Motorcycle Safety


Traffic Safety Programs
Office of Traffic Injury Control Programs

Volume 5

Safety Countermeasures is a periodic update of the program activities of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Safety Countermeasures Division

Content Cross-cutting Issues School Bus Safety Bicycle Safety Motorcycle Safety Pedestrian Safety Research Programs Announcements

National Agenda For Motorcycle Safety is Nearing Completion

The blue ribbon conference is over, more than 1,500 comments have been received and considered, and the end is in sight. The technical working group is adding the final touches to the National Agenda for Motorcycle Safety. Modeled after the EMS Agenda for the Future, the National Agenda for Motorcycle Safety will provide guiding principles for enhancing motorcycle safety at the national, state, and local levels. To create the National Agenda, a technical working group comprised of experts in motorcycling, motorcycle and traffic safety, law enforcement, insurance, health care, and safety research was formed. While not a members of the working group, NHTSA and the Motorcycle Safety Foundation are supporting the development of the National Agenda.

Developing this comprehensive, strategic vision for the future was no easy task. Since the first meeting in October 1998, many hours have been spent listening to motorcyclists and other interested individuals and organizations from across the nation and to learn what is needed to increase the safety of motorcyclists on the highway, debating issues, and writing and revising various drafts. Perhaps the highlight of the entire process was the Blue Ribbon Conference for the National Agenda for Motorcycle Safety held in Phoenix, Arizona on November 12th & 13th , 1999. Over 125 individuals representing over 90 organizations attended the conference to provide input and comment on the National Agenda for Motorcycle Safety. With varied viewpoints of conference participants, the theme coming from the conference is one of "commitment not consensus". The conference was a resounding success and most of the participants expressed an interest in attending a similarly structured conference in the future.

So what are the next steps? The National Agenda for Motorcycle Safety will be widely distributed (in print and CD Rom) in late 2000. After the various communities have had a chance to study the document, implementation of the recommendation will begin. At this point both NHTSA and the Motorcycle Safety Foundation await input from the community to determine the best approach for implementing these recommendations. From the first day of work on the National Agenda, the goal was to have "a strategic vision from the motorcycling community for the motorcycling community."

To obtain a copy of the National Agenda for Motorcycle Safety, please send written request to:

Joey Syner, Fax (202) 366-7721 or by email:

International Motorcycle Safety Conference: The Human Element

The International Motorcycle Safety Conference: The Human Element is a forum on current issues in motorcycle safety. The information presented and discussed in the conference will assist industry, government, academic institutions, and research organizations in planning for research and programs to motorcycle safety needs.

The International Motorcycle Safety Conference is a two part conference. The September 11 - 12, 2000 segment, International Motorcycle Conference: Safety - Environment - Future takes place in Munich, Germany and focuses on scientific, administrative, and industrial developments concerning the use and safety of motorcycles in the new millennium. The March 1 - 4, 2001 segment, International Motorcycle Safety Conference: The Human Element, is sponsored by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation and co-sponsored by the German Institute for Motorcycle Safety (IfZ, Institut für Zweiradsicherheit) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and will be held at the Hyatt Orlando in Orlando, Florida. International Motorcycle Safety Conference: The Human Element will review the body of research activities in motorcycle safety from 1990 to 2000; provide an updated review of recent motorcycle safety research focused primarily on rider training and the human element, and provide long range goals which industry, private research, and other safety related organizations can strive toward during the years following the conference. This segment will focus on human factors involved in motorcycle safety covering such topics as motorcycle crash analysis, motorcycle rider safety attitudes, impaired riding research and programs, and personal protective equipment.

For more information on the International Motorcycle Safety Conference: The Human Element, please contact: Elisabeth Piper; Motorcycle Safety Foundation; 2 Jenner Street, Suite 150; Irvine, CA 92618; Tel: (949) 727-3227.

Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month: May 2000

On May 3, 2000, NHTSA and the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) sponsored a national satellite media tour to promote Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month. Francesco Quinn a longtime motorcycle enthusiast and star of CBS's The Young and the Restless hosted the national media tour. Local television and radio stations from across the United States interviewed Francesco to discuss the important issue of motorist awareness of motorcyclists. The following issues were key messages for the interviews: expect to see motorcyclists on the roadway; respect motorcyclists' right-of-way; over two thirds of motorcycle/automobile crashes involve the driver of the automobile turning into the motorcyclists path of travel.

Also, Francesco Quinn is featured in a public service announcement (PSA) promoting motorist awareness. MSF and NHTSA produced the PSA so that it can be used throughout the year. For additional information on the national satellite media tour or to obtain a copy of the PSA, please contact: Elisabeth Piper; Motorcycle Safety Foundation; 2 Jenner Street, Suite 150; Irvine, CA 92718; Tel: (949) 727-3227.

Plans are underway for Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month in May 2001. More information will soon be available.

Motorcycle Safety Program Assessments: A Valuable Technical Assistance Tool

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) continues to offers states an opportunity for an objective, outside review of their comprehensive motorcycle safety program by a recognized team of experts. The team, through interviews, evaluates the current status, notes strengths, and provides recommendations for improvements /enhancements on programs related to motorcycle safety. The team evaluates activities in program management; personal protective gear; operator licensing; rider training and education; impaired riding; conspicuity and motorist awareness; and public information and education. The Motorcycle Safety Program Assessment is a cooperative effort of the state motorcycle safety program, state highway safety office, and NHTSA.

To date, seven states (Ohio, Delaware, Oklahoma, Indiana, Missouri, West Virginia, and Florida) have conducted a Motorcycle Safety Program Assessment. Wisconsin (November 2000) and Hawaii (February 2001) will be hosting an assessment team to review their programs. If you are interested in conducting a motorcycle assessment, please contact the NHTSA regional office serving your state.

Transportation in the New Millennium: State of the Art and Future Directions

To mark the approach of the new millennium, the Transportation Research Board's (TRB) standing committees mounted a special effort to capture the current state of the art and practice, and their perspectives on future directions in their respective areas of focus. TRB published Transportation in the New Millennium: State of the Art and Future Directions, a series of papers representing the results of that effort. Each paper provides a thoughtful and perceptive review prepared by experts fully engaged in advancing the way the traveling public is served. Taken together, the papers provide a comprehensive view of transportation as it exists today and can be expected to evolve as the new century unfolds.

Safety Countermeasures Division staff contributed to Motorcycle Safety, a paper published in Transportation in the New Millennium: State of the Art and Future Directions. Motorcycle Safety discusses issues concerning rider training, impaired riders, operator licensing, conspicuity, vehicle and roadway, crash investigations, motorcycle helmets, and public education and awareness.

You can obtain a copy of Transportation in the New Millennium: State of the Art and Future Directions by visiting TRB's website at:

SMSA Workshops

The National Association of State Motorcycle Safety Administrators (SMSA), in partnership with NHTSA, is developing and implementing a professional development workshop series to enable state administrators to better plan, develop, and implement comprehensive motorcycle safety programs.

The first workshop, held on August 20, 1999, focused on fostering and strengthening relationships with the state highway safety office. The second workshop, held on August 18, 2000, focused on improving public information and education efforts.

Amy Parnell, who has over 10 years of experience in the communications field, conducted the workshop scheduled as part of the SMSA Conference this August in Indianapolis. Amy served as project director of the Minnesota Motorcycle Safety Public Information Campaign from 1991-94 and is currently executive director of communications for the Minnetonka Public Schools in Minnetonka, MN. Amy has also collaborated with SMSA on previous projects.

To obtain a copy of the materials from the first workshop or for information regarding upcoming workshops, contact: Karen Kadar, Executive Director; State Motorcycle Safety Administrators;

8251 Main St. NE #102; Fridley, MN 55432
(612) 785-9242

The Role of Alcohol in Motorcycle Crashes

Motorcycling is a complex task requiring excellent coordination and motor skills. Alcohol diminishes the coordination and motor skills needed to maneuver a motorcycle safely. Even motorcyclists with blood alcohol concentrations (BAC) below the legal limit can be impaired, which affects riding and decision-making skills necessary to handle traffic situations on the highway. Alcohol involvement in motorcycle crashes is a concern at the national, state, and local levels. Motorcycle operators involved in fatal crashes have higher intoxication rates than any other motor vehicle operators. Yearly, almost 30 percent of all fatally injured motorcycle operators are intoxicated with a BAC of .10 g/dl or higher. An additional 11 percent have a lower alcohol level .10 g/dl. Almost half of the motorcycle operators who died in single vehicle crashes are intoxicated. Unfortunately these data have changed very little over the past 10 years. While the proportion of automobile drivers with a BAC .10 g/dl who die in alcohol-related crashes has declined to the lowest level ever, the proportion of impaired motorcyclists dying in alcohol-related crashes has not shown similar reductions.

NHTSA is working on the issue of alcohol and motorcycling. In December 1999, the agency began a national campaign: You Drink & Drive. You Lose. to focus on the issues surround impaired driving and riding. And in an effort to support law enforcement agencies as they focus on impaired riding, NHTSA worked with the Law Enforcement Television Network to produce training tools officers can use to detected impaired motorcyclists.

1. You Drink & Drive. You Lose. National Public Education Campaign.

The goal of You Drink & Drive. You Lose. is to enhance national awareness about the deadly toll drinking and driving exacts on America's communities and to generate a greater national urgency to stop the senseless killing and injury on our nation's highways. The campaign supports the national goal to reduce alcohol-related traffic fatalities to no more than 11,000 by the year 2005.

You Drink & Drive. You Lose. is much more than just a public service advertising campaign. It's a comprehensive impaired driving prevention program for states and communities to use as we all work together to save lives and reach the national goal.

The campaign is targeted to high risk populations such as youth, 21 to 34 year olds, and repeat offenders. The four elements of the campaign are based on proven methods - public education, building public-private partnerships, enacting strong legislation and highly visible enforcement.

The You Drink & Drive. You Lose. campaign is expanding its messages to include the dangers of mixing alcohol with motorcycles. These messages will reinforce that drinking and riding is a deadly choice.

You Drink & Drive. You Lose. will be implemented with partners in highway safety, law enforcement, youth-oriented organizations, diverse groups, health/medical, advocacy, prosecutors, and judges. For copies of the campaign materials, please fax your request to NHTSA at 202-493-2062, or visit the NHTSA website at

2. Law Enforcement Training to Detect Impaired Motorcyclists

In 1992, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) developed and released cues that law enforcement officers can use to detect impaired motorcyclists. These cues were later incorporated into the standardized field sobriety testing curriculum. In developing the National Agenda for Motorcycle Safety and in conducting motorcycle safety program assessments, it became apparent that law enforcement officers were not aware of these cues or of the training to detect impaired motorcyclists. To address this concern, NHTSA developed this product, targeting command and training officers within state and local law enforcement agencies, to provide a brief introduction to the impaired riding detection cues and to explain the availability of the training.

The Law Enforcement Television Network produced and broadcasted a program discussing the detection cues law enforcement can use to identify impaired motorcyclists. This effort supported the July 4th Weekend Impaired Driving Mobilization and the You Drink and Drive, You Lose. campaign.

An Update - Cost of Injuries and Source of Payment From Motorcycle Crashes.

In October 1998, NHTSA awarded a contract to Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation (PIRE) to examine the cost of injuries and the source of payment resulting from motorcycle crashes. This project is nearing completion. PIRE staff have completed the literature review; collected source of payment data; and are in the final stages of drafting the report. The next steps are NHTSA review and approval. Once approved, the final report will be sent to print and distributed in late fall.

The objectives of this project are to prepare a comprehensive and critical review of the "state of knowledge" about costs associated with motorcycle crash-related injuries, and provide a review of the availability of motorcycle operator insurance, coverage, and costs. This is the first critical literature review of the cost of motorcycle crash-related injuries since the United States General Accounting Office undertook a similar effort in 1991.

Evaluation of Motorcycle Helmet Law Repeal in Arkansas and Texas

Motorcycle helmet use laws have been one of the most contentious measures affecting the motoring public. For more than 35 years states have enacted, amended, repealed, and re-enacted these laws, usually amid intense public debate. Congress has enacted legislation affecting state motorcycle helmet laws four times during this period. Following four years during which no states enacted, amended, or repealed helmet use laws, Arkansas and Texas amended their helmet use laws in 1997. Before then, both states had required all motorcycle riders to wear helmets. Effective August 1, 1997, Arkansas required helmet use only for riders under the age of 21, and effective September 1, 1997, Texas required helmet use only for riders under the age of 21 and for older riders who have not completed a rider education course or who do not have at least $10,000 medical insurance coverage.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) sponsored a study by Preusser Research Group to evaluate the initial effects of the law changes in Texas and Arkansas.

Helmet use decreased following the Arkansas and Texas law changes as shown both in on-street observations of motorcycle riders and in reports covering motorcycle crash victims. While both states had their mandatory helmet use laws in effect, 97 percent of motorcyclists were observed to be wearing their helmets. By the following May, Arkansas' rate had fallen to 52 percent, and Texas' rate had fallen to 66 percent.

Another measure of helmet use comes from motorcyclists who received emergency medical services (EMS). In Arkansas, helmet use for these motorcyclists dropped from about 55 percent in 1997 before the law changed, to 33.5 percent in the remainder of 1997 and below 30 percent in 1998.

Arkansas EMS pre-hospital data showed an increase in the number of injured motorcyclists, the number of motorcyclists with head injuries, and the proportion of all injured motorcyclists with head injuries after the law change.

In the last few months in 1997 following their law change, motorcyclist fatalities did not change significantly in either Arkansas or Texas, compared to the same months the year before. In the first full year following repeal, however, fatalities in Arkansas increased by 21 percent, compared to the last full year under the universal law. In Texas, operator fatalities increased by 31 percent over these same periods. Texas police crash reports showed that the number of injured motorcycle operators increased slightly in 1998 compared to 1994-1996. The increases occurred in fatalities and in B and C level injuries. Serious (A) injuries declined.

Texas Trauma Registry data showed that the proportion of motorcyclists treated for traumatic brain injury increased and that treatment costs for traumatic brain injury cases also increased following the law change. Treatment costs for other injury cases did not change markedly.

For a copy of Evaluation of Motorcycle Helmet Law Repeal in Arkansas and Texas, (47 pgs), write to the Office of Research and Traffic Records, NHTSA, NTS-31, 400 Seventh Street, S.W., Washington, DC 20590, fax (202) 366-7096.