The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Motorcycle Safety Program

January 2003










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Fatality Rate Per 100,000 Registered Vehicles The motorcycle community is experiencing astounding growth. New unit sales of on-highway motorcycles have increased approximately 91 percent since 1997. In 2001, motorcycles represented 2.2 percent of all registered vehicles in the United States and accounted for 0.34 percent of vehicle miles traveled, but crashes involving motorcycles accounted for 7.6 percent of total traffic fatalities on America's roadways. The Motorcycle Industry Council (MIC) expects motorcycle sales to continue to increase over the next 5 to 7 years meaning more motorcycles on our Nation's roadways. MIC estimates that 471,000 new on-highway motorcycles were sold in the United States in 2000 alone compared to 379,000 in 1999. [3]


Fatalities Per Million VMT Exposure, measured in terms of vehicle miles of travel (VMT) in 2001, shows that motorcyclists were about 26 times as likely to die in a crash than someone riding in a passenger car, and are 5 times as likely to be injured. This is a steep increase from 1997, when motorcyclists were 14 times as likely to die in a crash than someone riding in a passenger car. Per registered vehicle, the fatality rate for motorcyclists in 2001 was 4.1 times the fatality rate for passenger car occupants. The injury rate for passenger car occupants per registered vehicle was 1.2 times the injury rate for motorcyclists.



Motorcycle Fatalities by Age Group A recent analysis of age trends shows that over the past 10 years, fatalities in the 20 to 29 year old age group, the group with consistently the highest annual number of motorcycle fatalities, decreased, while fatalities in the 40 and over age groups increased. During this time, however, there were more driving age individuals in the 40 and over age group in the United States.




Percent Ownership - 40 and Over Since 1980, motorcycle ownership among the 40 and over age group has increased significantly, from 15.1 percent in 1980 to 43.7 percent in 1998. [4]

Likewise, rural motorcycle fatalities have been increasing and have, in fact, surpassed urban fatalities in the years 1998 through 2001.

Another recent trend indicates that the engine size of the majority of the motorcycles involved in fatal crashes has been increasing, as well. The mean engine displacement of the motorcycles involved in fatal crashes has increased from an average engine size of 769 cc in 1990 to 959 cc in 2001, an increase of 24.7 percent.

Further, the mean age of motorcyclists' fatalities has also increased from 29.3 years in 1990 to 36.3 years in 2001. The analysis also indicates a corresponding rise in the average age of motorcyclists killed and greater involvement of motorcycles with larger engines in fatal crashes.

According to NHTSA's National Occupant Protection Use Survey (NOPUS), a nationally representative observational survey of motorcycle helmet, safety belt, and child safety seat use, helmet use for motorcycle operators fell from 71 percent in 2000 to 58 percent in 2002. This drop is statistically significant and corresponds to a striking 45 percent increase in nonuse.

Rider impairment and speeding also remain major contributing factors in these unnecessary and preventable crashes (both are discussed in greater detail later in this document); however, some other findings extracted from FARS provide further insight into possible reasons for escalating motorcyclist fatalities:

    arrow Half of the fatalities in single vehicle crashes relate to problems negotiating a curve prior to a crash;

    arrow Over 80 percent of motorcycle fatalities in single vehicle crashes occur off the roadway (a crash occurring on the shoulder, median, roadside, outside right-of-way, off roadway location unknown, in a parking lane, separator and gore. A gore is an area of land where two roadways diverge or converge.);

    arrow Almost 60 percent of motorcyclist fatalities in single vehicle crashes occur at night;

    arrow Collisions with fixed objects are a significant factor in over half of motorcycle fatalities in single vehicle crashes.

The increase in motorcycle-related deaths and injuries calls for new program actions to supplement existing initiatives. There have been periods of major improvement in motorcycle safety, especially since the implementation of Federal laws and programs that were first established over 35 years ago. But escalating fatality and injury trends sound a warning trend. Motorcyclists age 40 and over riding larger motorcycle engine sizes account for the fastest growing group of motorcyclist fatalities. Fatalities on undivided, rural roadways have also increased significantly. The agency has not determined why there have been alarming increases in fatalities. This unfortunate reversal is occurring while overall traffic deaths remain at historic lows.