Riding a motorcycle is inherently riskier than driving a car. Maintaining control is harder on two wheels than on four, and when crashes occur, motorcyclists are at greater risk of serious injury or death because they don't have an enclosed vehicle to protect them.
A total of 4,388 motorcyclists died in crashes in 2011 in the U.S. Per mile traveled, motorcyclists are about 30 times more likely to die in a crash than car occupants. Although motorcycle deaths have fallen from their peak of more than 5,000 in 2008, they are still more than double what they were in 1997.
A helmet is the most important piece of motorcycle safety equipment. Helmets decrease the severity of head injuries and the likelihood of death. The federal government estimates that wearing a helmet reduces the risk of dying in a crash by 37 percent. Unhelmeted riders are 3 times more likely than helmeted ones to sustain traumatic brain injuries in the event of a crash.
An antilock braking system (ABS) reduces the risk of a motorcycle crash. ABS prevents wheels from locking up, and that's crucial on a motorcycle. On a car, a lockup might result in a skid. On a motorcycle, it often means a serious fall. The rate of fatal crashes is 31 percent lower for motorcycles equipped with optional antilock brakes than for the same models without them.
Some kinds of motorcycles are riskier than others. Supersport motorcycles have driver death rates about 4 times as high as that of cruisers or standards. These bikes are built on racing platforms, and their combination of light weight and high-horsepower engines means many models can quickly reach speeds of more than 160 miles per hour. Riders of sport motorcycles, which are typically not quite as powerful and lightweight as supersports, have a driver death rate about twice that of cruisers or standards.
This fact sheet, also available as a brochure, explains how antilocks work and why they make motorcycles safer.
When motorcyclists crash, the results can be disastrous. This is especially true in the case of brain injuries. This video illustrates the consequences of riding without a helmet.