Helmets and antilock brakes make riding less dangerous.
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 During the past decade several states have repealed or weakened their helmet laws.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).
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
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).
Forty-five percent of motorcyclist deaths in 2009 occurred in single-vehicle crashes, and 55 percent occurred in multiple-vehicle crashes.
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.
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.
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
Ninety percent of motorcyclists killed in 2009 were males.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Fifty percent of motorcyclist deaths in 2009 occurred on weekends, and those were more likely to occur after 6pm compared to weekdays.
More than half of motorcyclist deaths in 2009 occurred on major roads other than interstates and freeways.
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.
Fifty-four percent of motorcycle drivers killed at night (9pm-6am) in 2009 had BACs at or above 0.08 percent.
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