18 October 2005

How Safe Are Motorcycles?

Motorcycles would seem at first glance to be a great way to deal with shrinking supplies of gasoline (many get 70 miles per gallon). But, how dangerous are motorcycles? According to the evidence, very dangerous.

The overall death rate in 2004 from motor vehicles (cars, trucks, motorcycles, etc.) is 1.46 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, compared to 38.93 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (in 2003 when the fatality rate was about 8% lower than in 2004 for motorcycles). Thus, in 2004, it is about 28 times as likely per vehicle mile that you will die on a motorcycle as it is that you will die in a car or truck. This was a total of 4,008 motor vehicle deaths in 2004. The year 2004 experienced seventh consecutive increase in a row, bringing the total to the highest levels since 1987, the low point was 1997, when fatalities were half of common as they were ten years earlier. In contrast, overall vehicle fatality rates have deceased steadily since 1988. About 9.4% of motor vehicle fatalities involve motorcycles, almost twice the 5.0% percentage in 1997. (Injuries from motorcycle accidents make up only 2.7% of total motor vehicle injury accidents, however, indicating, as expected, that serious motorcycle accidents are several times as likely to be fatal as accidents in a larger vehicle).

Overall 48% of motorcycle riders wear approved helmets. The rate is 67% in states where this is required, and 38% in states where it is not. In states without helmet laws, about 66% of fatally injured riders were not wearing helmets. In states with helmet laws, about 15% of fatally injured riders were not wearing helmets. Overall, about 44% of those motorcycle riders who were killed in fatal accidents were not wearing helmets. This in and of itself would suggest that helmets aren't very effective. But, we also know that helmet laws do have an significant impact on fatalities. States that drop helmet laws see an increase in motorcycle fatalities of 50% to 100%. Still, even if not wearing a helmet doubles the chance of a fatal injury, you are still about ten times as likely to die riding a motorcycle with a helmet on, per vehicle mile traveled, than you are to die in a car.

About 27% of motorcycle drivers involved in fatal crashes had a BAC of 0.08 or higher, the standard for being legally drunk (a greater percentage than that found for any other vehicle). But, again, given the likely overlap between non-helmet wearing and impaired driving, even sober, helmeted motorcycle riding is far more dangerous than driving a car or truck.

Given that driving a car is already one of the most dangerous things you can do in life, my conclusion is simple. Don't ride motorcycles. I'm not sure that I would make this a law (we have to get voluntary organ donors somehow, and people do care a great deal about their personal freedom), but I do think that it might be a good idea to require vendors of motorcycles to disclose these facts.

(As an aside, measured by fatalities per 100,000 registered vehicles, passenger cars are actually about 4% safer than SUVs or pickup trucks, although vans, probably because they are more often driven by professional drivers, about about 33% safer than either of them).

31 comments:

Anonymous said...

thanks for this. car just died on me and I always thought guys on motorcycles were hot.

I knew they were dangerous but this just kind of drives it home.

Anonymous said...

This is one of the most poorly written biased pieces I have ever read...

Everyone, please don't believe everything you read on the internet!
Whoever wrote this should be ashamed of themselves...

Anonymous said...

Sadly, using certain data to confirm your opinion is wrong and prejudiced. As a motorcyclist and instructor, showing all the facts, the truth, and how people in cars are NOT trained to see us adds to these numbers you are using here. Did you hear the word motorcycle in your driver's education class?

Anonymous said...

you forgot to mention that most motorcycles accidents include alcohol

Steve said...

I have experience driving everything on the road, from motorcycles to sports cars to 18-wheelers. Of course you're more likely to die on a motorcycle, because there's almost nothing between you and the road: it seems counterintuitive that anyone would actually try to prove this.

To an experienced, careful driver with a clean driving record, statistics like this are pointless. Safe driving isn't primarily about the vehicle you're driving, but about trying to predict what stupid things OTHER people are going to do and taking steps to avoid their moronic, thoughtless, distracted, stupified driving.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the info. It just confirms what I saw to happen to several of my friends who would still be around if not for motorcycle riding.

Anonymous said...

Ok this is extremely biased. "you're about 10 times as likely to die on a motorcycle than in a car"... Where the hell did you get that info??? from actual numbers I've seen it's much closer to 4 times as likely, still bad, but at least get your facts strait. Oh and pick the statistics that help both side, don't be so biased.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

All of the numbers I use and their sources are disclosed. A few I reach by using math to combine figures from the sources cited.

I wrote this piece as an open ended question with no pre-conceived outcome. I'd like to update it someday with information on Scooters.

I don't speculate a great deal on why motorcycle riding is more dangerous than other vehicle travel. There are likely a variety of causes. I simply recite the probability that you will die from riding a motorcycle.

Anonymous said...

YOU COULD GET HIT ON A BICYCLE, OR EVEN JUST WALKING ON THE SIDEWALK IN FRONT OF A DRIVE WAY, INTERSECTION ETC. IF YOU WEAR HEAD TO TOE GEAR WITH BUILT IN ARMOR AND DON'T HAUL ASS !!!!! (SPEED LIMIT) YOUR PROBABLY SAFER THAN BICYCLING & WALKING, SINCE YOUR NOT WEARING NOTHING THAT PROTECTS YOU. IF IT WAS EXTREMELY THAT UNSAFE, COPS WOULD NOT BE ON THEM. WE'RE ALL GOING TO DIE, LUCKILY! SOME SOONER THAN OTHERS BUT, SOME US IN STYLE.

Anonymous said...

You should have formulate the question this way: "How Safe Are Motorcyclists?".

Andy said...

So lets calculate your figures into something that mean something..

You say there's 38.9 deaths per 100 million miles traveled. So lets say the average rider rides 10,000 miles a year (its probably a lot less than that in reality). And lets say they ride for 50 years. That would be 500,000 miles in their lifetime.

So, for every 500,000 miles traveled, that would mean there are 0.19 deaths.

Lets use numbers that are more appropriate. Let's say you ride 3,000 miles a year (for a leisure, weekend rider, this is appropriate), for 15 years. That would be 45,000 over 15 years. The amount of deaths per every 45,000 miles traveled is 0.017. Assuming your numbers are correct, your basically saying that if we ride 3,000 miles a year, for 15 years, on average we have a 0.017% of dying. Doesn't seem too bad. And if we wear a helmet, our odds instantly fall in half to 0.008%. Correct me if my math is wrong, but I don't think motorcycles are as dangerous as you think they are.

Anonymous said...

Odds of dying seem a bit high. Whether or not drivers should be trained to look out for motorcycles is not the issue, the fact is that most aren't, and as such, riding a motorcycle remains inherently dangerous. Please remember to sign your organ donor card.

Peter said...

For those upset by the somewhat canted perspective above, here's an equally biased view from the other side.For the record, guys on bikes are hot. What's your number?

Michael said...

The writer uses a statistic based on "miles traveled" on a motorcycle compared to in a car. However, this statistic doesn't work comparing fatalities, since motorcyclists travel far less than car drivers. Just compare the average 1982 used car to the average 1982 motorcycle. 200,000 compared to 20,000.

barry said...

I ride motorcycles and i ride a car aswell, from an amatuer opinion with regards to motorcycles, you're better off on 4 wheels than 2, but with sayign that, its the car drivers that make it dangerous. Majority of car drivers don't respect Motorcycles and their power and their ego wont let them either.

barry said...

"This is one of the most poorly written biased pieces I have ever read..."


I love this comment.

Anonymous said...

If you are well trained (all bikers should take the advanced riding courses), wear the correct gear and ride within the law and your limits, one could argue that biking is actually safer. I won't argue that you're aren't more exposed but you can stop, accelerate and maneuver quicker than most cars.
All good safe riders also are able to anticipate hazards and are able to avoid them well in advance.

Speeding kills
drinking and driving kills
hot roding kills
being stupid kills

Be responsible and biking is one of the greatest ways to see the world. Free yourself.

Anonymous said...

Point made. Half don't wear approved helmets, and a quarter are drunk. Please don't slander all motorcyclists by making such broad judgements. As a motorcyclist who never rides under the influence, wears all the safety clothing, and has taken courses to be a better rider, it is maddening to be compared to those who ride like morons.

Anonymous said...

I ride a motorcycle and I know they are dangerous. However, there are many other factors that come into play here and a responsible motorcyclist can increase his odds of survival. For instance, I ride a Honda Goldwing. If you look, Goldwings are way under-represented in the fatality statistics. Also, if you checked, you will have found that about 70% of fatalities do not have a valid motorcycle license. Another 70% never had any type of motorcycle safety training course, and finally, as you noted, more than a quarter were legally drunk. I dont drink when I ride, I do have a license, and I have taken a Motorcycle Safety Foundation training course. I believe that these acts greatly increase my odds of survival. Of course I could still die on a motorcycle. Because, yes, motorcycle riding is more dangerous than driving a car. But it SO much more fun.

Anonymous said...

You forgot to mention that you are 5 times less likely to be in an accident on a bike than if you're in a car. Accidents; being fender benders, skidding off roads etc.......

Anonymous said...

I think the real issue is that motorcycles attract more ego tripping dumbasses who speed and showboat and then crash because theyre idiots.

Anonymous said...

Being on a motorcycle is inherently more dangerous than being in a car, all other factors being held equal. You only have two wheels, far less mass, and nothing between you and the road(or the car). I have to say though, statistics are not as "honest" as you might think initially. If you were to rule out all of the stupid, senseless accidents that occur(i.e. the biker is drunk or speeding way to fast on a winding mountainside) there is no doubt in my mind that statistics would reveal that motorcycles are not as dangerous as presented in this article.
The worst road accident I've ever seen was a motorcycle-car collision. Two girls were coming back from Lake Havasu(car), and they were wasted-drunk, estimated going about 100 MPH. Some biker and his girlfriend were heading up to the lake, keeping all traffic laws, with helmets and protective gear donned. Around a turn in the road, the girls in the car fishtailed and this biker and his girlfriend cut their car in half. Traffic was backed up for about two hours(I was going camping with friends) but when we passed the scene, one half of the car was on one side of the road, and the trunk was on the other. The biker died instantly, but his girlfriend was thrown. We found out later she died mid-flight to the ER.

If they had been in a car, I'm sure one, if not both of them would be alive today, but in an accident that fast and terrible, who can say. I think of this often, but I am still considering getting a motorcycle. My reasoning is I'm poor(a good used car is waaay more expensive than a good used cycle), and I'm alert on the road(20/13 vision in both eyes too). It is more risky than a car would be, but there's much to be said for having a level-head, being cautious, and prepared.

Anonymous said...

Good God this is biased.

Anonymous said...

this is just absolutely ridiculous. ok author, you can go sit inside your house, drive your cozy car to your desk job, and when you die when your 85, i hope that you've done, and seen everything that you have wanted too. While i will continue to safely ride a motorcycle and wear a helmet, and explore the world, and even if i die when im 40, i will at-least be happy, while you will be chasing happiness that you could never quite reach because you were to afraid to step out of your house.

Anonymous said...

Statistics mean nothing to the individual. Motorcycles are generally safe when ridden with care and with proper protective gear.

Anonymous said...

You could be the greatest motorcyclist in the world, but it still won't stop the idiot driving 75+ mph talking on their cell phone from hitting you. When it happens, there's almost nothing you can do about it, except do what Kelly Clarkson said and spread your wings and fly.
I want to ride a motorcycle and it's not myself that scares me, but other people.

Anonymous said...

This is very funny, they blame all the death on motorcycles instead of what the rider didnt do right to prevent it like wearing a helmet or other protection and the speed or condictions they were riding.

Anonymous said...

"About 9.4% of motor vehicle fatalities involve motorcycles"

That means the other 90.6% die in cars...pretty big difference.

Amanda said...

Thanks for the info. My husband def isn't getting one now!

CĂșchullain said...

There are so many biases in this article, to the degree of it being pointless. While this article argues that you are 28X more likely to die in a motorcycle accident vs a car accident, the average person is probably 28X more likely to get into a car at any given time in Colorado, you will also likely travel at least 28X more miles in an automobile than you will by motorcycle. There is an old saying that liars figure and figures lie. This is a prime example, where the figures presented "lie" by not scaling realistically to real world experience. This is also much like the statistic that most accidents occur near the home. 23% of accidents occur less than 1 mile from home, 29% 2-5 miles from home. Reading those statistics, you could argue that you should never be within 5 miles of your home if you want to be safe. Or you could look at it logically. Most people spend more time within 5 miles of home, day in and day out.

This article also doesn't break down the statistics for fatalities among age, type of bike, licensed or unlicensed, whether or not riders have taken and passed the MSF course, bike type, age of rider (in 2010 vs 2009 fatalities among motorcyclists under age 55 decreased by 1,391.). While approximately 4,500 motorcyclists were killed in 2010, approximately 33,808 motorists died that same year.

Anonymous said...

I am 44 and I ride sportbikes.. 1000cc.. I have accident/life insurance that covers motorcycling. I wear dog-tags with my details including blood group. I always wear a proper riding attire. That said, I had a few close calls that left me shaken.. I hate thinking about it, because I still love riding. Maybe this part is stupid.
Now the article. Perhaps it is biased, perhaps maths are wrong but that does not change the essence of it: motorcycling is a dangerous activity by definition. Each and every time you saddle up, you pray. I do. I have seen a lot of stuff happening on roads to just ignore it. And it is not about how good you are - others on the same road maybe less considerate than you. I am seriously considering to stop street riding and concentrate only on track. Some of my friends did that long time ago and they are professional racers.
So, should you decide to stay away from bikes - nobody will blame you, some would say you are smart. Should you decide to ride - you should understand the risks involved.