USDOT: NHTSA: MSF Motorcycle Safety Foundation Logo
Environmental Factors: Roadway Characteristics

Roadway Characteristics

Other Vehicle Design

First Response

Intelligent Transportation Systems


Roadway design, maintenance, and construction are generally directed toward the needs of multi-wheel vehicles, with the needs of motorcycles often addressed as an afterthought.

Poor road design and maintenance contribute to motorcycle crashes, injuries, and fatalities. A variety of common road conditions and design factors can pose hazards to motorcyclists. Debris on the road can also cause a motorcycle to crash. In addition, roadside objects may create an injury mechanism for a motorcyclist.

• Current highway standards permit pavement ridges of up to 1.5 inches without tapering, which pose a significant hazard to motorcycles.

• Potholes are a hazard that can cause motorcycle crashes.

• Slick materials that interfere with traction are applied to road surfaces with increasing frequency. A motorcycle’s traction can be seriously compromised by bituminous rubberized asphalt sealer used for crack repair and plasticized adhesive pavement-marking tape.

• Fluid spills can cause loss of traction and a resulting crash.

• Roadway debris poses a greater hazard to motorcycles than to larger vehicles. Debris can deflect a motorcycle’s wheel when it is struck.

• Metal road surface components, either temporary or permanent, offer almost no traction, and when wet, may also be the most difficult to see.

• Many roadside barriers designed to retain cars and reduce injuries to automobile occupants are deadly to motorcyclists who collide with them. Wire-rope barriers are one example, but a motorcycle or the body of a fallen motorcyclist can also strike portions of other barrier designs in ways that an automobile cannot, causing severe injuries. Other roadside fixtures, such as signage, which may yield when struck by a car, can injure a motorcyclist who hits them. Even curbs can be deadly to a fallen rider who slides into them.

• Current work-zone signage practices may not adequately address the safety needs of motorcyclists.


We would like road design, construction, and maintenance procedures to accommodate the safety needs of motorcyclists.

Motorcyclists should have the skills necessary to detect and avoid roadway hazards (see Crash Avoidance Skills, page 23).


Roadway engineers and other traffic designers need to elevate the placement of motorcycle safety dynamics as a consideration in design, construction, and maintenance of roadways at all levels of oversight—federal, state, county, and local. This may also benefit the safety of other vehicles.


• Identify and prioritize roadway hazards to motorcycle operation.

• Develop and revise highway standards on all levels—federal, state, county, and local—to reflect the needs of motorcyclists and encourage motorcycle-friendly design, construction, and maintenance procedures.

• Create a working group to recommend changes to highway standards to increase motorcycle safety.

• Post specific warnings for motorcyclists where unavoidable hazards exist.

• Revise the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) so that signage better communicates roadway or construction conditions that present hazards to motorcyclists.

• Educate motorcyclists about the hazards created by common roadway defects and maintenance methods. Emphasize riding skills required to negotiate these hazards through education and training.

• Take steps to remove slippery sealants and repair substances applied to road surfaces.

• Educate road design and maintenance personnel about conditions that pose hazards to motorcyclists.

• Reduce roadway debris such as that resulting from uncovered loads and shorn retreads.

MSF Motorcycle Safety Foundation Logo USDOT: NHTSA BACK TO TOP