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 19 states and the District of Columbia mandate helmet use by all riders.
All-terrain vehicles (ATVs) are not designed for on-highway use, but in recent years more than 300 riders died in crashes on public roads annually.
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 4,388 motorcyclists died in crashes in 2011. 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 with 2008 and increased slightly in 2010 and in 2011. Motorcycle deaths accounted for 14 percent of all motor vehicle crash deaths in 2011 and were more than double the number of motorcyclist deaths in 1997. In contrast, at 21,347, fewer passenger vehicle occupants died in crashes in 2011 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, 1975-2011
In 2011, fatally injured motorcycle drivers were less likely to be operating without a valid driver's license than in 2002 (21 percent vs. 25 percent). However, the rate of unlicensed fatally injured motorcycle drivers in 2011 was still higher than the rate of unlicensed fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers (15 percent).
Forty-six percent of motorcyclist deaths in 2011 occurred in single-vehicle crashes, and 54 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 35 percent in 2011.
Percentage of motorcyclist deaths by age, 1975-2011
Ninety-one percent of motorcyclists killed in 2011 were males.
Sixty-three percent of the females who died in motorcycle crashes in 2011 were passengers, and their deaths represented 93 percent of the passenger deaths. Ninety-nine percent of the males who died were drivers.
In 2011, 60 percent of fatally injured motorcycle drivers were helmeted. Helmet use was lower, at 49 percent, for people killed as passengers on motorcycles.
In 2011, 92 percent of fatally injured motorcyclists were helmeted in states with helmet laws that cover all riders, in contrast to only 19 percent in states with no helmet law. In states with helmet laws that cover only some riders, 37 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 2011, 29 percent drove motorcycles with engine size larger than 1,400 cc, compared with 9 percent in 2000 and less than 1 percent in 1990.
Percentage of motorcycle driver deaths by motorcycle engine size, 1985-2011
Among the motorcycles whose drivers were killed in 2011, 80 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, 75 percent of cruiser or standard drivers in 2011 were 40 or older, and 90 percent of touring bike drivers. In contrast, 70 percent of off-road bike drivers and 62 percent of fatally injured supersport drivers in 2011 were younger than 30.
At 74 percent, helmet use was highest among fatally injured drivers of supersport motorcycles in 2011. Seventy-one percent of fatally injured sport/unclad sport drivers were helmeted in 2011. About half of fatally injured drivers of touring motorcycles and of cruisers or standards were helmeted.
Eighty percent of motorcyclist deaths in 2011 occurred during April-October. Fatalities peaked during July and August and were lowest during December and January.
Forty-nine percent of motorcyclist deaths in 2011 occurred on weekends, and those deaths were more likely to occur after 6 p.m. compared with weekdays.
More than half of motorcyclist deaths in 2011 occurred on major roads other than interstates and freeways.
Thirty percent of fatally injured motorcycle drivers in 2011 had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) at or above 0.08 percent; in single-vehicle crashes this was 42 percent.
Fifty-seven percent of motorcycle drivers killed at night (9 p.m.-6 a.m.) in 2011 had BACs at or above 0.08 percent.
Deaths of ATV riders on public roads have increased nearly ninefold since 1982, the first year they were explicitly identified in FARS. The proportion of fatally injured ATV riders who were 40 and older increased from 9 percent in 1982 to 39 percent in 2011. The proportion under the age of 20 decreased from 54 percent in 1982 to 19 percent in 2011.
Ten percent of fatally injured ATV riders wore helmets in 2011.
ATV rider deaths on public roads were highest in June. Seventy-two percent of the deaths in 2011 occurred in May-October.
Eighty-eight percent of ATV riders killed on public roads in 2011 were on rural roads. Of those, 70 percent were on minor roads.
In 2011, 43 percent of fatally injured ATV drivers on public roads had BACs at or above 0.08 percent. Impairment was highest, at 62 percent, among fatally injured ATV drivers ages 40-49.
©1996-2013, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Highway Loss Data Institute | www.iihs.org
Subscribe to news updates
Watch our channel
Mobile ratings & news