Motorcycles | 2008

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 2007, the number of deaths on motorcycles was about 37 times the number in cars. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. 2009. Traffic safety facts, 2008. 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 During the past decade several states have repealed or weakened their helmet laws.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. Preusser, D.F.; Hedlund, J.H.; and Ulmer, R.G. 2000. Evaluation of motorcycle helmet law repeal in Arkansas and Texas. Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. 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 5,091 motorcyclists died in crashes in 2008. 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 14 percent of all motor vehicle crash deaths in 2008. More motorcyclists were killed in crashes in 2008 than in any year since the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began collecting fatal crash data in 1975. In contrast, at 25,428, fewer passenger vehicle occupants died in crashes in 2008 than in any year in this time period.

Passenger vehicle occupant deaths and motorcyclist deaths, 1975-2008

Passenger vehicle occupant and motorcyclist deaths as a percentage of all motor vehicle crash deaths, 1975-2008
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
198034,996684,9551051,091
198133,711684,7371049,301
198229,656674,2671043,945
198329,154684,0991042,589
198430,093684,4251044,257
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
199430,820762,215540,716
199531,913762,138541,817
199632,354772,077542,065
199732,343772,056542,013
199831,781772,227541,501
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
200630,628724,6991142,708
200729,155715,0501241,259
200825,428685,0911437,261

In 2008, fatally injured motorcycle drivers were less likely to be operating without a valid license than in 1999 (24 percent vs. 27 percent), but this was still higher than among fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers (15 percent).

Passenger vehicle and motorcycle driver deaths by license status, 1999-2008
YearPassenger vehicle driversMotorcycle drivers
No valid licenseValid licenseTotal*No valid licenseValid licenseTotal*
Num%Num%NumNum%Num%Num
19992,9311318,7648621,899611271,592722,223
20003,1271518,4548521,819730271,841712,591
20012,9771318,6288521,862799272,064722,886
20023,2791519,0328422,537763252,167732,952
20033,1231418,8638522,200837252,504753,358
20043,0241418,7268521,952866242,702753,593
20053,1541518,5728521,9531,002243,116754,142
20063,4231617,9418321,5921,134263,219734,387
20073,2061517,1428320,5421,239263,461734,740
20082,6881515,3228418,2011,181243,547744,763
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

Forty-six percent of motorcyclist deaths in 2008 occurred in single-vehicle crashes, and 54 percent occurred in multiple-vehicle crashes.

Motorcyclist deaths by crash type, 2008
Crash typeDeaths%
Single-vehicle2,32046
Multiple-vehicle2,76754
All crashes*5,091100
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

In 2008, 58 percent of fatally injured motorcycle drivers were helmeted. Helmet use was lower, at 49 percent, for people killed as passengers on motorcycles.

Helmet use of fatally injured motorcycle drivers and passengers, 2008
 No helmetHelmetUnknownTotal
Num%Num%Num%Num
Driver1,866392,7675813034,763
Passenger162501584952325
Total*2,030402,9265713535,091
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

In 2008, 86 percent of fatally injured motorcyclists were helmeted in states with helmet laws that cover all riders, in contrast to only 24 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, 2008
 No helmetHelmetUnknownTotal
Num%Num%Num%Num
No law15272512473210
Partial law1,606591,017379032,713
Universal law272131,858863822,168
Total2,030402,9265713535,091

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 50 percent in 2008.

Motorcyclist deaths by age, 1975-2008

Motorcyclist deaths by age, 1975-2008
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
20061,49532984211,085231,134244,699
20071,547311,033201,148231,317265,050
20081,57331961191,126221,429285,091
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

Ninety-one percent of motorcyclists killed in 2008 were males.

Motorcyclist deaths by age and gender, 2008
AgeMaleFemaleTotal*
Num%Num%Num
< 16238831226
16-19183882311207
20-2471295405752
25-2955394356588
30-3444993327481
35-3944492368480
40-44472877113543
45-49506877713583
50-54479877113550
55-5934993267375
60-6936993277396
≥ 701019476108
Total*4,6429144895,091
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

Sixty-four percent of the females who died in motorcycle crashes in 2008 were passengers, and their deaths represented 89 percent of the passenger deaths. Ninety-nine percent of the males who died were drivers.

Motorcyclist deaths by person type and gender, 2008
Person typeMaleFemale
Num%Num%
Driver4,6029916036
Passenger37128864
Total*4,642100448100
*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 2008, 26 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, 1985-2008

Motorcycle driver deaths by motorcycle engine size, 1985-2008
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
20062,17950860201,014234,387
20072,39551917191,117244,740
20082,29548866181,227264,763
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

Among the motorcycles whose drivers were killed in 2008, 81 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, 2008
 0-1,000 cc1,001-1,400 cc> 1,400 ccTotal *
Num%Num%Num%Num
Cruiser/standard4672850930694411,692
Touring411161853081651
Sport-touring31124860028
Sport/unclad Sport266571633500467
Supersport1,31098101001,342
Off-road5493000058
Other/unknown1913644831525
Total2,29548866181,227264,763
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

Seventy-three percent of fatally injured drivers of cruisers or standards in 2008 were at least 40 years old, compared with 87 percent of touring bike drivers. In contrast, 68 percent of fatally injured supersport drivers in 2008 were younger than 30.

Fatally injured motorcycle drivers by age and motorcycle type, 2008
 < 3030-3940-4950+Total *
Num%Num%Num%Num%Num
Cruiser/standard177102841755133679401,692
Touring2745581792739060651
Sport-touring00311725186428
Sport/unclad Sport20243144318618357467
Supersport91668310239672011,342
Off-road42721017353558
Other/unknown10320105201232319337525
Total1,46731911191,045221,338284,763
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

At 86 percent, helmet use was highest among fatally injured drivers of sport-touring motorcycles in 2008. Seventy-two percent of fatally injured supersport drivers and 74 percent of sport/unclad sport drivers were helmeted in 2008. Forty-nine percent of fatally injured drivers of cruisers and standards were helmeted.

Helmet use of fatally injured motorcycle drivers by motorcycle type, 2008
 No helmetHelmetUnknownTotal
Num%Num%Num%Num
Cruiser/standard80948834494931,692
Touring3154831849183651
Sport-touring41424860028
Sport/unclad Sport1082334474153467
Supersport34326965723431,342
Off-road386620340058
Other4535836411129
Unknown2045217945133396
Total1,866392,7675813034,763

When and where they died

Forty percent of motorcyclist deaths in 2008 occurred during June-August, compared to only 9 percent during December-February.

Motorcyclist deaths by month, 2008
MonthDeaths%
January1363
February1783
March2745
April4659
May56911
June66613
July67813
August70814
September54811
October4599
November2605
December1503
Total5,091100

Forty-two percent of motorcyclist deaths in 2008 occurred on Saturday or Sunday.

Motorcyclist deaths by day of week, 2008
Day of weekDeaths%
Sunday1,03120
Monday51810
Tuesday51810
Wednesday53010
Thursday60712
Friday74715
Saturday1,13922
Total*5,091100
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

Forty-two percent of motorcyclist deaths in 2008 occurred between 3 pm and 9 pm.

Motorcyclist deaths by time of day, 2008
Time of dayDeaths%
Midnight-3am50210
3am-6am1934
6am-9am2475
9am-noon4308
Noon-3pm79216
3pm-6pm1,12622
6pm-9pm1,00520
9pm-midnight75915
Total*5,091100
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

More than half of motorcyclist deaths in 2008 occurred on major roads other than interstates and freeways.

Motorcyclist deaths by location of crash, 2008
Road typeUrbanRuralTotal*
Num%Num%Num%
Interstates and freeways51110138364913
Other major roads1,172231,665332,83756
Minor roads80416739151,54330
Total*2,492492,550505,091100
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

Alcohol involvement

Thirty percent of fatally injured motorcycle drivers in 2008 had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) at or above 0.08 percent; among single-vehicle crashes this was 43 percent.

Estimated number and percent of fatally injured motorcycle drivers with high BACs by crash type, 2008
Crash typeDeathsEstimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.08Estimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.15
NumNum%Num%
Single-vehicle2,1699384362429
Multiple-vehicle2,5904991927511
All crashes*4,7631,4393090019
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

Fifty-eight percent of motorcycle drivers killed at night (9pm - 6am) in 2008 had BACs at or above 0.08 percent.

Estimated number and percent of fatally injured motorcycle drivers with high BACs by time of day, 2008
Time of dayDeathsEstimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.08Estimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.15
NumNum%Num%
Nighttime (9pm-6am)1,3547875851638
Other times3,4096521938411
Total4,7631,4393090019

References