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 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).
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
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).
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.
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
Ninety percent of motorcyclists killed in 2010 were males.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Eighty-three percent of motorcyclist deaths in 2010 occurred during April-October. Fatalities peaked during July and August and were lowest during December-February.
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.
More than half of motorcyclist deaths in 2010 occurred on major roads other than interstates and freeways.
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.
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.
©1996-2013, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Highway Loss Data Institute | www.iihs.org
Subscribe to news updates
Watch our channel
Mobile ratings & news