Motorcyclists—motorcycle riders and their passengers—have the highest risk of fatal injury among all motor vehicle users. In 2020, 5,579 motorcyclists died in traffic crashes in the United States, compared to 5,044 in 2019 (Stewart 2022). Per vehicle mile traveled, motorcyclist fatalities occurred 28 times more frequently than passenger vehicle occupant fatalities in traffic crashes. (NHTSA 2022).
While motorcycles made up about 0.6 percent of all vehicle miles traveled in the United States in 2020, motorcyclists accounted for 14 percent of all traffic fatalities and 18 percent of all occupant fatalities (driver and passenger) (FHWA 2021; Stewart 2022). Like other motor vehicles crashes, speeding and alcohol-impairment are leading contributing factors to motorcycle crashes.
Motorcycle crashes are complex events that can be influenced by multiple human, vehicle, and environmental factors. And, unlike motor vehicles, motorcyclists lack an external structure to protect them when crashes occur, making them more likely to suffer a serious injury or even death.
What We Have Learned from our Investigations:
We advocate for a Safe System Approach to address the public health crisis on our roads. To improve safety for vulnerable road users, such as motorcyclists and their passengers, we must apply this approach to effectively identify strategies for reducing motorcycle crashes.
The NTSB has issued motorcycle safety recommendations focused on crash warning and prevention, and occupant protection and injury mitigation.
Improving Detection of Motorcycles in Traffic
Connected vehicle and infrastructure technologies can improve the detection of motorcycles in traffic by other motor vehicle drivers, increase the motorcycle riders’ time to react to hazards, and prevent crashes and save lives.
Crash warning and prevention systems on passenger vehicles are available now and will likely serve as a foundation for advanced connected systems in the future; therefore, motorcycles should be incorporated into the development of performance standards for crash warning and prevention systems on passenger vehicles. We must make sure these in-vehicle systems are being designed to detect all road users, including motorcyclists.
Antilock Braking System Technology as Standard Equipment on New Motorcycles Manufactured for On-Road Use
The enhanced stopping performance and control of motorcycles equipped with antilock braking system (or ABS) technology offers both novice and experienced riders improved braking performance and stability when collision avoidance maneuvers are necessary.
However, the implementation of ABS technology on motorcycles in the United States has lagged compared to passenger vehicles, which have had this technology as standard equipment since 2000, and to motorcycles in other countries, such as Europe which has required this technology since 2016. ABS technology is also the building block technology for more advanced braking and stability control systems available for motorcycles.
Improving Motorcyclist Protection in the Event of a Crash
Motorcyclists are at greater risk than passenger vehicle occupants because they are not protected by an enclosed vehicle compartment with seat belts and air bags, thus leaving them more vulnerable to injury or death in the event of a crash.
A motorcycle helmet is a motorcyclist’s single most important piece of safety gear for preventing and mitigating head injury. The overall rate of motorcycle helmet use is higher in states that have laws requiring all motorcyclists to be helmeted. For the best protection, motorcyclists should select and use helmets that meet or exceed the U.S. Department of Transportation standard.
Additional NTSB Motorcycle Safety Resources
Crash Investigations and Safety Research Reports:
Collision Between Pickup Truck with Trailer and Group of Motorcycles, Randolph, New Hampshire, June 21, 2019
Select Risk Factors Associated with Causes of Motorcycle Crashes
Motorcycle and Pickup Truck Crash During “Toy Run” Group Ride, Augusta, Maine, September 10, 2017
Public Forum on Motorcycle Safety
Protect Vulnerable Road Users Through a Safe System Approach
2021-2022 Most Wanted List Advocacy Toolkit
NTSB The Safe System Approach Roundtable Series (see below)
NTSB Most Wanted List Webinar: A Safe System Approach to Motorcycle Safety (see below)
Behind-the-Scene @NTSB Podcast: Episode 45: Most Wanted List - Vulnerable Road Users and Speeding
Behind-the-Scene @NTSB Podcast: Episode 40: Motorcycle Safety Monthhttps://safetycompass.wordpress.com/2021/05/27/episode-40-motorcycle-safety-month/
NTSB 2007 Safety Recommendation to States with No Motorcycle Helmet Law
NTSB 2007 Safety Recommendation to States with a Partial Motorcycle Helmet Law
NTSB 2007 Safety Recommendation to States that Allow the Use of Noncompliant Motorcycle Helmets
NTSB Most Wanted List Webinar: A Safe System Approach to Motorcycle Safety
MWL Roundtable: A System Approach to Traffic Safety