There were nearly 5,000 deaths in 2018 attributed to motorcycle crashes. That year, motorcyclists were 27 times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than passenger vehicle occupants per vehicle miles traveled.

Motorcycle crashes occur each year, threatening property damage and loss of life for all those involved. Because they are smaller, motorcycles are not as easily seen and can be overlooked, putting them at a greater risk of accident than other types of vehicles. There is also a lack of protection due to the open design, forgoing the traditional protections that a standard car affords its drivers. The two-wheel design requires balance, stability and concentration and can carry a much higher risk than fully-enclosed vehicles. Motorcycles also put drivers at a higher risk of accidents due to weather and road-related hazards.

Using the latest available data, Bankrate offers an in-depth analysis of the latest motorcycle accident statistics for 2021.

Key motorcycle accident statistics

  • 89% of motorcycle fatalities occurred during good weather conditions.
  • In 2018, almost 5,000 motorcyclists lost their lives to motorcycle crashes.
  • That same year, motorcyclists were 27 times more likely to die than those passengers in cars per vehicle miles traveled.
  • Helmets are a critical life-saving tool and are about 37% effective in preventing motorcycle fatalities and 67% effective in preventing brain injury.
  • Helmet use is only required in 18 states and the District of Columbia.

In this article:

Car accidents vs. motorcycle accidents

In a study of 2018 accidents, there was about four times the number of car crashes involving passenger cars than motorcycles. However, the rate per registered vehicle is significantly higher than those of passenger cars and light trucks. The rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled is especially jarring to see, with more than 25% of motorcycles involved in fatal crashes, compared to less than 1.5% for passenger cars and light trucks.

Fatal Crashes by Vehicle Type (iii, 2018)

Motorcycles Passenger cars Light trucks
Involved in crashes 5,115 20,333 19,775
Rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled 25.48% 1.45% 1.32%
Rate per 100,000 registered vehicles 59.02% 15.30% 14.00%

Motorcycle accidents per year

Motorcycles are involved in several different types of accidents each year, including fatal accidents, those that cause injuries and accidents that create property damage. In a study of 2018 motorcycle accidents, there were a total of 109,000 motorcycle accidents. The majority caused injury, with property damage occurring in about one-quarter of crashes.

Motorcycles Involved in Crashes by Event and Crash Severity (NHTSA, 2018)

Type of event Fatal Injury Property damage Total
Collision with a motor vehicle in transport by initial point of impact 2,881 42,000 18,000 62,000
Collision with a fixed object 1,121 8,000 3,000 12,000
Collision with an object not fixed 281 5,000 3,000 8,000
Noncollision 821 24,000 1,000 26,000
Unknown 11 0 0 0
Total 5,115 79,000 25,000 109,000

What causes motorcycle accidents?

Motorcycle accidents are caused by a combination of factors, including:

Motorcycle injuries per year

Overall, there was a decrease in motorcycle injuries between 2014 and 2018, with a difference of more than 50 fatalities. 2016 had the highest number of annual motorcycle injuries, topping 100,000 fatalities. In the two years that followed, the motorcycle injury rate fluctuated but did not top 2016 numbers. Interestingly, 2018 had the lowest number of vehicle miles traveled, with the highest number in 2016.

Motorcycle Injury Rate, 2018-2014 (iii)

Year Motorcycle injuries Miles traveled (millions) Motorcycle injury rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled
2018 82,000 20,076 408
2017 89,000 20,149 440
2016 104,000 20,445 511
2015 89,000 19,606 453
2014 92,000 19,970 461

What are common types of motorcycle injuries?

Motorcycle injuries can be far more severe than those sustained in a car accident. Injuries can include:

  • Road burns/road rash
  • Broken bones
  • Amputation
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Paralysis
  • Traumatic brain injury (TBI)
  • Death

Motorcycle deaths per year

2018 saw a decrease in the overall motorcycle death rate with a total of 4,985 fatalities. This was the lowest death rate since 2014, when there were just about 4,600 deaths that single year. 2016 saw the highest spike in deaths with a total of 5,337 deaths and the most miles traveled within the five-year period of 2014 to 2018.

Motorcycle Death Rate, 2018-2014 (iii)

Year Motorcycle Deaths Miles traveled (millions) Motorcycle death rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled
2018 4,985 20,076 24.83
2017 5,229 20,149 25.95
2016 5,337 20,445 26.10
2015 5,029 19,606 25.65
2014 4,594 19,970 23.00

What contributes to motorcycle deaths?

The fatality rates of motorcycles are several times those of light trucks and passenger cars. The fatality rate far exceeds other vehicle types by both registered vehicles and vehicle miles traveled.

Occupant Fatality Rates By Vehicle Type (iii)

Year Motorcycle Light trucks Passenger cars
Per 100,000 registered vehicles 57.52 7.02 9.61
Per 100 million vehicle miles traveled 24.83 0.66 0.91*
Per 100,000 registered vehicles 56.36 10.11 9.57
Per 100 million vehicle miles traveled 21.46 0.92 0.87*
Percent change, 2009-2018
Per 100,000 registered vehicles 2.1% -30.6% 0.4%
Per 100 million vehicle miles traveled 15.7% -28.3% 4.6%

*Per 10 million vehicle miles traveled.

Factors that impact motorcycle accidents

There are four main factors that impact motorcycle accidents:

  • Time of day
  • Setting
  • Weather
  • Drunk driving

We examine NSC and iii data from each subset.

Motorcycle deaths by time of day

The iii reports that most fatalities occur during the week between noon to 9 p.m., while weekends between noon and midnight have the highest fatality rates. However, regardless of the day of the week, there are the highest fatalities between the hours of 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. when commuters are heading home from work and happy hour. Between the hours of 3 p.m. and 6 p.m., there were a total of 1,067 fatalities.

Motorcycle deaths by setting

Data from the NSC shows that motorcycle fatalities are higher in urban areas than in more rural areas. Of motorcycle fatalities, 61.38% occurred on urban roadways, while 38.62% occurred in rural areas. About 50% of crashes happened during the day.

Motorcycle deaths by weather

What’s most surprising about motorcycle fatalities is that 89% happen in good weather. NSC defines that as clear or cloudy skies. Less than 2% of motorcycle fatalities were due to rain, about 0.36% from fog and almost 9% for reasons unknown.

Motorcycle fatalities and drunk driving

Overall, there are fewer fatalities involving motorcycles and alcohol than other types of alcohol-impaired crash fatalities. This includes both passenger vehicles and pedestrian fatalities. While 32% of total alcohol-related fatalities were due to vehicles, almost the same percentage involved motorcycles, with motorcycles comprising 31% of all alcohol-impaired crash fatalities.

How does helmet use impact motorcycle deaths?

Helmets are proven to prevent injuries like traumatic brain injury and even death. Thankfully, it appears education and advocacy are working, as helmet use steadily increased over five years, jumping from 61% to 71% in steady growth.

Motorcycle Helmet Use by Year (iii)

Year Helmet use (%)
2019 71%
2018 71%
2017 65%
2016 65%
2015 61%

The data clearly shows that drivers of motorcycles are at a much higher risk than those drivers of other vehicles. What’s most shocking is that the majority of motorcycle fatalities occur in good weather conditions. It shows that motorcycle drivers can never be too careful, especially when navigating urban roads. Practicing defensive driving and using a helmet can go a long way in keeping you and your passengers safe when you are driving your motorcycle. Armed with proper motorcycle insurance, it is possible to stay safe and avoid incidents when you use protective measures and practice safe driving.