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While motorcycles are often grouped into one vehicle type, there is significant diversity in the type of motorcycles being purchased and ridden. Overall, registrations have steadily increased and doubled from 2002 (4.2 million) to 2017 (8.4 million) (Teoh, 2019). Most registrations in 2018 were cruiser (3.5 million) and touring bikes (1.8 million). Registrations for supersport motorcycles peaked from 2008 to 2010, and then declined to about 602,000 in 2018; however, supersport registrations were still 66% higher in 2018 than in 2002.

Along with the growth of motorcycle ownership and miles traveled since about 1998, there has been a shift in the age of motorcyclists fatally injured. Motorcyclists under age 30 accounted for 80% of motorcyclist fatalities in 1975 and 28% in 2019. On the other hand, the proportions of fatalities among older age groups have increased with the primary driver of this increase being motorcyclists 50 and older who went from 3% of motorcyclist fatalities in 1975 to 37% in 2019 (IIHS, 2021a).

Different motorcycle types tend to attract different rider groups. Fifty-two percent of supersport operator fatalities in 2019 were 30 years old or younger. In contrast, most of the fatally injured cruiser (64%) and touring bike operators (81%) were 40 or older (IIHS, 2023a). Helmet use varied among operators of different motorcycle types in 2021; 81% of fatally injured supersport operators and 51% of cruiser and touring bike operators were helmeted (IIHS, 2023a). These results suggest that the types of risks taken may vary in association with the style of bike chosen (Teoh & Campbell, 2010).

In 2021 some 38% of motorcyclist fatalities (IIHS, 2023a) occurred in single-vehicle crashes. Ninety-two percent of motorcyclists killed were males (IIHS, 2023a), and passengers comprised 5% of motorcycle fatalities (NCSA, 2023).

Speeding is more prevalent in fatal crashes involving motorcycle operators than among other types of motor vehicle operators. For example, in 2021 some 33% of all motorcycle operators involved in fatal crashes were speeding, compared to 22% of passenger car drivers, with riders 21-to-24 years having had the highest speeding involvement in fatal crashes at 49% among all rider age groups (NCSA, 2023).

Alcohol-impaired riding is a factor in fatal motorcycle crashes. In 2021 some 28% of the motorcycle operators involved (killed or survived) in fatal crashes had BACs of .08 g/dL or higher, which is a higher percentage of alcohol impairment than for drivers of passenger cars (24%), light trucks (20%) and large trucks (3%); riders killed at night were three times more frequently alcohol-impaired than those during the day, and 43% of riders killed in single-vehicle crashes were alcohol-impaired (NCSA, 2023). Of concern is the 4.4% increase in the number of alcohol-impaired riders in fatal crashes from 2019 to 2020, from 1,462 to 1,526 (Steward, 2022). A NHTSA study on the prevalence of drugs and alcohol in seriously or fatally injured road users from 2019 and 2020 indicated an increase in substance use during the COVID-19 public health emergency (Thomas et al., 2020). The study had a relatively small sample of motorcyclists that affected the statistical power of the analyses; nonetheless, there was a statistically significant increase in the percentage of motorcyclists (63.4%) having at least one category of drugs in their systems in the 3rd quarter of 2020 compared to the 1st quarter of 2020 (45.9%), and increases in the prevalence of several categories of drugs in the 2nd quarter and 3rd quarter of 2020.

Motorcycle operators involved in fatal crashes had worse prior driving records than other passenger vehicle drivers, including more DWI convictions, speeding convictions, and suspensions or revocations. Additionally, 36% of the motorcycle operators involved in fatal crashes in 2021 did not have valid motorcycle operator licenses, compared to 17% of passenger vehicle drivers in fatal crashes did not have valid licenses (NCSA, 2023).

Large-scale riding events are a phenomenon somewhat unique to the motorcycling population. At these events, many riders (hundreds of thousands at some events) converge in one location for a period of time. It is possible during these large events to have a “mass casualty” situation where there is a sudden influx of patients requiring medical assistance. EMS response time can impact outcomes for motorcyclists involved in crashes, especially in areas where response time is limited due to road congestion or rurality. There has been limited research to evaluate an intervention to improve EMS response time during a large-scale motorcycle event (DuPree et al., 2019).

Many environmental factors can also affect motorcycle safety. Slippery roadway surfaces and markings, surface irregularities and debris, unpaved shoulders, and unforgiving roadway barriers all can be dangerous. These issues are not discussed at length in this guide because SHSOs have little or no authority or responsibility for them. However, FHWA recently completed and published several studies committed to identifying effective motorcycle safety countermeasures, promoting roadway maintenance and design practices that account for motorcycle-specific safety concerns, and maintaining a research program that supports an improved motorcycle riding environment on American highways.