Let's Look at Some Accident Statistics
Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom. —Bertand Russell

There is a lot of really good information out there and I wanted this to be a compilation of all that great stuff. All motorcycle safety instruction starts out with a look at data and there is a good reason for this: Safe riding is controlled risk management, and to do that, you have to understand your risks. Unfortunately, the data that's out there is manipulated. The ongoing argument about whether or not states should have laws requiring riders to wear helmets has caused some problems in locating honest data about motorcycle accident statistics. Like other arguments that become political, people twist the data to promote their agenda. (Figures don't lie, but liars figure) Unfortunately, you will find numbers that vary considerably and it is hard to determine which numbers to believe.

There are only 3 states with no helmet laws. To learn about laws and restrictions in your state, you can visit this web site: http://www.bikersrights.com/states/50state.html

Let it be known here and now that I am not pushing an agenda, I’m simply trying to get the facts out. Yes, I have an opinion and will not keep it a secret. When you choose to ride that motorcycle instead of drive the car (or truck) you have chosen to walk along the edge of the abyss.

Our streets and highways have large chunks of steel weighing thousands of pounds that are traveling at high velocity. This is extremely dangerous for our frail human bodies and your decision to get out of a cage and ride that bike has increased your chances of death or injury by a very significant factor. If you are putting yourself out on those streets, it is only a matter of time before you are involved in an accident.

One might argue that it is possible to eliminate the risk by using sound judgment, second guessing all the other drivers actions, and never placing yourself in a high-risk situation. (Always leave yourself an option out) But let’s get real: you’re putting yourself out there where shit happens. It is true that you certainly can minimize your risk, but you can’t eliminate it, and eventually, shit will happen to you. Look at the stats, it's only a matter of time. When it does happen, you will want to have on your helmet and all your protective gear.

For this reason, I wear a helmet and would like to see all riders wear one, but- and this is a big ‘but’- you have already chosen to walk along the edge of the abyss, and increase your odds of death by about 40 times when you chose the bike over the car or truck. Now if you want to back away from the edge of that abyss and bring those chances of dieing down to more like X30 (instead of X40) by wearing a helmet, then that’s up to you.

In a nutshell, I think wearing protective gear is smart, but should not be mandated by law. The decision to ride the bike is yours and so is the decision to wear (or not wear) the protective gear. This is an argument that’s been going on for years and I know it will not go away soon, nor will it be solved here, so… on with the data: The following data has been gathered from several different sources. I tried to list the sources of the data where I could. I also tried to condense it and put it a format that is easy to understand.

When motorcycles crash, their riders lack the protection of an enclosed vehicle, so they're more likely to be injured or killed. The federal government estimates that per mile traveled in 2005, the number of deaths on motorcycles was about 37 times the number in cars (for miles traveled) and the number of serious injuries were about 6 times higher. The Insurance businesses, the federal and state governments all compile data on traffic accidents, but that data that doesn't agree, and you can find that same statement with different numbers. It is, however, plausible to assume that your chances of death or serious injury on the roadways increase significantly when you step outside the protection of a cage. (car or truck)

Research published in 1995 shows that five crash types account for 86 percent of fatal motorcycle crashes: motorcycle runs off road (37 percent), motorcycle or other vehicle runs traffic control (18 percent), car turns in front of motorcycle (12 percent), head on (11 percent), and motorcycle goes down in roadway (7 percent).

Insurance companies data has been used to draw the following conclusion: Helmets are about 36 percent effective in preventing motorcyclist deaths and about 67 percent effective in preventing brain injuries. An unhelmeted rider is 40 percent more likely to suffer a fatal head injury compared with a helmeted rider. During the past decade several states have repealed or weakened their helmet laws. Repealing or weakening helmet laws so they don't apply to all riders has been followed by increases in deaths. In contrast, benefits return when helmet laws applying to all riders are reinstated. Again, keep in mind that when a conclusion is made one way or the other with regard to helmet laws, you have to be suspicious of their numbers. Nevertheless, I think it is safe to assume that the conclusion they are arriving at here (wearing a helmet improves your chances of survival in an accident) is supported by the available data.

The following facts are based on analysis of data from the US Department of Transportation's Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS). Their most recent stats are from 2006.

In 2006, motorcycle rider fatalities continued their nine-year increase, reaching 4,810 (a 5% increase from 2005) and exceeding the number of pedestrian fatalities for the first time since the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) began collecting fatal motor vehicle crash data in 1975. In 2005, the motorcycle fatality rate was 73 per 100,000 registered motorcycles. By comparison, the fatality rate in the same year for passenger vehicles per 100,000 registrations was 14.

Between 1997 and 2005, motorcycle registrations have jumped 63 percent, from 3,826,373 in 1997 to 6,227,146 in 2005. But fatalities have increased disproportionately to the rise in registrations and sales. Motorcycle fatalities have increased each year from a low of 2,116 in 1997 to an all-time high of 4,810 in 2006. The proportion of motorcycle fatalities increased to 11 percent of all motor vehicle traffic crash fatalities in 2006 from 5 percent in 1997. Younger (20-29) motorcycle riders continue to account for the highest number of fatalities each year, but motorcyclists over 40 have seen the greatest increases in fatalities from 1997 to 2006. The percentage increases between 1997 and 2006 in fatalities by age group are as follows: Under 20 (42%), 20-29 (86%), 30-39 (80%), 40-49 (172%), 50-59 (307%), Over 59 (280%). Notice that the greatest increases occurred in the older age groups, clear evidence that the boomers are taking to two wheels. And doing so with tragic results in too many instances.

They have identified the following major characteristics of motorcycle crashes which are worth noting here.

* The majority of motorcyclists killed were White/Caucasian (77%), followed by African-American (9%), Hispanic (7%), and Native American (1%). • In 2005, 27 percent of all fatally injured motorcycle operators had BAC levels of .08 g/dL. An additional 7 percent had lower alcohol levels (BAC .01 to .07 g/dL). • Forty-one percent of the 1,878 motorcycle operators who died in single vehicle crashes in 2005 had BAC levels of .08 g/dL or higher. Sixty-one percent of those killed in single-vehicle crashes on weekend nights had BAC .08 g/dL or higher.
* Forty-five percent of fatally injured motorcyclists did not wear helmets.
* Twice as many motorcycle fatalities occurred on weekends as opposed to weekdays.
* The majority of those killed in motorcycle-related crashes were motorcycle operators (90%), while motorcycle passenger fatalities have been constant at 10 percent for several years.
* Over the last ten years, 90 percent of motorcyclists killed were male.
* Motorcyclists are more likely to be killed in crashes involving more than one vehicle; 55 percent were killed in multi-vehicle crashes, while 45 percent were killed in single vehicle crashes.
* Nearly one out of four motorcycle operators (24%) involved in fatal crashes were operating their vehicles with invalid licenses at the time the collision.
* The largest number of motorcycle fatalities (41%) is still in the 501-1,000 cc engine size group, followed by 38 percent in the 1,001-1,500 cc engine size group.
* Two-thirds of motorcyclists killed on 1,001-1,500 cc engine size motorcycles were riders over 40.
* There were increases in motorcycle fatalities between 1997 and 2006 for each engine size group, but the largest increase was for motorcycle operators with engine sizes ranging from 1,001-1,500cc.

The focus of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to solve the problem is to pass restrictive laws and enforce them heavily. That is evidenced by the following U.S. DOT summary:

"Behavioral countermeasures are continuously being applied in an effort to reduce motorcycle crashes and their resulting injuries and fatalities. Enforcement activities are in place to interdict individuals who violate speed limits, reduce impaired riding, and encourage helmet use laws, as well as state licensing guidelines and requirements. Efforts to encourage participation in sanctioned riding classes and the acquisition of State required motorcycle license endorsements occurs through cooperative agreements with professional organizations and States that work with NHTSA to address driver licensing and vehicle registration issues."

Reading this summary, you can clearly see that they intend to solve the problem of increased motorcycle fatalities by passing laws and issuing tickets. They do mention "encourage participation in riding classes", but it is difficult for me to see how they have "encouraged participation". I do know it is much easier to go out and get issued a citation in my state than it is to get enrolled in an MSF advanced rider course. The U.S. DOT is definitely pro-state helmet laws. There is more information you can read at the NHTSA web site.

If you're interested in looking at raw numbers, a breakdown of much of this data can be found at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety web site: IHS

Another issue for consideration is highway design and guardrails. If you are planning on traveling on a highway, guardrails, which are designed to protect automobile occupants, present a unique problem to motorcycles. One in eight motorcyclists who encounters a guardrail is killed, a fatality risk over 80 times higher than for car occupants involved in similar collisions. Highway engineers have been building safer roadways for cars at the expense of motorcycle riders. Guardrails, grooves cut for drainage, spreading loose gravel on the shoulders of roads, and sloppy cold asphalt patches are just a few things done on our roadways which enhance automobile safety but tend to be more hazardous for motorcycles.

The following is a list of 50 “summary findings” from the “Hurt Report” done in the 1980’s at the University of Southern California which analyzed data to determine causality of motorcycle crashes. The Hurt Report was very extensive and is widely quoted even though it is more than 25 years old. I think these findings are still valid and worthwhile for your consideration. Keep in mind, they are 'summary conclusions'.

1. Approximately three-fourths of these motorcycle accidents involved collision with another vehicle, which was most often a passenger automobile.
2. Approximately one-fourth of these motorcycle accidents were single vehicle accidents involving the motorcycle colliding with the roadway or some fixed object in the environment.
3. Vehicle failure accounted for less than 3% of these motorcycle accidents, and most of those were single vehicle accidents where control was lost due to a puncture flat.
4. In single vehicle accidents, motorcycle rider error was present as the accident precipitating factor in about two-thirds of the cases, with the typical error being a slide out and fall due to over braking or running wide on a curve due to excess speed or under-cornering.
5. Roadway defects (pavement ridges, potholes, etc.) were the accident cause in 2% of the accidents; animal involvement was 1% of the accidents.
6. In multiple vehicle accidents, the driver of the other vehicle violated the motorcycle right-of-way and caused the accident in two-thirds of those accidents.
7. The failure of motorists to detect and recognize motorcycles in traffic is the predominating cause of motorcycle accidents. The driver of the other vehicle involved in collision with the motorcycle did not see the motorcycle before the collision, or did not see the motorcycle until too late to avoid the collision.
8. Deliberate hostile action by a motorist against a motorcycle rider is a rare accident cause. The most frequent accident configuration is the motorcycle proceeding straight then the automobile makes a left turn in front of the oncoming motorcycle.
10. Intersections are the most likely place for the motorcycle accident, with the other vehicle violating the motorcycle right-of-way, and often violating traffic controls.
11. Weather is not a factor in 98% of motorcycle accidents.
12. Most motorcycle accidents involve a short trip associated with shopping, errands, friends, entertainment or recreation, and the accident is likely to happen in a very short time close to the trip origin.
13. The view of the motorcycle or the other vehicle involved in the accident is limited by glare or obstructed by other vehicles in almost half of the multiple vehicle accidents.
14. Conspicuity of the motorcycle is a critical factor in the multiple vehicle accidents, and accident involvement is significantly reduced by the use of motorcycle headlamps (on in daylight) and the wearing of high visibility yellow, orange or bright red jackets.
15. Fuel system leaks and spills were present in 62% of the motorcycle accidents in the post-crash phase. This represents an undue hazard for fire.
16. The median pre-crash speed was 29.8 mph, and the median crash speed was 21.5 mph, and the one-in-a-thousand crash speed is approximately 86 mph.
17. The typical motorcycle pre-crash lines-of-sight to the traffic hazard portray no contribution of the limits of peripheral vision; more than three-fourths of all accident hazards are within 45deg of either side of straight ahead.
18. Conspicuity of the motorcycle is most critical for the frontal surfaces of the motorcycle and rider.
19. Vehicle defects related to accident causation are rare and likely to be due to deficient or defective maintenance.
20. Motorcycle riders between the ages of 16 and 24 are significantly over represented in accidents; motorcycle riders between the ages of 30 and 50 are significantly underrepresented. Although the majority of the accident-involved motorcycle riders are male (96%), the female motorcycles riders are significantly over represented in the accident data.
21. Craftsmen, laborers, and students comprise most of the accident-involved motorcycle riders. Professionals, sales workers, and craftsmen are underrepresented and laborers, students and unemployed are over represented in the accidents.
22. Motorcycle riders with previous recent traffic citations and accidents are over represented in the accident data.
23. The motorcycle riders involved in accidents are essentially without training; 92% were self-taught or learned from family or friends. Motorcycle rider training experience reduces accident involvement and is related to reduced injuries in the event of accidents.
24. More than half of the accident-involved motorcycle riders had less than 5 months experience on the accident motorcycle, although the total street riding experience was almost 3 years. Motorcycle riders with dirt bike experience are significantly underrepresented in the accident data.
25. Lack of attention to the driving task is a common factor for the motorcyclist in an accident.
26. Almost half of the fatal accidents show alcohol involvement.
27. Motorcycle riders in these accidents showed significant collision avoidance problems. Most riders would over brake and skid the rear wheel, and under brake the front wheel greatly reducing collision avoidance deceleration. The ability to countersteer and swerve was essentially absent.
28. The typical motorcycle accident allows the motorcyclist just less than 2 seconds to complete all collision avoidance action.
29. Passenger-carrying motorcycles are not over represented in the accident area.
30. The driver of the other vehicles involved in collision with the motorcycle are not distinguished from other accident populations except that the ages of 20 to 29, and beyond 65 are over represented. Also, these drivers are generally unfamiliar with motorcycles.
31. Large displacement motorcycles are underrepresented in accidents but they are associated with higher injury severity when involved in accidents.
32. Any effect of motorcycle color on accident involvement is not determinable from these data, but is expected to be insignificant because the frontal surfaces are most often presented to the other vehicle involved in the collision.
33. Motorcycles equipped with fairings and windshields are underrepresented in accidents, most likely because of the contribution to conspicuity and the association with more experienced and trained riders.
34. Motorcycle riders in these accidents were significantly without motorcycle license, without any license, or with license revoked.
35. Motorcycle modifications such as those associated with the semi-chopper or cafe racer are definitely over represented in accidents.
36. The likelihood of injury is extremely high in these motorcycle accidents-98% of the multiple vehicle collisions and 96% of the single vehicle accidents resulted in some kind of injury to the motorcycle rider; 45% resulted in more than a minor injury.
37. Half of the injuries to the somatic regions were to the ankle-foot, lower leg, knee, and thigh-upper leg.
38. Crash bars are not an effective injury countermeasure; the reduction of injury to the ankle-foot is balanced by increase of injury to the thigh-upper leg, knee, and lower leg.
39. The use of heavy boots, jacket, gloves, etc., is effective in preventing or reducing abrasions and lacerations, which are frequent but rarely severe injuries.
40. Groin injuries were sustained by the motorcyclist in at least 13% of the accidents, which typified by multiple vehicle collision in frontal impact at higher than average speed.
41. Injury severity increases with speed, alcohol involvement and motorcycle size.
42. Seventy-three percent of the accident-involved motorcycle riders used no eye protection, and it is likely that the wind on the unprotected eyes contributed in impairment of vision which delayed hazard detection.
43. Approximately 50% of the motorcycle riders in traffic were using safety helmets but only 40% of the accident-involved motorcycle riders were wearing helmets at the time of the accident.
44. Voluntary safety helmet use by those accident-involved motorcycle riders was lowest for untrained, uneducated, young motorcycle riders on hot days and short trips.
45. The most deadly injuries to the accident victims were injuries to the chest and head.
46. The use of the safety helmet is the single critical factor in the prevention of reduction of head injury; the safety helmet which complies with FMVSS 218 is a significantly effective injury countermeasure.
47. Helmeted riders and passengers showed significantly lower head and neck injury for all types of injury, at all levels of injury severity.
48. The increased coverage of the full facial coverage helmet increases protection, and significantly reduces face injuries.
49. Valid motorcycle exposure data can be obtained only from collection at the traffic site. Motor vehicle or driver license data presents information which is completely unrelated to actual use.
50. Less than 10% of the motorcycle riders involved in these accidents had insurance of any kind to provide medical care or replace property.

Here's one more conclusion that has been drawn from more current data that is not mentioned in the Hurt Report: Most crashes happen to new, inexperienced riders, or riders who are riding bikes they are not familiar with.

I hope all this doom and gloom doesn't keep from enjoying biking, but as I stated at the start, a little shock at the first might make you take safety more seriously.

Return to Home Page

Chapter 1. Let's Look at Some Data

Chapter 2. Risk Management

Chapter 3. Two Wheeled Physics

Chapter 4. Countersteering: Cornering Techniques

Chapter 5. Gravity Is a Good Thing

Chapter 6. Gyroscopic Precession: Nature's Power Steering

Chapter 7. Braking: Weight Transfer and Maximum Performance

Chapter 8. Controlling Slides and Tank Slappers: Mind Over Matter

Chapter 9. Group Riding

Chapter 10. Riding Etiquette

Chapter 11. MSF Courses- Editorial