Motorcycle Crash Statistics

Doug Westly | Safety EditorDoug Westly | Safety Editor

IMPORTANT NOTICE: Ultimately, the safety of motorcycle riders and their passengers is their own responsibility. Nothing presented in the column supersedes, negates or relieves a motorcyclist and/or passenger from assumption of personal responsibility for their actions and safety.

This month I thought I would throw out some of the latest statistics. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA) usually runs about a year or two behind on releasing crash information. Here are the statistics and information for 2011. There is some preliminary data available for 2012, but the 2011 information is more complete.

The latest report shows that 4,612 motorcyclists died in 2011 in the U.S. This according to NHTSA is a 2% increase in rider fatalities over 2010.

The overall figure of 4,612 deaths also includes other types of bikes (scooters, three wheelers, mopeds, mini bikes, pocket bikes and off-roaders) so the actual two-wheel motorcycle fatality number for 2011 is 4323.

What’s not clear in the findings is if the number of motorcycle riders actually grew too from 2010 to 2011. A total of 8,009,503 ‘motorcycles’ (including scooters, trikes etc) were registered in 2010 but this increased by nearly 5% in 2011 to 8,437,502. So if we had a 5% increase in registrations but “only” a 2% increase in rider fatalities, does that mean the actual number of fatalities by percentage was up or down from the year before?

Interestingly, injuries from crashes involving motorcycles were down in 2011 with 81,000 recorded compared to 82,000 the previous year.

Also according to the findings, 2,449 (49%) of all fatal motorcycle crashes were the result of a bike colliding with another vehicle. Only 6% of deaths in 2011 were due to a bike being hit from behind.

More than 42% (1,998) of motorcyclists killed in 2011 were in a two vehicle accident and 38% (757) of these were the result of another vehicle turning left in front of the motorcycle that was either going straight, passing or overtaking another vehicle.

NHTSA claims that of all motorcycle deaths in 2011, 35% (1,614) were the direct result of the rider speeding. This according to its research and data is a substantially higher death toll than any other vehicle type on the roads – 22% for cars, 19 % for trucks and 8% for large trucks. Think about this one for a while.

1,617 lives of riders were saved by wearing a helmet and a further 703 may have survived if they had been wearing a helmet.

Riders of bikes with 501-1000cc engines accounted for 39% of all 2011 fatalities and also represented the highest increase of overall fatalities (25%) from when NHTSA first started recording this information in 2002. Older motorcyclists (40 years and up) account for 75% of all motorcyclists’ deaths over this 10-year period with 42-years-old now the average age of a motorcycle rider killed on the U.S. roads in a traffic crash. As our riding demographic ages, so does the average age of motorcycle fatalities.

Also, 22% of riders involved in fatal crashes in 2011 did not have a valid motorcycle license and were 1.4 times more likely than a car driver to have a previous license suspension or revocation

Now for the really scary part. 42% of motorcycle riders who died in single vehicle crashes in the U.S. in 2011 had blood alcohol levels (BAC) of 0.8g/dL or higher. The 40-44 year-old age group accounted for 38% of these deaths, while the 45-49 and 35-39 age groups were each at 37%.

NHTSA figures also show that in 2011, motorcycle riders killed at night were nearly three times more likely to have BAC levels of 0.8 g/dL or higher than riders who were killed during the day.

Across the U.S. in 2011, Texas had the most motorcycle fatalities with 441 riders killed and 37% of these had 0.8g/dl BAC readings or higher. Florida was second with 426 riders killed and 34% impaired by drinking and riding and California third with 386 of which 22% of riders who died were under the influence of alcohol. Mississippi and Ohio may have had fewer rider deaths in 2011 at 53 and 157 respectively, but both states had the nation’s highest percentage of alcohol-impaired deaths at 40% of all motorcycle fatalities. (Vermont was actually higher at 63% but with only eight riders killed in 2011).

NHTSA’s figures also show that in 2011 of the 4000 plus motorcycle
riders killed on the roads in the U.S. 40% were not wearing a helmet. And based upon all 2011 motorcycle crash information NHTSA estimates that 1,617 lives of riders were saved by wearing a helmet and a further 703 may have survived if they had been wearing a helmet. This data makes no distinction between types of helmets (full or open face).

However, the staggering number in all of NHTSA’s research is that of the 4,323 motorcyclists killed in 2011, 33% (1426) of the riders were under the influence of alcohol. That’s almost 1 in 3 fatal motorcycle accidents attributed to drinking and riding. Wow. Just don’t do it. Don’t let friends drink and ride either. It’s not worth it.

That’s it. There is enough information in the NHSTA data to keep us busy for a while, just digesting and applying it to our sporting genre.

The bottom line is that all these statistics point out the various factors that go into motorcycle risk management. As riders, it is up to each of us to evaluate the risks and plan our riding accordingly.

Ride Safe!
Doug Westly
Sources:, NHSTA.

One thought on “Motorcycle Crash Statistics”

Leave a Reply