How dangerous are motorcycles? Motorcycle riders continue to be overrepresented in fatal traffic crashes. In 2021, there were 5,932 motorcyclists killed — 14% of all traffic fatalities. NHTSA data show that this is the highest number of motorcyclists killed since at least 1975.
To keep everyone safe, we urge drivers and motorcyclists to share the road and be alert, and we’re reminding motorcyclists to make themselves visible, to use DOT-compliant motorcycle helmets, and to always ride sober.
How Dangerous Are Motorcycles?
Riding motorcycles is dangerous. Motorcyclists account for 14% of all crash-related fatalities in the U.S., even though they are only 3.5% of the vehicles on the road. Motorcyclists are 24 times more likely than passenger-vehicle occupants to die in a car crash and 40 times more likely than light-truck occupants.
According to the Hurt Report, over 50% of all motorcycle accidents involve riders who have been on their bikes for less than 5 months. So if you’ve been riding the same motorcycle for a while, go ahead and drop your risk factor.
Blood Alcohol Level
According to the 2018 Ontario Road Safety Annual Report (ORSAR), alcohol impairment was a factor in 19% of motorcycle deaths. So if you always ride sober, you can safely slash that risk factor some more.
In the same Ontario study, motorcycle speed was a significant contributing factor in 28.8% of deaths. So if you keep it within the limits, knock your number down again!
Motorcycle Safety Course
Finally, our handy study shows that motorcycle driver error was the top contributing factor in 36.4% of deaths. That’s a hell of a number. This begs the question: should mandated motorcycle training and refresher classes be implemented?
While it won’t eliminate all accidents caused by driver error, it could significantly impact the tragic death toll. So if you recently graduated from Moto School or took a refresher course, then your danger level has decreased even more.
Motorcycle Safety Gear
NHTSA suggests that wearing a helmet is 37% effective at preventing fatalities. Most Canadians wear helmets while riding, so this has little bearing on our stats. However, not every Canadian wears a full face helmet.
And according to Dietmar Otte’s motorcycle helmet impact research, full face helmets offer 61.4% more impact coverage than half helmets. Likewise, armored jackets and pants offer more protection than street clothes.
The numeric benefit of ATGATT (All The Gear All The Time) is hard to nail down. But if you always ride with full gear, you can safely assume that your risk factor will drop.
In America (which is similar to Canada in this respect), motorcycles with ABS are 37% less likely to be involved in a fatal collision. Many modern machines come with traction control too, which is bound to decrease your danger even more.
Why Motorcycles Accidents Are So Dangerous?
One of the main reasons why motorcycles are more dangerous than passenger vehicles is because a car with four wheels is more stable than a motorcycle. And a motorcycle doesn’t provide the kind of occupant protection that a car does – there is no cabin, roof, airbags, or seatbelts to protect and secure the rider.
When a motorcycle crashes or stops suddenly, the laws of motion continue to propel the rider at the speed they were traveling. If the rider doesn’t collide with an object, they are likely to be ejected from the bike and fly through the air before landing, often suffering serious injuries on impact.
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, 75% of fatal motorbike/car accidents involve a car or truck striking the motorcyclist head-on. Only 8% of these fatal types of accidents involve a car or truck colliding with the rear of the motorbike.
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, 33% of motorcyclist drivers involved in a fatal motorbike-car accident also involved speeding, compared to only 22% of drivers of passenger cars, and only 15% for drivers of light-trucks and 7% of drivers for large trucks.
How Dangerous Are Motorcycles When Alcohol Is Involved?
Twenty nine percent of the motorcyclist drivers killed in motorbike-related crashes in the U.S. in 2021 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 20% of the motorbike riders who were 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 (the most current year for which data is available) 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 9% between 2012 and 2021 from 3,600 to 3,271. But fatal crashes involving motorcyclists have increased more than 29.5% over the same period from 132 to 171.
Michigan motorcyclists were more than 21 times more likely than passenger-vehicle occupants to die in a car crash in 2021, based on vehicle miles traveled.
Of the motorcyclists killed in 2021, 78% “were reported by police as ‘going straight ahead’ just prior to the crash.” More than 31% of the motorcyclist fatalities in Michigan in 2021 “were the result of a had-been-drinking crash.”
The Truth About Motorcycle Safety
Every motorcyclist hears about how dangerous motorcycles are. Often, friends and family are only too quick to point out the risks of riding on two wheels. But what’s the truth?
Unfortunately, it is a fact that motorcycles are more dangerous than cars. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: “Per vehicle miles traveled in 2020, motorcyclists were about 28 times more likely than passenger vehicle occupants to die in a motor vehicle crash and were four times more likely to be injured.”
Even when a motorcycle crash isn’t fatal, serious injuries can occur, including:
- Broken bones
- Internal bleeding
- Traumatic brain injury
- Spinal damage
The heightened risk of motorcycles makes sense, too. Unlike car drivers and passengers, motorcyclists aren’t shielded by any exterior shell. Motorcycles don’t come with seatbelts, roll cages, or airbags. If a rider is hit or thrown from their bike, they have very little shielding them from the impact.
Needless to say, riding a motorcycle comes with significant risks and should never be taken lightly. Of course, this doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the great outdoors on your trusty bike. It just means you’ll need to take extra care to protect yourself on the road.
Motorcycle Safety Tips
Select the right bike
Wait. What? Find a bike? What does this even mean? Well, before we start our ride we need to find a bike that suits us. In fact, for new riders selecting their first bike, the task can be as difficult as deciding on your first tattoo. Even motorcycle owners decide to try different bikes from time to time.
Perhaps they rent a motorcycle when they travel, or they decide to test ride a bike before they buy. Many riders decide on their next bike based on how the bike looks, when in fact this should be the second or third item you consider. It’s important to look at:
- Overall power – this is a tricky metric. Just because a bike has high displacement, it doesn’t mean it’s faster. A 700cc motorcycle can be just as fast as a 1400cc. It all depends on the weight
- Wet weight – are you about to ride a Harley-Davidson touring bike and have only been on Triumph Bonnevilles? This is okay, but make sure you’re prepared
- Power-to-weight ratio – The higher this number, the faster the bike, and if you learned to ride on a cruiser, be careful. Bikes with higher ratios will have shorter braking distances, faster acceleration, and higher top speeds
- Your judgement – sometimes we think about riding a bike and something tells us we shouldn’t Maybe the bike is too big. Maybe you haven’t ridden with a sidecar before. Or the bike is too fast. Listen to your gut. Don’t get in over your head.
Always wear a full-face helmet
Wear a full-face helmet, with a face shield (or eye protection). Always. My friend Jim rides, and always wears a motorcycle helmet, except “when he just needs to go to the store really quick to get something.” Really? Most accidents occur at slow speeds, and even at slow speeds, not wearing a helmet increases your risk.
The helmet may save you if you hit a patch of gravel. Or an oil slick. And your head hits…something. It’s critical to safe riding. Oh – one more thing. You’re probably asking whether a full-face helmet is necessary. An open-face helmet looks so much cooler and isn’t nearly as hot in the summer.
Right? Sure, but the most common area of impact to a motorcycle helmet is the chin at 19.4%. It’s worth wearing a full-face helmet
Wear protective gear – always
There are a few basic rules here. Boots that cover your ankles, an abrasion resistant jacket with armor, long pants or jeans, gloves, and the full-face helmet in #2. If you want more protection, wear motorcycle pants with armor and moto boots. Just because you’ve never dropped a bike doesn’t mean you won’t horizontally park one day.
You may find yourself asking “do I always need to wear all this gear? How about in the summer? When it’s 100°, sweltering, and humid?” Yes. Yes. And Yes. If it’s that unbearable, get a vented white helmet and some lighter colored or white gear.
Check the weather and know your limits. Then check it again
To be a safe rider, we need to plan. It takes time to plan a safe ride, and concessions are often made by cautious motorcyclists. Last year, I spent a week riding from Denver to Las Vegas in October. And it was lightly snowing. I was wearing rain gear and ski gloves and I wasn’t afraid of some light snow.
I had spent three months planning for this ride, using the REVER app to plan the route and different weather apps to check the forecast. But the weather changed daily. So, I needed to re-plan and reroute. Every day. Before bed each night I’d review the forecast, and plan the route.
I’d repeat this in the morning. Rain and snow can move in quickly, and if we properly anticipate them, we can make safe decisions. Need to cancel a hotel? It’s worth it. Have to catch a later flight? It’s worth it. The small financial impact of these choices can save your life.
Pilots have a saying: “Eight hours from bottle to throttle.” Well, it applies to us too. Safe riding takes all of our concentration. We use all four limbs, our eyes, ears, and nose. We are always aware. I’m not going to start lecturing you on blood-alcohol content, impaired judgement and delayed response time. I’ll leave that to the 8th grade health teachers. Just don’t do it.
Get some rest
This kinda goes without saying, but not really. Being on a motorcycle requires a significant amount of focus; after a long ride, I’m mentally exhausted. So when you ride, make sure you’re a safe motorcyclist and get a good night’s sleep. Highway hypnosis applies to both drivers and riders, so even when you’re well rested, you may get tired during a ride.
Take breaks. Stay hydrated. Stretch. And if needed, nap. A few years ago, I was riding the Blue Ridge Parkway and started getting a little tired. I turned into a scenic pullout, parked the bike, found a patch of shade, and took a nap. Just 15 minutes of rest in the grass, using my jacket as a makeshift pillow, was all I needed.
How dangerous is riding a motorcycle statistically?
Riding a motorcycle is undeniably dangerous. Sadly, motorcycle riders are 28 times more likely to lose their lives in a fatal driving crash compared with other motorists on the road. They are also four times as likely to sustain an injury in a collision.
Are motorcycles too dangerous to ride?
The truth is that because of their two wheels, open design, and high speeds, motorcycling is regarded as a more dangerous form of transportation than cars. This is because they don’t have a body to shield occupants during a collision.
How dangerous is a motorcycle compared to a car?
The chances of a fatality in a motorcycle accident are approximately 30 times higher than in a car. Motorcycle accidents have a staggering 80% injury or death rate, while car accidents remain around 20%.
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