3 4,727

When and where they died

Seventy percent of motorcyclist deaths in 2007 occurred during the six months of April-September. Fatalities peaked during May and July and were lowest during December-February.

Motorcyclist deaths by month, 2007
Month Deaths %
January 132 3
February 140 3
March 361 7
April 409 8
May 634 13
June 599 12
July 641 13
August 628 12
September 621 12
October 459 9
November 250 5
December 163 3
Total 5,037 100

Forty-four percent of motorcyclist deaths in 2007 occurred on Saturday or Sunday.

Motorcyclist deaths by day of week, 2007
Day of week Deaths %
Sunday 1,043 21
Monday 538 11
Tuesday 516 10
Wednesday 537 11
Thursday 555 11
Friday 688 14
Saturday 1,160 23
Total* 5,037 100
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

Forty-four percent of motorcyclist deaths in 2007 occurred between 3 pm and 9 pm.

Motorcyclist deaths by time of day, 2007
Time of day Deaths %
Midnight-3am 468 9
3am-6am 186 4
6am-9am 246 5
9am-noon 397 8
Noon-3pm 763 15
3pm-6pm 1,134 23
6pm-9pm 1,089 22
9pm-midnight 705 14
Total* 5,037 100
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

More than half of motorcyclist deaths in 2007 occurred on major roads other than interstates and freeways.

Motorcyclist deaths by location of crash, 2007
Road Type Urban Rural Total*
Num % Num % Num %
Interstates and freeways 474 9 121 2 595 12
Other major roads 1,227 24 1,556 31 2,783 55
Minor roads 773 15 771 15 1,544 31
Total* 2,477 49 2,459 49 5,037 100
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

Alcohol involvement

Twenty-eight percent of fatally injured motorcycle drivers in 2007 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, 2007
Crash type Deaths Estimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.08 Estimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.15
Num Num % Num %
Single-vehicle 2,087 861 41 576 28
Multiple-vehicle 2,638 474 18 257 10
All crashes* 4,727 1,335 28 833 18
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

Fifty-two percent of motorcycle drivers killed at night (9 pm - 6 am) in 2007 had BACs at or above 0.08 percent.

Estimated number and percent of fatally injured motorcycle drivers with high BACs by time of day, 2007
Time of day Deaths Estimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.08 Estimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.15
Num Num % Num %
Nighttime (9pm-6am) 1,262 654 52 430 34
Other times 3,465 681 20 403 12
Total 4,727 1,335 28 833 18

References