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How Dangerous Are Motorcycles: Accident Statistics Explained

July 21, 2020 by Steven M. Gursten

How Dangerous Are Motorcycles: Accident Statistics Explained

Riding motorcycles is dangerous. Motorcyclists account for 14% of all crash-related fatalities, even though they are only 3% of the vehicles on the road. Motorcyclists are 28 times more likely than passenger-vehicle occupants to die in a car crash. More than 80% of these type of crashes result in an injury or death.


The good news is that important progress is being made in reducing how dangerous motorcycles are. The bad news is that riding a motorcycle is still very dangerous, especially when compared to driving or riding in a passenger car and there are still far too many fatalities and preventable deaths.

Still, the trend is improving. In 2018, 4,985 motorcyclists lost their lives in motor vehicle crashes, which was the lowest motorcyclist fatality total since 2014.

Fatality rate for motorcyclists versus motorists

NHTSA reports that in 2018 “motorcyclists are about 28 times more likely than people in passenger cars to die in a traffic crash,” based on vehicle miles traveled.

Similarly, NHTSA reported that in 2017 “motorcyclist fatalities occurred nearly 27 times more frequently than passenger car occupant fatalities in motor vehicle traffic crashes.”

How dangerous are motorcycles and cars and trucks?

More than 50% of fatal crashes involve collisions between motorbikes and motor vehicles such as cars and trucks. Specifically, 57% of the motorbikes“involved in fatal crashes were collisions with motor vehicles in transport.”

Importantly, 76% of fatal motorbike/car accidents involve a car or truck striking the motorcyclist head-on. Only 7% of these fatal type of accidents involve a car or truck colliding with the rear of the motorbike.

How dangerous are motorcycles and cars making left-hand turns?

Cars and trucks making left hand turns are particularly dangerous for motorcyclists. In fact, 42% of fatal motorbike-car accidents involve a car or truck turning left while a motorcyclist is going straight or passing or overtaking the car or truck.

Why does this continue to happen? As I explained in my blog post, “Are motorists at fault in the majority of motorbike accidents?”:

“In my experience as an attorney litigating motorbike accident lawsuits for the past 20 years, I see the majority of these cases being caused by drivers who never see the motorbike operator – even when the motorcyclist is plainly there to be seen. Often people don’t “process” the motorbike operator that’s visible and in plain sight because the brain isn’t expecting to see it. And so drivers hit the motorbike operator.”

As part of its “Get Up To Speed On Motorcycles” safety campaign, NHTSA offered a similar explanation, stating that this type of motorbike-car accident happens “because drivers don’t see” the motorcyclists.

How does speeding increase the danger for motorcyclists?

Speeding plays an outsized role as a cause of motorbike accidents and in the cause of death of the rider/operator of a motorbike than with the death of a driver of a passenger car or a truck. Specifically, 32% of motorcyclist drivers involved in fatal motorbike-car accident also involved speeding, as versus for only 18% of drivers of passenger cars, and only 14% for drivers of light-trucks and 7% of drivers for large trucks.

How dangerous are motorcycles when alcohol is involved?

Twenty eight percent of the motorcyclist drivers killed in motorbike-related crashes were alcohol-impaired with a BAC of .08 g/dL or higher. Significantly, in fatal single-vehicle motorbike accidents, 43% of the motorbike drivers who were killed were alcohol-impaired. However, in fatal multiple-vehicle motorbike accidents, only 18% of the motorbike riders who where killed were alcohol-impaired.

How dangerous are motorcycles if you’re wearing a helmet?

Helmets are 37% and 41% effective in preventing fatal injuries to motorbike drivers and passengers, respectively. That means that for every 100 unhelmeted motorcyclists killed in motorcyclist accidents, 37 drivers and 41 passengers would have been saved if all 100 had worn helmets.

It is estimated that helmets saved the lives 1,872 of motorcyclists in 2017 and could have saved 749 more if all motorcyclists had been wearing helmets.

How dangerous are motorcycles in Michigan?

Motorcycles are dangerous in Michigan. Crashes have dropped 21% between 2009 and 2018 from 3,451 to 2,728. But motorcyclist deaths have increased more than 27% over the same period from 105 to 134.

Michigan motorcyclists were more than 17 times more likely than passenger-vehicle occupants to die in a car crash in 2018, based on vehicle miles traveled.

Of the motorcyclists killed in 2018, 81% “were reported by police as ‘going straight ahead’ just prior to the crash.”

More than 33% of the motorcyclist fatalities in Michigan in 2018 “were the result of a had-been-drinking crash.”

Need help? Call the attorneys at Michigan Auto Law

If you have been injured in a motorbike-car accident and would like to speak to an experienced attorney, call toll free anytime 24/7 at (248) 353-7575 for a free consultation with one of our attorneys. You can also get help from an experienced accident attorney by visiting our contact page or you can use the chat feature on our website.

(Sources: NHTSA, “Motorcycle Safety” website page; NHTSA, “The Anatomy of a Motorcycle Crash”; NHTSA, “Traffic Safety Facts – Motorcycles – 2017 Data,” published August 2019; Michigan Traffic Crash Facts – Statewide – 2018, Historical Information – 10 Year Summary; Michigan Traffic Crash Facts – “Motorcycles” Fact Sheet (2018))

How Dangerous Are Motorcycles: Accident Statistics Explained

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