The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is a federally-funded agency that studies vehicle accidents, including causes, frequency and other data. The agency recently completed a study of motorcycle accidents, publishing its findings in 2008. You can view a complete copy of the study here. The report illustrates the stark reality that experienced riders know only know too well: motorcycle riders run a far greater risk of injury and fatality from traffic accidents. Some highlights from the report:

  • Almost 100,000 motorcyclists were injured in accidents in 2008.
  • Over 5,000 were killed in traffic accidents in 2008
  • Motorcyclists are approximately 37 times more likely to suffer a fatal accident when compared with car occupants, and 9 times more likely to be injured.
  • Wearing a helmet reduces the risk of a fatal accident by 37%
Portions of the report are copied below:

Traffic Safety Facts – 2008 Data

In 2008, 5,290 motorcyclists were killed—an increase of 2 percent over the 5,174 motorcyclists killed in 2007. There were 96,000 motorcyclists injured during 2008. An estimated 148,000 motorcyclists have died in traffic crashes since the enactment of the Highway Safety and National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966. Motorcycles made up nearly 3 percent of all registered vehicles in the United States in 2007 and accounted for only 0.4 percent of all vehicle miles traveled. Per vehicle mile traveled in 2007, motorcyclists were about 37 times more likely than passenger car occupants to die in a motor vehicle traffic crash and 9 times more likely to be injured.

Motorcycle Involvement in Crashes

In 2008, 2,554 (47%) of all motorcycles involved in fatal crashes collided with another type of motor vehicle in transport. In two-vehicle crashes, 77 percent of the motorcycles involved were struck in the front. Only 7 percent were struck in the rear.

Motorcycles are more likely to be involved in a fatal collision with a fixed object than are other vehicles. In 2008, 25 percent of the motorcycles involved in fatal crashes collided with fixed objects, compared to 19 percent for passenger cars, 14 percent for light trucks, and 4 percent for large trucks.

In 2008, there were 2,387 two-vehicle fatal crashes involving a motorcycle and another type of vehicle. In 41 percent (985) of these crashes the other vehicle was turning left while the motorcycle was going straight, passing, or overtaking the vehicle. Both vehicles were going straight in 666 crashes (28%).

In 2008, 35 percent of all motorcycle riders involved in fatal crashes were speeding, compared to 23 percent for passenger car drivers, 19 percent for light-truck drivers, and 8 percent for large-truck drivers.

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 fatal crashes in 2008 a higher percentage of motorcycle riders had blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 grams per deciliter (g/dL) or higher than any other type of motor vehicle driver. The percentages for vehicle riders involved in fatal crashes were 29 percent for motorcycles, 23 percent for passenger cars, 23 percent for light trucks, and 2 percent for large trucks.

In 2008, 30 percent of all fatally injured motorcycle riders had BAC levels of .08 g/dL or higher. An additional 7 percent had lower alcohol levels (BAC .01 to .07 g/dL).

The percentage with BAC .08 g/dL or above was highest for fatally injured motorcycle riders among two age groups, 40–44 (41%) and 45–49 (41%) followed by the 35–39 (36%) age group.

Forty-three percent of the 2,291 motorcycle riders who died in single-vehicle crashes in 2008 had BAC levels 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.

Helmet Use and Effectiveness

NHTSA estimates that helmets saved the lives of 1,829 motorcyclists in 2008. If all motorcyclists had worn helmets, an additional 823 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. This means for every 100 motorcycle riders killed in crashes while not wearing a helmet, 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 2008 stood at 63 percent, a gain from 58 percent in 2007. Reported helmet use rates for fatally injured motorcyclists in 2008 were 59 percent for riders and 49 percent for passengers, compared with 59 percent and 47 percent, respectively, in 2007.


As motorcycle accident lawyers, we see the tragedy of motorcycle injuries and fatalities play out every day–often due to careless drivers. As the above report makes clear, however, many accidents can be avoided or lessened by defensive driving and proper safety equipment. And as we preach time and time again, you should never drink and ride. If you or a loved one are hurt in a motorcycle accident, we are here to help you. But as fellow motorcyclists ourselves, we mean it when we say this: we hope you never need us.