In 2009, the Department of Transportation (DOT) commissioned a report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to assess Motorcycle Accident Statistics from Fatal Single Vehicle Motorcycle Crashes.

In 2008, the Insurance Information Institute (III) produced a detailed report regarding motorcycle accident statistics other factors that we recommend all of you who love your two wheels, become aware of. There are many ways to lesson your risk to your body and your property.

Below are facts and findings from several government funded studies and data collection (from various references listed at the bottom of the page).

Fatalities and Injuries:


According to the latest data available from the Federal Highway Administration, in 2009 motorcyclists accounted for 13% of all traffic fatalities, 16% of all occupant fatalities and 4% of all occupants injured.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2009, 4,462 people died in motorcycle crashes, down 16.0% from 5,312 in 2008, ending an 11- year increase in motorcycle deaths.

Some 106,000 motorcycles were involved in crashes in 2009, including crashes that resulted in property damage, according to the latest data from the NHTSA.

Motorcyclists were 39 times more likely than passenger car occupants to die in a crash per vehicle mile traveled in 2008 and eight times more likely to be injured, according to the NHTSA.

The fatality rate per registered vehicle for motorcyclists in 2008 was 6 times the fatality rate for passenger car occupants, according to NHTSA

According to the NHTSA report, “Traffic Safety Facts 2009,” the deadliest time to ride motorcycles is from “midnight to 3 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays proved to be the deadliest 3-hour periods throughout 2009, with 1,024 and 1,072 fatal crashes, respectively”

By Age:

Older motorcyclists account for half of all motorcyclist fatalities.

In 2008, 51 percent of motorcyclists killed in crashes were age 40 or over, compared with 33 percent 10 years earlier.

In contrast, fatalities among young motorcyclists have declined in the past 10 years, relative to other age groups.

By Type of Motorcycle:

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), riders of “supersports” motorcycles have driver death rates per 10,000 registered vehicles nearly four times higher than for drivers of other types of motorcycles.

  1. Supersports have more horsepower than conventional motorcycles and can reach speeds of up to 190 mph. They are built on racing platforms and are modified for street use.
  2. The bikes are popular with riders under the age of 30.
  3. The bikes are light-weight and aerodynamically styled.
  4. In 2005, these bikes registered 22.5 driver deaths per 10,000 registered vehicles compared with 10.7 deaths for other sport models (related to supersports but do not have the acceleration, stability and handling of supersports).

Standards and cruisers and touring bikes, with upright handlebars, have rates of 5.7 and 6.5 per 10,000 vehicles.

In 2005, supersports accounted for 9% of registrations, and standards and cruisers made up 51% of registrations.

Among fatally injured drivers,

  1. the IIHS says that drivers of supersports were the youngest—with an average age of 27;
  2. touring motorcycle drivers were the oldest, 51 years old;
  3. and fatally injured drivers of other sports models were 34, on average;
  4. standard and cruiser drivers were 44 years old.

Speeding and driver error were bigger factors in supersport and sport fatal crashes.

Speed was cited in 57% of supersport riders’ fatal crashes in 2005 and in 46% for sport model riders.

Speed was a factor in 27% of fatal crashes of riders of cruisers and standards, and for 22% of riders of touring models.

Motorcycles vs. passenger vehicles:

According to the NHTSA report, “Traffic Safety Facts: 2008 Data,” an evaluation of motorcycle involvement in crashes showed that “in 2008, 2,554 (47%) of all motorcycles involved in fatal crashes collided with another type of motor vehicle in transport.

In two-vehicle crashes, 77% of the motorcycles involved were struck in the front.

Only 7% were struck in the rear.

Motorcycles are more likely to be involved in a fatal collision with a fixed object than are other vehicles.

In 2008, 25% of the motorcycles involved in fatal crashes collided with fixed objects, compared to 19% for passenger cars, 14% for light trucks, and 4% for large trucks.

In 2008, there were 2,387 two-vehicle fatal crashes involving a motorcycle and another type of vehicle. In 41% (985) of these crashes the other vehicle was turning left while the motorcycle was going straight, passing, or overtaking the vehicle. Both vehicles were going straight in 666 crashes (28%).

In 2008, 35% of all motorcycle riders involved in fatal crashes were speeding, compared to 23% for passenger car drivers, 19% for light-truck drivers, and 8% for large-truck drivers”

“Approximately 50% of all fatal two-vehicle crashes involving a motorcycle and a passenger vehicle were intersection crashes”.

Protection Provided by Helmet Use:

NHTSA estimates that helmets saved the lives of 1,829 motorcyclists in 2008. If all motorcyclists had worn helmets, an additional 823 lives could have been saved.

Helmets are estimated to be 37% effective in preventing fatal injuries to motorcycle riders and 41% for motorcycle passengers.

This means for every 100 motorcycle riders killed in crashes while not wearing a helmet, 37 of them could have been saved had all 100 worn helmets (p. 6 of “Traffic Safety Facts: 2008 Data”).

Motorcycle Helmet Use Laws:

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 20 states and the District of Columbia had laws on the books requiring all motorcyclists to wear helmets as of January 2011 (See chart below).

In another 27 states only people under a specific age (mostly between 17 and 20 years of age) were required to wear helmets.

Three states (Illinois, Iowa and New Hampshire) had no helmet use laws.

A NHTSA study covering 10 states found that when universal helmet laws, which pertain to all riders, were repealed, helmet use rates dropped from 99% to 5%.

In that same study (see above bullet point), in states where the universal law was reinstated, helmet use rates rose to above 95%.

Benefits vs. drawbacks of helmet use:

Protection provided by helmet use outweighs interference according to the study below


The conclusion of this study is that helmets do not interfere with the vision and hearing of riders and that any interference is negligible or offset by turning one’s head farther.

What the opposition (opponents of mandatory state motorcycle helmet laws ) claims, that “although… wearing a helmet [reduces] injuries, helmets may increase a rider’s risk of crashing by interfering with the ability to see and hear lanes,” has been refuted by this study.

In the instance that the motorcyclist is going 30-50mph, all riders needed a louder auditory signal because of increased wind noise, not just those who wore helmets.

Vision Results:

“The vision test showed that most riders recover the lateral field of view that is lost by wearing a helmet by turning their heads a little farther…These riders did not require significantly more time to turn their heads to check for traffic” Only 4 out of 50 riders in the study sponsored by The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration did not compensate.

“Helmet use did not hamper the ability of riders to see traffic or increase the time needed to visually check for nearby traffic. Overall, any negative interference of helmets on rider vision appears to be minor, especially in comparison to the protection offered by helmets should a crash occur.”

Hearing Results:

“The hearing test showed that there were no significant differences in the riders’ ability to hear the auditory signals regardless of whether they were wearing a helmet or not. There was a difference, however, in the hearing threshold between travel speeds of 30 and 50 mph. At the greater speed, all riders needed a louder auditory signal because of increased wind noise. For any given speed, helmets neither diminished nor enhanced hearing.”

“These results indicate that wearing helmets does not restrict the ability to hear auditory signals or the likelihood of seeing a vehicle in an adjacent lane prior to changing lanes.”


In fatal crashes in 2008 a higher percentage of motorcycle riders had blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 grams per deciliter (g/dL) or higher than any other type of motor vehicle driver.

The percentages for vehicle riders involved in fatal crashes were 29% for motorcycles, 23% for passenger cars, 23% for light trucks, and 2% for large trucks.

The reported helmet use rate for motorcycle riders with BAC levels .08 g/dL or higher killed in traffic crashes was 46%, compared with 66% for those with no alcohol (BAC = .00 g/dL)” (p.5).

“Drunk Riding Prevention 2008”

“It is against the law in every state to operate any type of motor vehicle with a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) level of .08 or higher. Still, about 1,500 motorcycle riders killed in traffic crashes each year are over the legal limit.

According to research by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 27% of all motorcycle operators killed in traffic crashes in 2006 had BAC levels of .08 or higher.

In 2006, an additional 7% of motorcycle operators, who had lower alcohol levels of BAC .01 to .07 also died in traffic crashes” according to research by NHTSA.

“Of all age groups, motorcycle operators between 30 and 49 years old have the highest rates of alcohol involvement in fatal crashes.”

43% of the 2,291 fatally injured motorcycle riders who died in single-vehicle crashes in 2008 (for example, those in which the motorcycle crashed into a stationary object) had BACs of 0.08 percent or higher.

On weekend nights, the proportion was higher: 64% of motorcycle riders who died in single-vehicle crashes had BACs of 0.08 percent or higher.

Safety Issues:

The Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF,, sponsored by motorcycle manufacturers and distributors, works with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), state governments and other organizations to improve motorcycle safety through education, training and licensing.

Since 1973 about 3.2 million motorcyclists have taken MSF training courses.

The organization also works with the states to integrate rider safety and skills in licensing tests.

MSF also promotes safety by recommending motorcycle operators wear protective gear, especially helmets, ride sober and ride within their skill limits.

Antilock Brakes

Stopping a motorcycle is more complex than stopping a car.

Motorcycles have separate brakes for the front and rear wheels, and braking hard can lock the wheels and cause the bike to overturn.

Not braking hard enough can put the rider into harm’s way.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) said in March 2010 that motorcycles with antilocks versus those without are 37% less likely to be in fatal crashes.

As recently as march 2010, the IIHS’s affiliate, the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI), found that bikes with antilocks have 22% fewer claims for damage per insured vehicle year than the same model bikes without antilocks.

HLDI also studied medical claims and found that under medical payment coverage, bikes with antilocks had 30% lower claim frequencies than bikes that did not have antilocks. (Claims frequencies represent the number of claims.)

Claim frequencies were 33% lower under bodily injury liability coverage.


Honda Motorcycle Company is the first company to offer the option of an airbag, which is available on one of the most expensive models.

The option became available in 2006.

A handful of companies have recently developed wearable airbags, which are worn either inside a jacket or strapped on outside.

No data on the effectiveness of these new items has been published.


1 out of 4 motorcycle riders (25%) involved in fatal crashes in 2008 were riding their vehicles with invalid licenses at the time of the collision

Motorcycle riders involved in fatal traffic crashes were 1.4 times more likely than passenger vehicle drivers to have a previous license suspension or revocation (18% and 13%, respectively).

In 2008, 4% of the motorcycle riders involved in fatal crashes had at least one prior conviction for driving while intoxicated on their driver records, compared to 3% of passenger vehicle drivers