Being a motorcycle rider is a lot of fun, and almost everyone agrees. Whether your ride is an entry-level sport bike or a dirt bike, it can be quite an adventure. However, it is also well known that being on a motorcycle exposes you to more fatal crashes than a car.
Motorcycle riders face a higher risk of fatal injuries because of the vehicle’s small size, low visibility, and relative lack of safety features. In car accidents, passenger vehicles have safety features such as airbags and seat belts which can save you.
As per data from 2020, motorcycles make up only 3% of all registered vehicles and 0.6% of all vehicle miles traveled in the United States. However, motorcyclists accounted for 14% of all traffic fatalities, 18% of all occupant fatalities, and 4% of all occupant injuries.
Comparing motorcycle accident statistics to that of cars and passenger vehicles
Per the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 5,579 motorcyclists died in crashes in 2020. That is the highest number ever recorded and an 11% increase from 2019. Of the 5,579 motorcyclists killed, 94% were riders, and 6% were passengers. 82,528 motorcyclists were also injured.
In 2020, the fatality rate for motorcycle passengers was 6 times the fatality rate for passenger car occupants.
Moreover, 36% of motorcycle riders involved in fatal crashes in 2020 were riding without valid motorcycle licenses. Comparatively, 17% of passenger vehicle drivers in fatal crashes did not have valid licenses.
Do engine size and motorcycle type influence the fatal motorcycle accident rate?
The NHTSA says that of all the motorcyclists killed in traffic crashes in 2020, 34% were on bikes with engines of 501 to 1000cc. But this percentage has been decreasing. And bikes with engines up to 500cc have the lowest fatal accident rate of 9%. But this percentage has been increasing over the years.
According to the Highway Loss Data Institute, standard motorcycles, touring motorcycles, cruisers, and sport-touring motorcycles have the lowest death rates. The highest number of motorcycle crashes involve super-sport bikes and sportbikes.
Motorcycle accident statistics and the use of helmets
According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), universal helmet laws are the most effective way for states to save lives in motorcycle crashes. Universal helmet law compels all motorcyclists to wear helmets regardless of age or experience.
Helmets reduce the risk of head injury by 69%. The U.S. could save $1.5 billion in economic costs each year if all motorcyclists wore helmets.
Per NHTSA data, in 2020, 57% of motorcyclists killed were not wearing motorcycle helmets in states without motorcycle helmet use laws. Compare this to 11% in states with universal helmet laws.
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 18 states and the District of Columbia have universal helmet laws.
In another 28 states, younger riders of varying ages (mostly between 17 and 20 years of age) must wear helmets. Meanwhile, Illinois, Iowa, and New Hampshire have no helmet use laws.
Percentage of fatal motorcycle accidents by age and sex
According to iihs.org, in 2020, 36% of fatally injured motorcyclists were 50 years and older. In contrast, 26% of the fatally injured motorcyclists in 2020 were younger than 30.
But overall, the age group that saw the most number of deaths was those between the ages of 25 and 29.
As for comparison by sex or gender, an overwhelming 92% of motorcycle riders killed in accidents in the U.S. in 2020 were male drivers. Today, 19% of motorcycle owners are women. But they made up only 3% of riders killed in 2020 crashes.
However, 92% of passengers who died as motorcycle accident victims were women.
Conditions under which fatal accidents occurred
Per the NHTSA, 61% of motorcyclist deaths occurred in urban areas compared to 39% in rural areas. Surprisingly, 97% of accidents occurred in clear/cloudy conditions. Additionally, 57% of accidents occurred during daylight compared to 37% in the dark.
Non-interstate roads also proved to be the site of most accidents, as 92% occurred on them compared to 8% on interstates.
In 2020, motorcycle riders involved in fatal crashes had higher percentages of alcohol impairment (27%) than drivers of any other motor vehicle. This includes 23% for passenger cars, 19% for light trucks, and 3% for trucks.
Which time of the day and year sees the most fatal accidents?
As per the Insurance Information Institute, 3 pm to 6 pm saw the highest number of motorcycle deaths than any other time of the day in 2020.
22.6% (1263 deaths) happened between 3 pm to 6 pm. The percentage was higher on the weekdays (25.6% or 716 deaths) compared to the weekends (19.5% or 547 deaths). Weekdays here mean Monday 6 am to Friday 5:59 pm. And the weekend here means Friday 6 pm to Monday 5:59 am.
During the weekends, 6 pm to 9 pm was also a dangerous time. 24.1% (676 deaths) of fatal accidents happened during this time.
On the other hand, 3 am to 6 am throughout the week could be considered the safest time. The time period accounts for only 3.5% of fatal motorcycle accidents.
In 2020, 61% of motorcyclist deaths occurred in May-September.
Which are the safest states to ride motorcycles in?
IIHS data show that the most dangerous states for motorcycle accidents were those with warmer climates. These states tend to have more riders too.
Many of the states in which the most motorcycle fatalities occurred are located in the south. Mississippi had the highest rate of fatalities, at 25.4 deaths per 100,000 population. Other states with a high rate of fatalities include Florida, Arkansas, Alabama, Wyoming, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, New Mexico, and Tennessee.
On the other hand, states such as Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Rhode Island have comparatively fewer fatalities. Surprisingly, California is also a relatively safe state to ride in, with only 9.7 deaths per 100,000 population. This is despite being the most populous state and having the highest number of registered motorcycles.
How to prevent accidents as motorcycle drivers
The best way to avoid serious injury is to educate yourself. What are some proper safety rules that will prevent serious injuries and risk of death?
- Complete a motorcycle safety foundation course. It will teach you everything there is to know about keeping yourself safe.
- Wear a good-quality helmet approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and protective gear.
- Opt for bikes with antilock braking systems (ABS). The rate of fatal crashes is 22% lower for motorcycles with ABS than for those without them.
- Stick to speed limits, ride where you can be seen, and avoid motorists’ blind spots.
- Signal to road users before changing lanes and never weave between lanes.
- Never drive under the influence of alcohol or other intoxicating substances.
Yes, motorcycles are a lot less safe than cars.
The stats are slightly alarming and if you showed this to your folks or spouse they would be “extra” concerned!
I say this because my spouse and parents — all of them are concerned for me whenever I go riding.
But that’s not the end of the road for us! There’s some stuff that is in our hands!
If you ride responsibly, wear protective gear, keep your rides in great working order, obey speed limits and local laws, develop situational awareness and improve your riding skills, you are well set!
By doing this much, you are doing a lot.
Remember the more you live, the more you can ride.
Don’t cut short your journey! ✌️
A small but critical component of riding safely especially at slow speeds and preventing falls, is the use of friction zone of the clutch.