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 During the past decade several states have repealed or weakened their helmet laws.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
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 34,996 68 4,955 10 51,091
1981 33,711 68 4,737 10 49,301
1982 29,656 67 4,267 10 43,945
1983 29,154 68 4,099 10 42,589
1984 30,093 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 30,820 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 32,343 77 2,056 5 42,013
1998 31,781 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 29,155 71 5,050 12 41,259
2008 25,428 68 5,091 14 37,261

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
Year Passenger vehicle drivers Motorcycle drivers
No valid license Valid license Total* No valid license Valid license Total*
Num % Num % Num Num % Num % Num
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 3,206 15 17,142 83 20,542 1,239 26 3,461 73 4,740
2008 2,688 15 15,322 84 18,201 1,181 24 3,547 74 4,763
*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 type Deaths %
Single-vehicle 2,320 46
Multiple-vehicle 2,767 54
All crashes* 5,091 100
*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 helmet Helmet Unknown Total
Num % Num % Num % Num
Driver 1,866 39 2,767 58 130 3 4,763
Passenger 162 50 158 49 5 2 325
Total* 2,030 40 2,926 57 135 3 5,091
*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 helmet Helmet Unknown Total
Num % Num % Num % Num
No law 152 72 51 24 7 3 210
Partial law 1,606 59 1,017 37 90 3 2,713
Universal law 272 13 1,858 86 38 2 2,168
Total 2,030 40 2,926 57 135 3 5,091

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 ≤ 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 1,547 31 1,033 20 1,148 23 1,317 26 5,050
2008 1,573 31 961 19 1,126 22 1,429 28 5,091
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

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

Motorcyclist deaths by age and gender, 2008
Age Male Female Total*
Num % Num % Num
< 16 23 88 3 12 26
16-19 183 88 23 11 207
20-24 712 95 40 5 752
25-29 553 94 35 6 588
30-34 449 93 32 7 481
35-39 444 92 36 8 480
40-44 472 87 71 13 543
45-49 506 87 77 13 583
50-54 479 87 71 13 550
55-59 349 93 26 7 375
60-69 369 93 27 7 396
≥ 70 101 94 7 6 108
Total* 4,642 91 448 9 5,091
*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 type Male Female
Num % Num %
Driver 4,602 99 160 36
Passenger 37 1 288 64
Total* 4,642 100 448 100
*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 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
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 2,395 51 917 19 1,117 24 4,740
2008 2,295 48 866 18 1,227 26 4,763
*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 cc 1,001-1,400 cc > 1,400 cc Total *
Num % Num % Num % Num
Cruiser/standard 467 28 509 30 694 41 1,692
Touring 4 1 116 18 530 81 651
Sport-touring 3 11 24 86 0 0 28
Sport/unclad Sport 266 57 163 35 0 0 467
Supersport 1,310 98 10 1 0 0 1,342
Off-road 54 93 0 0 0 0 58
Other/unknown 191 36 44 8 3 1 525
Total 2,295 48 866 18 1,227 26 4,763
*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
  < 30 30-39 40-49 50+ Total *
Num % Num % Num % Num % Num
Cruiser/standard 177 10 284 17 551 33 679 40 1,692
Touring 27 4 55 8 179 27 390 60 651
Sport-touring 0 0 3 11 7 25 18 64 28
Sport/unclad Sport 202 43 144 31 86 18 35 7 467
Supersport 916 68 310 23 96 7 20 1 1,342
Off-road 42 72 10 17 3 5 3 5 58
Other/unknown 103 20 105 20 123 23 193 37 525
Total 1,467 31 911 19 1,045 22 1,338 28 4,763
*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 helmet Helmet Unknown Total
Num % Num % Num % Num
Cruiser/standard 809 48 834 49 49 3 1,692
Touring 315 48 318 49 18 3 651
Sport-touring 4 14 24 86 0 0 28
Sport/unclad Sport 108 23 344 74 15 3 467
Supersport 343 26 965 72 34 3 1,342
Off-road 38 66 20 34 0 0 58
Other 45 35 83 64 1 1 129
Unknown 204 52 179 45 13 3 396
Total 1,866 39 2,767 58 130 3 4,763

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
Month Deaths %
January 136 3
February 178 3
March 274 5
April 465 9
May 569 11
June 666 13
July 678 13
August 708 14
September 548 11
October 459 9
November 260 5
December 150 3
Total 5,091 100

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

Motorcyclist deaths by day of week, 2008
Day of week Deaths %
Sunday 1,031 20
Monday 518 10
Tuesday 518 10
Wednesday 530 10
Thursday 607 12
Friday 747 15
Saturday 1,139 22
Total* 5,091 100
*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 day Deaths %
Midnight-3am 502 10
3am-6am 193 4
6am-9am 247 5
9am-noon 430 8
Noon-3pm 792 16
3pm-6pm 1,126 22
6pm-9pm 1,005 20
9pm-midnight 759 15
Total* 5,091 100
*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 type Urban Rural Total*
Num % Num % Num %
Interstates and freeways 511 10 138 3 649 13
Other major roads 1,172 23 1,665 33 2,837 56
Minor roads 804 16 739 15 1,543 30
Total* 2,492 49 2,550 50 5,091 100
*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 type Deaths Estimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.08 Estimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.15
Num Num % Num %
Single-vehicle 2,169 938 43 624 29
Multiple-vehicle 2,590 499 19 275 11
All crashes* 4,763 1,439 30 900 19
*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 day Deaths Estimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.08 Estimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.15
Num Num % Num %
Nighttime (9pm-6am) 1,354 787 58 516 38
Other times 3,409 652 19 384 11
Total 4,763 1,439 30 900 19

References