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 During the past decade several states have repealed or weakened their helmet laws.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
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
200825,547685,1121437,423
200923,437694,2811333,808

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
YearPassenger vehicle driversMotorcycle drivers
No valid licenseValid licenseTotal*No valid licenseValid licenseTotal*
Num%Num%NumNum%Num%Num
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
20082,7021515,3998418,2661,190243,561744,782
20092,3911414,2478516,791881223,073773,982
*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 typeDeaths%
Single-vehicle1,91345
Multiple-vehicle2,36655
All crashes*4,281100
*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 helmetHelmetUnknownTotal
Num%Num%Num%Num%
Driver1,640412,2405610233,982100
Passenger166561264272299100
Total*1,806422,3665510934,281100
*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 helmetHelmetUnknownTotal
Num%Num%Num%Num
No law15177392053195
Partial law1,42662801356632,293
Universal law229131,526853821,793
Total1,806422,3665510934,281

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≤ 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
20081,58031964191,135221,431285,112
20091,1342683119980231,333314,281
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

Ninety percent of motorcyclists killed in 2009 were males.

Motorcyclist deaths by age and gender, 2009
AgeMaleFemaleTotal*
Num%Num%Num
< 16137642417
16-19108861714125
20-2447691469522
25-2944895225470
30-3434893287376
35-39405895011455
40-44401866614467
45-49453886012513
50-54445895511500
55-59346903710383
60-6934694246370
≥ 7075945680
Total*3,86590416104,281
*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 typeMaleFemale
Num%Num%
Driver3,8369914635
Passenger29127065
Total*3,865100416100
*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
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
20082,31948874181,238264,782
20091,79845733181,136293,982
*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 cc1,001-1,400 cc> 1,400 ccTotal *
Num%Num%Num%Num
Cruiser/standard3802642429645441,463
Touring2<1871548584574
Sport-touring62219700027
Sport/unclad sport235591363400398
Supersport9509622200989
Off-road5598000056
Other/unknown1703645961475
Total1,79845733181,136293,982
*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
 < 3030-3940-4950+Total *
Num%Num%Num%Num%Num
Cruiser/standard142102341644630641441,463
Touring924481492637265574
Sport-touring14271141134827
Sport/unclad sport16642120307719359398
Supersport6066126827838323989
Off-road366411208141256
Other/unknown932093201252616435475
Total1,0532677219899231,258323,982
*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 helmetHelmetUnknownTotal
Num%Num%Num%Num
Cruiser/standard73850683474231,463
Touring2794927949163574
Sport-touring62221780027
Sport/unclad sport972428973123398
Supersport2472572473182989
Off-road468210180056
Other3229787022112
Unknown1955415643123363
Total1,640412,2405610233,982

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
MonthDeaths%
January1263
February1924
March2686
April42310
May53212
June52412
July55913
August55413
September46111
October2897
November2566
December972
Total4,281100

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 timesTotal
Num%Num%
Midnight-3am237111707407
3am-6am754713146
6am-9am5531688223
9am-noon17682009376
Noon-3pm3331636516698
3pm-6pm4061948823894
6pm-9pm5192437417893
9pm-midnight3451627412619
Total*2,1531002,1281004,281
*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 typeUrbanRuralTotal*
Num%Num%Num%
Interstates and freeways44610118356413
Other major roads981231,369322,35055
Minor roads69516618141,31331
Total*2,130502,123504,281100
*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 typeDeathsEstimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.08Estimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.15
NumNum%Num%
Single-vehicle1,7917444246526
Multiple-vehicle2,1894382025412
All crashes*3,9821,1843072018
*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 dayDeathsEstimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.08Estimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.15
NumNum%Num%
Nighttime (9pm-6am)1,0875885437434
Other times2,8955952134612
Total3,9821,1843072018


References