In 2012, 4,957 motorcyclists were killed in motor vehicle traffic crashes—an increase of 7 percent from the 4,630 motorcyclists killed in 2011. There were 93,000 motorcyclists injured during 2012, a 15-percent increase from 81,000 in 2011. The following definitions apply to terms used throughout this fact sheet: The motorcycle rider is the person operating the motorcycle; the passenger is a person seated on, but not operating, the motorcycle; the motorcyclist is a general term referring to either the rider or passenger. NHTSA publications prior to 2007 may not reflect this terminology. The following vehicles are defined as motorcycles: mopeds, two- or three-wheeled motorcycles, off-road motorcycles, scooters, mini bikes, and pocket bikes. In 2012, two-wheeled motorcycles accounted for 93 percent of all motorcycles in fatal crashes.

Table 1

Motorcyclist Fatalities and Injuries, and Fatality and Injury Rates, 2003–2012



In 2012, motorcyclists accounted for 15 percent of all traffic fatalities, 18 percent of all occupant (driver and passenger) fatalities, and 4 percent of all occupants injured. Of the 4,957 motorcyclists killed in traffic crashes, 93 percent (4,625) were riders and 7 percent (332) were passengers.

Motorcycles made up 3 percent of all registered vehicles in the United States in 2012 and accounted for only 0.7 percent of all vehicle miles traveled. Per vehicle mile traveled in 2012, motorcyclists were more than 26 times likely than passenger car occupants to die in motor vehicle traffic crashes and 5 times more likely to be injured (Table 2). Per registered vehicle, the fatality rate for motorcyclists in 2012 was 6 times the fatality rate for passenger car occupants. The injury rate for motorcyclists was about the same as the injury rate for passenger car occupants.


Table 2

Occupant Fatality Rates by Vehicle Type, 2012


Motorcycle Involvement in Crashes In 2012, 2,624 of all motorcycles (52%) involved in fatal crashes collided with another type of motor vehicle in transport. In two-vehicle crashes, 75 percent of the motorcycles involved in motor vehicle traffic crashes collided with the vehicles in the front of them. Only 7 percent were struck in the rear. Motorcycles are more likely to be involved in fatal collisions with fixed objects than are other vehicles. In 2012, 22 percent of the motorcycles involved in fatal crashes collided with fixed objects, compared to 18 percent for passenger cars, 14 percent for light trucks, and 4 percent for large trucks.

In 2012, there were 2,317 two-vehicle fatal crashes involving a motorcycle and another type of vehicle. In 41 percent (953) of these crashes, the other vehicles were turning left while the motorcycles were going straight, passing, or overtaking other vehicles. Both vehicles were going straight in 524 crashes (23%). NHTSA considers a crash to be speeding-related if the driver was charged with a speeding-related offense or if an officer indicated that racing, driving too fast for conditions, or exceeding the posted speed limit was a contributing factor in the crash. In 2012, 34 percent of all motorcycle riders involved in fatal crashes were speeding, compared to 22 percent for passenger car drivers, 18 percent for lighttruck drivers, and 8 percent for large-truck drivers.

Table 3

Motorcyclist Fatalities in Motor Vehicle Traffic Crashes, by Age, Year, and Day of the Week, 2003 and 2012


From 2003 to 2012, motorcyclist fatalities increased by 33 percent (Table 3). Among those increases, the 40-and-older age group made up 46 percent of motorcyclists killed in 2003 as compared to 56 percent in 2012. Within the 40 and older age group, fatalities increased by 63 percent over a 10-year period. In 2003, the average age of motorcycle riders killed in motor vehicle traffic crashes was 38 whereas in 2012 the average age was 43.



Table 4

Motorcycle Rider (Operator) Fatalities by Engine Size (cc), 2003 and 2012


Forty-five percent of motorcycle riders were killed in motor vehicle traffic crashes while riding motorcycles with engine sizes of 1,001 cubic centimeters (cc) or higher in 2012, a 45-percent increase in fatalities from 2003 to 2012. Rider fatalities on motorcycles with engine sizes of 1,000 cc or less showed an increase of 22 percent during the same time period. (Table 4).


Twenty-four percent of motorcycle riders involved in fatal crashes in 2012 were riding their vehicles without valid motorcycle licenses at the time of the collisions, while only 12 percent of drivers of passenger vehicles in fatal crashes did not have valid licenses. A valid motorcycle license includes a rider having a valid driver license (Non-CDL License Status) with a motorcycle endorsement or a motorcycleonly license. Motorcycle riders involved in fatal traffic crashes were 1.3 times more likely than passenger vehicle drivers to have previous license suspension or revocations (18% and 14%, respectively).

Previous Driving Records

In Figure 1, motorcycle riders were shown to have the highest percentage of drivers with previous driving convictions (DWI, speeding, and revocation) as compared to other vehicle drivers.

Figure 1

Previous Driving Records of Drivers Involved in Fatal Traffic Crashes, by Type of Vehicle, 2012

Note: Excluding all drivers with unknown previous records.


In fatal crashes in 2012, a higher percentage of motorcycle riders had blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) of .08 grams per deciliter (g/dL) or higher than any other type of motor vehicle driver. The percentages for alcohol-impaired drivers involved in fatal crashes were 27 percent for motorcycles, 23 percent for passenger cars, 22 percent for light trucks, and 2 percent for large trucks. In 2012, there were 1,335 (29%) fatally injured motorcycle riders who had BACs of .08 g/dL or higher.

An additional 360 (8%) had lower alcohol levels (BACs of .01 to .07 g/dL). The highest percentage of fatally injured motorcycle riders with BAC of .08 g/dL or higher was the 40-44 age group (37%) , followed by the 45-49 age group (36%) and 35-39 age group (35%). Forty-three percent of the 2,030 motorcycle riders who died in single-vehicle crashes in 2012 had BACs of .08 g/dL or higher. Sixty-four percent of those killed in single-vehicle crashes on weekend nights had BACs of .08 g/dL or higher.



Table 5

Motorcycle Riders Killed With BACs of .08 or Higher, by Crash Type and Time of Day, 2003 and 2012


Motorcycle riders killed in traffic crashes at night were over 3 times more likely to have BACs of .08 g/dL or higher than those killed during the day (45% and 14%, respectively). The reported helmet use rate for motorcycle riders killed in traffic crashes was 45 percent for those with BACs of .08 g/dL or higher as compared to 66 percent for those with no alcohol (BAC=.00 g/dL).

Among drivers and motorcycle riders, drinking and driving has always been a concern. In 2012, there were 4,625 motorcycle riders killed in motor vehicle traffic crashes. Twenty-nine percent of these riders were alcohol-impaired (BAC of .08 or higher). As seen in Table 6, the proportion of motorcycle riders killed who were alcohol-impaired ranged from a high of 63 percent (Rhode Island) to a low of 3 percent (Utah).


Table 6

Motorcycle Rider Fatalities in Motor Vehicle Traffic Crashes by State and Rider’s BAC, 2012


Helmet Use and Effectiveness

NHTSA estimates that helmets saved the lives of 1,699 motorcyclists in 2012. If all motorcyclists had worn helmets, an additional 781 lives could have been saved. Helmets are estimated to be 37-percent effective in preventing fatal injuries to motorcycle riders and 41 percent for motorcycle passengers. In other words, for every 100 motorcycle riders killed in crashes while not wearing helmets, 37 of them could have been saved had all 100 worn helmets.

According to NHTSA’s National Occupant Protection Use Survey, a nationally representative observational survey of motorcycle helmet, seat belt, and child safety seat use, use of DOT-compliant helmets in 2012 stood at 60 percent, a decrease from 66 percent in 2011. Reported helmet use rates for fatally injured motorcyclists in 2012 were 59 percent for riders and 48 percent for passengers, compared with 60 percent and 49 percent, respectively, in 2011. Conversely, 42 percent of the 4,957 motorcyclists killed in motor vehicle traffic crashes were not helmeted. Table 7 shows that these percentages ranged from a high of 84 percent (South Dakota) to a low of 5 percent (Washington, Nebraska, and Louisiana).

All motorcycle helmets sold in the United States are required to meet Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 218, the performance standard which establishes the minimum level of protection for helmets designed for use by motorcyclists. In 2012, 19 States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico required helmet use by all motorcyclists. Whereas 28 States only required helmet use by a subset of motorcyclists (typically motorcyclists under age 18) and 3 States (Illinois, Iowa, and New Hampshire) do not require helmet use by motorcyclists of any age. In States without universal helmet laws, 62 percent of motorcyclists killed in 2012 were not wearing helmets, as compared to 9 percent in States with universal helmet laws.


Table 7

Motorcyclist Fatalities, by State and Helmet Use, 2012


For more information: Information on traffic fatalities is available from the National Center for Statistics and Analysis (NCSA), NVS-424, 1200 New Jersey Avenue SE., Washington, DC 20590. NCSA can be contacted at 800-934-8517 or via the following e-mail address: ncsaweb@dot.gov. General information on highway traffic safety can be accessed by Internet users at www.nhtsa.gov/NCSA. To report a safety-related problem or to inquire about motor vehicle safety information, contact the Vehicle Safety Hotline at 888-327-4236. Other fact sheets available from the National Center for Statistics and Analysis are Alcohol-Impaired Driving, Bicyclists and Other Cyclists, Children, Large Trucks, Occupant Protection, Older Population, Overview, Passenger Vehicles, Pedestrians, Race and Ethnicity, Rural/Urban Comparisons, School Transportation-Related Crashes, Speeding, State Alcohol Estimates, State Traffic Data, and Young Drivers. Detailed data on motor vehicle traffic crashes are published annually in Traffic Safety Facts: A Compilation of Motor Vehicle Crash Data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System and the General Estimates System. The fact sheets and annual Traffic Safety Facts report can be accessed online at www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/CATS/index.aspx.


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