Motorcycles | 2009

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.[ Error ] 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 During the past decade several states have repealed or weakened their helmet laws. 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. [ Error ] 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 4,281 motorcyclists died in crashes in 2009. Motorcyclist deaths had been declining since the early 1980s but began to increase in 1998 and continued to increase through 2008. Motorcyclist deaths decreased by 16 percent in 2009 compared to 2008, but still accounted for 13 percent of all motor vehicle crash deaths in 2009. In contrast, at 23,437, fewer passenger vehicle occupants died in crashes in 2009 than in any year since the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began collecting fatal crash data in 1975.

Passenger vehicle occupant deaths and motorcyclist deaths, 1975-2009

Passenger vehicle occupant and motorcyclist deaths as a percentage of all motor vehicle crash deaths, 1975-2009
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 25,547 68 5,112 14 37,423
2009 23,437 69 4,281 13 33,808

In 2009, fatally injured motorcycle drivers were less likely to be operating without a valid driver's license than in 2000 (22 percent vs. 27 percent). However, the rate of unlicensed fatally injured motorcycle drivers in 2009 was still higher than the rate of unlicensed fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers (14 percent).

Passenger vehicle and motorcycle driver deaths by driver's license status, 2000-2009
Year Passenger vehicle drivers Motorcycle drivers
No valid license Valid license Total* No valid license Valid license Total*
Num % Num % Num Num % Num % Num
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 2,702 15 15,399 84 18,266 1,190 24 3,561 74 4,782
2009 2,391 14 14,247 85 16,791 881 22 3,073 77 3,982
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

Forty-five percent of motorcyclist deaths in 2009 occurred in single-vehicle crashes, and 55 percent occurred in multiple-vehicle crashes.

Motorcyclist deaths by crash type, 2009
Crash type Deaths %
Single-vehicle 1,913 45
Multiple-vehicle 2,366 55
All crashes* 4,281 100
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

In 2009, 56 percent of fatally injured motorcycle drivers were helmeted. Helmet use was lower, at 42 percent, for people killed as passengers on motorcycles.

Helmet use of fatally injured motorcycle drivers and passengers, 2009
  No helmet Helmet Unknown Total
Num % Num % Num % Num %
Driver 1,640 41 2,240 56 102 3 3,982 100
Passenger 166 56 126 42 7 2 299 100
Total* 1,806 42 2,366 55 109 3 4,281 100
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

In 2009, 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, 2009
  No helmet Helmet Unknown Total
Num % Num % Num % Num
No law 151 77 39 20 5 3 195
Partial law 1,426 62 801 35 66 3 2,293
Universal law 229 13 1,526 85 38 2 1,793
Total 1,806 42 2,366 55 109 3 4,281

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 54 percent in 2009.

Percentage of motorcyclist deaths by age, 1975-2009

Motorcyclist deaths by age, 1975-2009
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 1,580 31 964 19 1,135 22 1,431 28 5,112
2009 1,134 26 831 19 980 23 1,333 31 4,281
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

Ninety percent of motorcyclists killed in 2009 were males.

Motorcyclist deaths by age and gender, 2009
Age Male Female Total*
Num % Num % Num
< 16 13 76 4 24 17
16-19 108 86 17 14 125
20-24 476 91 46 9 522
25-29 448 95 22 5 470
30-34 348 93 28 7 376
35-39 405 89 50 11 455
40-44 401 86 66 14 467
45-49 453 88 60 12 513
50-54 445 89 55 11 500
55-59 346 90 37 10 383
60-69 346 94 24 6 370
≥ 70 75 94 5 6 80
Total* 3,865 90 416 10 4,281
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

Sixty-five percent of the females who died in motorcycle crashes in 2009 were passengers, and their deaths represented 90 percent of the passenger deaths. Ninety-nine percent of the males who died were drivers.

Motorcyclist deaths by person type and gender, 2009
Person type Male Female
Num % Num %
Driver 3,836 99 146 35
Passenger 29 1 270 65
Total* 3,865 100 416 100
*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 2009, 29 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, 1985-2009

Motorcycle driver deaths by motorcycle engine size, 1985-2009
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 2,319 48 874 18 1,238 26 4,782
2009 1,798 45 733 18 1,136 29 3,982
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

Among the motorcycles whose drivers were killed in 2009, 84 percent of touring bikes had engines larger than 1,400 cc, while 98 percent of off-road bikes and 96 percent of supersport bikes had engines of sizes 1,000 cc or smaller.

Fatally injured motorcycle drivers by motorcycle type and engine size, 2009
  0-1,000 cc 1,001-1,400 cc > 1,400 cc Total *
Num % Num % Num % Num
Cruiser/standard 380 26 424 29 645 44 1,463
Touring 2 <1 87 15 485 84 574
Sport-touring 6 22 19 70 0 0 27
Sport/unclad sport 235 59 136 34 0 0 398
Supersport 950 96 22 2 0 0 989
Off-road 55 98 0 0 0 0 56
Other/unknown 170 36 45 9 6 1 475
Total 1,798 45 733 18 1,136 29 3,982
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

Seventy-four percent of fatally injured drivers of cruisers or standards in 2009 were at least 40 years old, compared with 91 percent of touring bike drivers. In contrast, 64 percent of off-road bike drivers and 61 percent of fatally injured supersport drivers in 2009 were younger than 30.

Fatally injured motorcycle drivers by age and motorcycle type, 2009
  < 30 30-39 40-49 50+ Total *
Num % Num % Num % Num % Num
Cruiser/standard 142 10 234 16 446 30 641 44 1,463
Touring 9 2 44 8 149 26 372 65 574
Sport-touring 1 4 2 7 11 41 13 48 27
Sport/unclad sport 166 42 120 30 77 19 35 9 398
Supersport 606 61 268 27 83 8 32 3 989
Off-road 36 64 11 20 8 14 1 2 56
Other/unknown 93 20 93 20 125 26 164 35 475
Total 1,053 26 772 19 899 23 1,258 32 3,982
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

At 78 percent, helmet use was highest among fatally injured drivers of sport-touring motorcycles in 2009. Seventy-three percent of fatally injured supersport drivers and sport/unclad sport drivers were helmeted in 2009. About half of fatally injured drivers of touring motorcycles and of cruisers or standards were helmeted.

Helmet use of fatally injured motorcycle drivers by motorcycle type, 2009
  No helmet Helmet Unknown Total
Num % Num % Num % Num
Cruiser/standard 738 50 683 47 42 3 1,463
Touring 279 49 279 49 16 3 574
Sport-touring 6 22 21 78 0 0 27
Sport/unclad sport 97 24 289 73 12 3 398
Supersport 247 25 724 73 18 2 989
Off-road 46 82 10 18 0 0 56
Other 32 29 78 70 2 2 112
Unknown 195 54 156 43 12 3 363
Total 1,640 41 2,240 56 102 3 3,982

When and where they died

Seventy-one percent of motorcyclist deaths in 2009 occurred during the six months of April-September. Fatalities peaked during July and August and were lowest during December-February.

Motorcyclist deaths by month, 2009
Month Deaths %
January 126 3
February 192 4
March 268 6
April 423 10
May 532 12
June 524 12
July 559 13
August 554 13
September 461 11
October 289 7
November 256 6
December 97 2
Total 4,281 100

Fifty percent of motorcyclist deaths in 2009 occurred on weekends, and those were more likely to occur after 6pm compared to weekdays.

Motorcyclist deaths by time of day, 2009
  Weekend (6pm Friday-6am Monday) Other times Total
Num % Num %
Midnight-3am 237 11 170 7 407
3am-6am 75 4 71 3 146
6am-9am 55 3 168 8 223
9am-noon 176 8 200 9 376
Noon-3pm 333 16 365 16 698
3pm-6pm 406 19 488 23 894
6pm-9pm 519 24 374 17 893
9pm-midnight 345 16 274 12 619
Total* 2,153 100 2,128 100 4,281
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

More than half of motorcyclist deaths in 2009 occurred on major roads other than interstates and freeways.

Motorcyclist deaths by location of crash, 2009
Road type Urban Rural Total*
Num % Num % Num %
Interstates and freeways 446 10 118 3 564 13
Other major roads 981 23 1,369 32 2,350 55
Minor roads 695 16 618 14 1,313 31
Total* 2,130 50 2,123 50 4,281 100
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

Alcohol involvement

Thirty percent of fatally injured motorcycle drivers in 2009 had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) at or above 0.08 percent; in single-vehicle crashes this was 42 percent.

Estimated number and percent of fatally injured motorcycle drivers with high BACs by crash type, 2009
Crash type Deaths Estimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.08 Estimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.15
Num Num % Num %
Single-vehicle 1,791 744 42 465 26
Multiple-vehicle 2,189 438 20 254 12
All crashes* 3,982 1,184 30 720 18
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

Fifty-four percent of motorcycle drivers killed at night (9pm-6am) in 2009 had BACs at or above 0.08 percent.

Estimated number and percent of fatally injured motorcycle drivers with high BACs by time of day, 2009
Time of day Deaths Estimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.08 Estimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.15
Num Num % Num %
Nighttime (9pm-6am) 1,087 588 54 374 34
Other times 2,895 595 21 346 12
Total 3,982 1,184 30 720 18


References