Motorcycles | 2010

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 2010, the number of deaths on motorcycles was about 30 times the number in cars.   National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. 2012. Traffic safety facts, 2010: motorcycles. Report no. DOT HS-811-639. 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. 2008. Traffic safety facts, laws: motorcycle helmet use laws. Report no. DOT HS-810-887W. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Transportation.  Yet only 20 states and the District of Columbia mandate helmet use by all riders. 

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 4,309 motorcyclists died in crashes in 2010. 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 and increased slightly in 2010.  Motorcycle deaths accounted for 13 percent of all motor vehicle crash deaths in 2010 and were more than double the number of motorcyclist deaths in 1997. In contrast, at 22,263, fewer passenger vehicle occupants died in crashes in 2010 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, 1975-2010

Passenger vehicle occupant and motorcyclist deaths as a percentage of all motor vehicle crash deaths, 1975-2010
YearPassenger vehicle occupant deathsMotorcyclist deaths All motor vehicle deaths
Number%Number%Number%
1975 30,601 69 3,106 7 44,525 100
1976 31,724 70 3,232 7 45,523 100
1977 32,823 69 4,004 8 47,878 100
1978 34,923 69 4,448 9 50,331 100
1979 35,026 69 4,712 9 51,093 100
1980 34,996 68 4,955 10 51,091 100
1981 33,711 68 4,737 10 49,301 100
1982 29,656 67 4,267 10 43,945 100
1983 29,154 68 4,099 10 42,589 100
1984 30,094 68 4,425 10 44,257 100
1985 29,848 68 4,415 10 43,825 100
1986 32,224 70 4,309 9 46,087 100
1987 33,145 71 3,832 8 46,390 100
1988 34,105 72 3,491 7 47,087 100
1989 33,599 74 3,030 7 45,582 100
1990 32,711 73 3,128 7 44,599 100
1991 30,810 74 2,702 7 41,508 100
1992 29,457 75 2,291 6 39,250 100
1993 29,994 75 2,346 6 40,150 100
1994 30,820 76 2,215 5 40,716 100
1995 31,914 76 2,138 5 41,817 100
1996 32,354 77 2,077 5 42,065 100
1997 32,343 77 2,056 5 42,013 100
1998 31,781 77 2,227 5 41,501 100
1999 32,008 77 2,419 6 41,717 100
2000 32,109 77 2,829 7 41,945 100
2001 31,938 76 3,123 7 42,196 100
2002 32,724 76 3,187 7 43,005 100
2003 32,166 75 3,641 8 42,884 100
2004 31,750 74 3,904 9 42,836 100
2005 31,455 72 4,460 10 43,510 100
2006 30,628 72 4,699 11 42,708 100
2007 29,155 71 5,050 12 41,259 100
2008 25,547 68 5,112 14 37,423 100
2009 23,507 69 4,286 13 33,883 100
2010 22,263 68 4,309 13 32,885 100

In 2010, fatally injured motorcycle drivers were less likely to be operating without a valid driver's license than in 2001 (21 percent vs. 27 percent). However, the rate of unlicensed fatally injured motorcycle drivers in 2010 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, 2001-2010
YearPassenger vehicle driversMotorcycle drivers
No valid licenseValid license Total* No valid licenseValid license Total*
Number%Number%Number%Number%Number%Number%
2001 2,977 13 18,628 85 21,862 100 799 27 2,064 72 2,886 100
2002 3,279 15 19,032 84 22,537 100 763 25 2,167 73 2,952 100
2003 3,123 14 18,863 85 22,200 100 837 25 2,504 75 3,358 100
2004 3,024 14 18,726 85 21,952 100 866 24 2,702 75 3,593 100
2005 3,154 15 18,572 85 21,953 100 1,002 24 3,116 75 4,142 100
2006 3,423 16 17,941 83 21,592 100 1,134 26 3,219 73 4,387 100
2007 3,206 15 17,142 83 20,542 100 1,239 26 3,461 73 4,740 100
2008 2,702 15 15,399 84 18,266 100 1,190 24 3,561 74 4,782 100
2009 2,407 14 14,294 85 16,834 100 886 22 3,077 77 3,987 100
2010 2,261 14 13,629 85 15,982 100 865 21 3,114 78 4,007 100

Forty-five percent of motorcyclist deaths in 2010 occurred in single-vehicle crashes, and 55 percent occurred in multiple-vehicle crashes.  This has remained largely unchanged since the 1980s.

Motorcyclist deaths by crash type, 1975-2010
YearSingle-vehicle Multiple-vehicleAll crashes*
Deaths%Deaths%Deaths%
1975 1,137 37 1,963 63 3,106 100
1976 1,235 38 1,981 61 3,232 100
1977 1,564 39 2,424 61 4,004 100
1978 1,701 38 2,726 61 4,448 100
1979 1,888 40 2,811 60 4,712 100
1980 2,034 41 2,897 58 4,955 100
1981 1,926 41 2,789 59 4,737 100
1982 1,804 42 2,463 58 4,267 100
1983 1,787 44 2,312 56 4,099 100
1984 1,879 42 2,546 58 4,425 100
1985 1,889 43 2,526 57 4,415 100
1986 1,835 43 2,474 57 4,309 100
1987 1,603 42 2,229 58 3,832 100
1988 1,466 42 2,025 58 3,491 100
1989 1,348 44 1,682 56 3,030 100
1990 1,380 44 1,748 56 3,128 100
1991 1,215 45 1,487 55 2,702 100
1992 1,054 46 1,237 54 2,291 100
1993 997 42 1,349 58 2,346 100
1994 951 43 1,264 57 2,215 100
1995 900 42 1,238 58 2,138 100
1996 881 42 1,196 58 2,077 100
1997 882 43 1,174 57 2,056 100
1998 993 45 1,234 55 2,227 100
1999 1,084 45 1,335 55 2,419 100
2000 1,253 44 1,576 56 2,829 100
2001 1,402 45 1,721 55 3,123 100
2002 1,475 46 1,712 54 3,187 100
2003 1,555 43 2,086 57 3,641 100
2004 1,718 44 2,186 56 3,904 100
2005 1,940 43 2,515 56 4,460 100
2006 2,049 44 2,644 56 4,699 100
2007 2,224 44 2,824 56 5,050 100
2008 2,331 46 2,777 54 5,112 100
2009 1,920 45 2,364 55 4,286 100
2010 1,949 45 2,360 55 4,309 100

Age and gender

In the early 1980s the proportion of fatally injured motorcyclists 50 and older started to increase, rising from 3 percent of all rider deaths in 1982 to 13 percent in 1997 and 24 percent in 2010.

Percentage of motorcyclist deaths by age, 1975-2010

Motorcyclist deaths by age, 1975-2010
Year≤ 2930-39 40-49 ≥ 50Total*
Number%Number%Number%Number%Number%
19752,475 80 419 13 129 4 79 33,106 100
19762,565 79 426 13 142 4 97 33,232 100
19773,211 80 529 13 147 4 112 34,004 100
19783,557 80 603 14 177 4 104 24,448 100
19793,627 77 729 15 212 4 138 34,712 100
19803,641 73 896 18 265 5 149 34,955 100
19813,487 74 840 18 255 5 146 34,737 100
19823,082 72 790 19 247 6 138 34,267 100
19832,959 72 765 19 234 6 135 34,099 100
19843,171 72 813 18 263 6 165 44,425 100
19853,160 72 849 19 238 5 163 44,415 100
19863,034 70 877 20 257 6 131 34,309 100
19872,588 68 831 22 275 7 138 43,832 100
19882,309 66 757 22 278 8 146 43,491 100
19891,873 62 735 24 283 9 136 43,030 100
19901,885 60 805 26 265 8 173 63,128 100
19911,580 58 711 26 283 10 127 52,702 100
19921,242 54 638 28 268 12 143 62,291 100
19931,229 52 647 28 324 14 145 62,346 100
19941,121 51 584 26 338 15 171 82,215 100
19951,057 49 562 26 347 16 172 82,138 100
1996 932 45 541 26 408 20 196 92,077 100
1997 837 41 547 27 396 19 276 132,056 100
1998 897 40 599 27 465 21 265 122,227 100
1999 878 36 601 25 564 23 376 162,419 100
2000 986 35 696 25 666 24 476 172,829 100
20011,108 35 789 25 715 23 509 163,123 100
20021,022 32 767 24 758 24 638 203,187 100
20031,161 32 829 23 887 24 763 213,641 100
20041,256 32 853 22 946 24 849 223,904 100
20051,405 32 963 221,003 221,088 244,460 100
20061,495 32 984 211,085 231,134 244,699 100
20071,547 311,033 201,148 231,317 265,050 100
20081,580 31 964 191,135 221,431 285,112 100
20091,139 27 830 19 983 231,332 314,286 100
20101,117 26 784 18 964 221,443 334,309 100

Ninety percent of motorcyclists killed in 2010 were males.

Motorcyclist deaths by age and gender, 2010
AgeMale FemaleTotal*
Number%Number%Number%
<16 17 89 2 11 19 100
16-19 110 89 14 11 124 100
20-24 466 93 34 7 500 100
25-29 442 93 32 7 474 100
30-34 341 92 29 8 370 100
35-39 377 91 37 9 414 100
40-44 387 84 73 16 460 100
45-49 445 88 59 12 504 100
50-54 448 88 61 12 509 100
55-59 351 90 39 10 390 100
60-69 391 92 32 8 423 100
≥70 113 93 8 7 121 100
Total* 3,889 90 420 10 4,309 100

Sixty-five percent of the females who died in motorcycle crashes in 2010 were passengers, and their deaths represented 91 percent of the passenger deaths. Ninety-nine percent of the males who died were drivers.

Motorcyclist deaths by person type and gender, 2010
Person typeMale Female
Number%Number%
Driver 3,861 99 146 35
Passenger 28 1 274 65
Total* 3,889 100 420 100

Helmet use

In 2010, 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, 2010
Helmet No helmetUnknown Total
Number%Number%Number%Number%
Driver 2,346 58 1,582 39 79 1 4,007 100
Passenger 147 49 149 49 6 2 302 100
Total* 2,493 58 1,731 40 85 1 4,309 100

In 2010, 90 percent of fatally injured motorcyclists were helmeted in states with helmet laws that cover all riders, in contrast to only 18 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, 2010
Helmet No helmetUnknown Total
Number%Number%Number%Number%
No law 39 18 173 80 5 2 217 100
Partial law 793 35 1,416 63 48 2 2,257 100
Universal law 1,661 90 142 8 32 1 1,835 100
Total 2,493 58 1,731 40 85 1 4,309 100

Motorcycle type and engine size

Engine sizes of motorcycles whose drivers were killed in crashes have gone up dramatically. Among motorcycle drivers killed in 2010, 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, 1985-2010

Motorcycle driver deaths by motorcycle engine size, 1985-2010
Year0-1,000 cc 1,001-1,400 cc> 1,400 cc Total*
Number%Number%Number%Number
1985 2,64968 61316 0 0 3,896
1986 2,73472 62016 0 0 3,790
1987 2,44172 60118 0 0 3,409
1988 2,14968 61520 6<1 3,139
1989 1,83168 53920 3<1 2,682
1990 1,89568 61922 5<1 2,790
1991 1,63268 54523 13 1 2,404
1992 1,35165 51725 7<1 2,079
1993 1,33063 58227 11 1 2,120
1994 1,19960 53327 15 1 1,995
1995 1,17461 56429 22 1 1,939
1996 1,10259 54629 36 2 1,881
1997 1,05356 61233 33 2 1,878
1998 1,14056 64832 46 2 2,026
1999 1,07348 64429 98 4 2,223
2000 1,34152 77930 234 9 2,591
2001 1,54053 78027 30911 2,886
2002 1,47550 73725 48216 2,952
2003 1,62048 82925 61218 3,358
2004 1,77549 81323 72120 3,593
2005 2,06950 92822 86121 4,142
2006 2,17950 86020 1,01423 4,387
2007 2,39551 91719 1,11724 4,740
2008 2,31948 87418 1,23826 4,782
2009 1,80545 73518 1,13729 3,987
2010 1,73043 72718 1,17529 4,007

Among the motorcycles whose drivers were killed in 2010, 83 percent of touring bikes had engines larger than 1,400 cc, while all off-road bikes and 97 percent of supersport bikes had engines of sizes 1,000 cc or smaller.

Fatally injured motorcycle drivers by motorcycle type and engine size, 2010
0-1,000 cc 1,001-1,400 cc> 1,400 cc Total *
Number%Number%Number%Number%
Cruiser / Standard 409 29 430 30 572 40 1,427100
Touring 4 1 112 16 569 83 685100
Sport-touring 3 10 28 90 00 31100
Sport / Unclad Sport 214 60 108 30 00 357100
Supersport 916 97 14 1 00 943100
Off-road 47100 00 00 47100
Other/unknown 137 26 35 7 34 7 517100
Total 1,730 43 727 18 1,175 29 4,007100

Among fatally injured motorcycle drivers, 74 percent of cruiser or standard drivers in 2010 were 40 or older, and 92 percent of touring bike drivers. In contrast, 72 percent of off-road bike drivers and 62 percent of fatally injured supersport drivers in 2010 were younger than 30.

Fatally injured motorcycle drivers by age and motorcycle type, 2010
< 30 30-39 40-49 50+ Total *
Number%Number%Number%Number%Number%
Cruiser / Standard 155 11 223 16 420 29 629 441,427 100
Touring 7 1 50 7 174 25 453 66 685 100
Sport-touring 3 10 3 10 8 26 17 55 31 100
Sport / Unclad Sport 139 39 105 29 76 21 37 10 357 100
Supersport 584 62 267 28 81 9 11 1 943 100
Off-road 34 72 6 13 5 11 2 4 47 100
Other/unknown 116 22 87 17 113 22 201 39 517 100
Total 1,038 26 741 18 877 221,350 344,007 100

At 84 percent, helmet use was highest among fatally injured drivers of sport-touring motorcycles in 2010. Seventy-three percent of fatally injured supersport drivers and 70 percent of sport/unclad sport drivers were helmeted in 2010. 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, 2010
Helmet No helmetUnknown Total
Number%Number%Number%Number%
Cruiser / Standard 748 52 652 46 27 1 1,427 100
Touring 357 52 317 46 11 2 685 100
Sport-touring 26 84 5 16 0 0 31 100
Sport / Unclad Sport 249 70 98 27 10 3 357 100
Supersport 693 73 238 25 12 1 943 100
Off-road 12 26 35 74 0 0 47 100
Other 70 70 26 26 3 3 99 100
Unknown 191 45 211 50 16 3 418 100
Total 2,346 58 1,582 39 79 1 4,007 100

When and where they died

Eighty-three percent of motorcyclist deaths in 2010 occurred during April-October. Fatalities peaked during July and August and were lowest during December-February.

Motorcyclist deaths by month, 2010
MonthDeaths%
January 110 3
February 97 2
March 246 6
April 439 10
May 513 12
June 548 13
July 571 13
August 580 13
September 494 11
October 417 10
November 190 4
December 104 2
Total 4,309 100

Fifty percent of motorcyclist deaths in 2010 occurred on weekends, and those deaths were more likely to occur after 6 p.m. compared to weekdays.

Motorcyclist deaths by time of day, 2010
Weekend (6 p.m. Friday - 6 a.m. Monday)Other times Total
Number%Number%
Midnight - 3 a.m. 276 12 153 7 429
3 a.m. - 6 a.m. 84 3 76 4 160
6 a.m. - 9 a.m. 57 3 163 8 220
9 a.m. - noon 154 6 229 11 383
Noon - 3 p.m. 339 16 358 17 697
3 p.m. - 6 p.m. 411 18 508 24 919
6 p.m. - 9 p.m. 491 22 362 17 853
9 p.m. - midnight 350 16 275 13 625
Total* 2,171 100 2,138 100 4,309

More than half of motorcyclist deaths in 2010 occurred on major roads other than interstates and freeways.

Motorcyclist deaths by location of crash, 2010
Road TypeUrban Rural Total*
Number%Number%Number%
Interstates and freeways 458 11 132 3 590 14
Other major roads 1,038 24 1,375 32 2,413 56
Minor roads 634 15 631 15 1,265 29
Total* 2,130 49 2,144 50 4,309 100

Alcohol involvement

Twenty-nine percent of fatally injured motorcycle drivers in 2010 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, 2010
Crash typeDeathsEstimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.08Estimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.15
NumberNumber%Number%
Single-vehicle 1,809 758 42 493 27
Multiple-vehicle 2,198 401 18 241 11
All crashes* 4,007 1,159 29 734 18

Fifty-six percent of motorcycle drivers killed at night (9 p.m.-6 a.m.) in 2010 had BACs at or above 0.08 percent.

Estimated number and percent of fatally injured motorcycle drivers with high BACs by time of day, 2010
Time of dayDeathsEstimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.08Estimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.15
NumberNumber%Number%
Nighttime (9 p.m. - 6 a.m.) 1,118 623 56 420 38
Other times 2,889 536 19 314 11
Total 4,007 1,159 29 734 18

References