Motorcycle safety | Overview of risks, costs and tips for runners

Motorcycles made up only 3% of all vehicles registered in the United States in 2016 and accounted for less than 1% of all kilometers driven in the country.

But per registered vehicle, the death rate for motorcyclists was six times the death rate for people in cars. And if you look at the fatality rate per vehicle-kilometer traveled, motorcycle fatalities have occurred almost 28 times more often than fatalities involving people in cars.

Deaths of motorcyclists

Motorcycle fatalities accounted for about 14% of all road fatalities in 2016.

Injuries from motorcycle crashes are also more common than injuries from car crashes, and they tend to be more serious as well.

A 2017 study published in the Journal of the Canadian Medical Association looked at the number of serious injuries per 100,000 motorcycles and 100,000 cars and found that serious injuries occurred 10 times more often with motorcycles than with motorcycles. cars.

Main risks for motorcyclists

Collisions with other vehicles, speeding tickets, alcohol consumption, not wearing a helmet and aging all contribute to fatal motorcycle crashes in the United States, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Contributing factors for motorcycle fatalities, 2016 *

Collision with another vehicle 55%
age group 40 and over 54%
Do not wear a helmet 41%
Speeding 33%
Alcohol 25%
Crash with a fixed object 23%

* Fatal accidents may have more than one contributing factor

High cost of motorcycle accidents

Motorcycle crash injuries are almost twice as expensive to treat as car crash injuries, according to the 2017 study by the Journal of the Canadian Medical Association.

Researchers looked at the costs of accidents around Ontario, Canada. They found that the average medical bill for a motorcyclist injured in a crash was $ 4,341 (C $ 5,825) compared to $ 2,232 (C $ 2,995) for a person injured in a car crash.

The researchers only looked at the costs over the 30 days following an accident. The study did not consider long-term treatment, including physiotherapy or any other rehabilitation. The costs could therefore be much higher.

The study also looked only at accidents in Ontario. Medical costs for accidents in the United States can be even higher.


Helmets, or riding without, are a topic of passion for bikers. Running organizations have campaigned for years for states to relax helmet requirements.

Currently, 19 states and the District of Columbia have universal helmet laws that require all drivers and passengers to wear helmets. 28 other states require certain motorcyclists to wear helmets, and three states have no helmet use laws.

Some states that have repealed helmet laws have seen the number of motorcycle fatalities increase. Texas has seen a 31% increase in motorcycle fatalities and Arkansas has seen a 21% increase after states abandoned helmet requirements, according to Consumer Reports.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention looked at data from medical researchers and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2017. They found that wearing helmets would have reduced the number of fatalities by more than a third. , saved hundreds of lives and saved $ 1 billion in motorcycle accident costs.

Facts about CDC motorcycle helmets

  • Helmets saved 1,859 lives in 2016.
  • The helmets would have saved 802 more lives if all the motorcyclists had worn them.

  • Helmets reduce the risk of death by 37%.

  • Helmets reduce the risk of head injury by 69%.

  • The United States could save over a billion dollars each year with 100% headphones.

For optimal protection, use helmets approved by the US Department of Transportation. These will have a DOT certification label on the back.

Cyclists should replace helmets every five years as they deteriorate over time. They should also replace their helmets after any accident.

Motorcycle helmets manufactured since 2013 must have a label on the back with the name of the manufacturer or brand, the model designation, the symbol “DOT” and “Certified FMVSS No. 218”.
Source: National Road Safety Administration

Hazards from other vehicles

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, more than 40% of motorcycle fatalities involving two vehicles in 2016 involved a vehicle making a left turn while a motorcycle was going straight, passing or overtaking the vehicle. A 2018 National Transportation Safety Board report found that the second most common scenario was a motorcyclist falling on the road to avoid an accident with another vehicle.

A 2015 study in the Journal Traffic Injury Prevention found that motorcyclists identified risks on the road that safety researchers had not even considered. These included dangers without “no technical or scientific solutions”. The authors concluded that safety researchers should work more closely with motorcyclists to identify the best strategies for improving motorcycle safety.

Researchers from the Motorcycle Safety Foundation and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute followed 100 cyclists over 366,000 miles and found that 56% of serious crashes involved motorcycles in a traffic jam or side-slip by a passing vehicle.

“When motorcycles and other vehicles collide, it is usually the other (non-motorcycle) driver who violates the motorcyclist’s right of way,” according to the Motorcycle Safety Foundation.

When motorcycles and other vehicles collide, it is usually the other (non-motorcycle) driver who violates the motorcyclist’s right of way.

Airbags, crash sensors and other technologies have made trucks and cars safer over the past decades. But a 2018 National Transportation Safety Board report found that many systems still couldn’t detect motorcycles when the passenger car was turning left or changing lanes. These are two of the most common types of collisions between cars and motorcycles.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says collision avoidance systems that deal with crashes in which a car turns left in front of a motorcycle “would more than quadruple the potential benefits” of the technology for fatal collisions. But he warns that it’s still not clear how well current technology works.

In the meantime, motorcycle safety groups, insurers, and safety regulators all recommend shiny, highly visible exterior gear as one of the most important safety precautions motorcyclists can take to avoid collisions with. other vehicles.

Drugs and alcohol

Alcohol and drugs, including prescription drugs, can increase your risk of serious injury or death on a motorcycle. The substances can affect your judgment, balance, and your ability to control steering, shifting and braking. They can also affect how you react to people, vehicles, and other collision threats around you.

Alcohol plays a more important role in motorcycle crashes than in crashes involving any other type of vehicle. More than a third of bikers killed in single-vehicle motorcycle crashes in 2016 were intoxicated. People killed in nighttime crashes were three times more often debilitated than motorcyclists in fatal daytime crashes.

Did you know?

Alcohol played a role in 25 percent of fatal motorcycle crashes in 2016. That’s more than any other type of vehicle crash.

Alcohol-related motorcycle deaths increase on weekends. Twenty-one percent of bikers killed in crashes on weekdays in 2016 had a blood alcohol level of 0.08 or more, compared to 31 percent of bikers killed in crashes over the weekend.


Fatal single-vehicle crashes are most often due to speed and distraction, according to a 2018 report from the Governors Highway Safety Association.

Did you know?

33% of all motorcyclists involved in fatal speeding crashes in 2016, compared to 19% of drivers of passenger vehicles.

Lane-dividing safety – the practice of riding a motorcycle between slow or stopped traffic lanes – is also greatly affected by speeds. California is the only state where the practice was legal in 2019. But Washington, Arizona, and Massachusetts have all considered legalizing the practice in recent years, and campaigns are underway in at least 14 states to pass laws on the sharing of tracks.

The Governors Highway Safety Association reports that at least one study suggests that the practice can be safe at low speeds. But the association does not take a position on the practice.


According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, bikers 50 and over accounted for 36% of motorcycle fatalities in 2016. The National Safety Council says this may be related to “re-entry motorcyclists” or people who have given up. riding when they were younger and returned to motorcycling later in life.

The board cautions that older runners should not rely on their past experience. Instead, they should be aware that their reaction times and physical abilities have slowed down with age, and distracted driving by other people is a much bigger problem for motorcyclists today.

Newer bikes can also be more powerful than the ones back-to-school riders rode last. Data shows that engine size has played a growing role in motorcycle fatalities.

In 2016, 33% of motorcycle fatalities involved engines larger than 1,400 cubic centimeters, according to the Insurance Institute for Road Safety. Engines this large accounted for 9 percent of fatalities in 2000 and only 2 percent in 1997.

A 2016 study in Injury Epidemiology looked at the rising death rate of baby boomer motorcyclists. The researchers concluded that mandatory training courses for re-entry runners born between 1946 and 1964 could reduce the risk of fatal accidents.

Young cyclists continue to represent a large group of fatalities, especially when it comes to speeding and sports bikes. However, 16 states reported that most motorcycle crashes in their states involved older drivers.

“Recently, there has been a shift from young drivers overrepresented in motorcycle fatalities to riders over the age of 40 accounting for the largest share of motorcycle fatalities nationally,” according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.

Motorcycle Safety Tips

Stay safe on your motorcycle by being aware of the risks around you on the road. While most serious motorcycle accidents can be the fault of other drivers, there are steps you can take to protect yourself from the “other guy.”

Motorcycle Safety Tips Infographic


Please seek the advice of a qualified professional before making any decisions regarding your health or finances.

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