Motorcycle driving on highway

3 Essential Steps to Motorcycle Safety

Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month is almost over, but it’s only the beginning of motorcycle riding season! Motorcycle safety is especially important this year, as overall traffic fatalities actually increased by 5.3% in 2012 after six years of steady declines (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration). Motorcyclist deaths have been highlighted as a major factor in this spike, with a 9% increase in motorcyclist fatalities predicted (Governor’s Highway Safety Association).

But this is not a new issue - motorcycle fatalities have been increasing for years. Even while advances in highway safety have brought overall traffic fatalities down by 23% from 1997 to 2011, motorcyclist deaths have more than doubled, with increases reported in 14 of the past 15 years (GHSA). Per miles traveled in 2010, the number of deaths on motorcycles was 30 times the number in cars (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety).

Here are the three most important ways to combat these high fatality rates, so that you can stay safe on the road this year!

1. Wear Helmets

Helmets are Effective

  • Helmets reduce the risk of motorcyclist fatalities by 37%, and reduce the risk of brain injuries by 67% (IIHS)
  • Riders without helmets are 40% more likely to die from a head injury than riders wearing helmets (CDC)
  • Studies have shown that helmets which meet the standards set by the US Department of Transportation do not restrict your vision or interfere with your hearing (CDC)(IIHS)

Universal Helmet Laws Prevent Motorcycle Deaths

  • Universal motorcycle helmet laws, which apply to all riders, result in are the only safety measure that has been proven to reduce motorcycle deaths. Universal helmet laws result in increased helmet usage rates, and decreased fatalities. (CDC)
  • Only 19 states currently have universal helmet laws, down from 1997, when 26 states had universal helmet laws in place. (NBC News)
  • 28 states have partial helmet laws, which only apply to young riders. These are NOT effective in motivating riders to wear helmets! States with partial laws experience about the same helmet use rates as states with no helmet laws at all (CDC)
  • Three states - Illinois, Iowa, and New Hampshire - have no helmet requirements. (IIHS)

Keep Universal Helmet Laws on the Books!

  • Universal helmet laws result in significant increases in helmet usage rates, but when laws are repealed or weakened, helmet usage decreases again, and deaths and injuries increase (CDC)
  • What kind of helmet law does your state have? Check out Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s map of helmet laws to find out!

2. Never Drink and Ride

  • Alcohol is a factor in many motorcycle deaths. In 2011...
    • 30% of all fatally injured riders...
    • 42% of riders fatally injured in single vehicle crashes, meaning crashes where the motorcycle was the only vehicle involved...
    • 57% of riders killed at night, and...
    • 67% of riders killed in single vehicle crashes on weekend nights...
    had a BAC at or above the legal limit of .08% (IIHS)
  • Of riders killed in traffic collisions with BAC levels of .08% or higher, only 44% were wearing helmets, compared to 67% for riders with no alcohol (NHTSA).
  • Motorcyclists involved in fatal crashes are 2.5 times more likely to have consumed alcohol than drivers of passenger vehicles (

3. Slow Down

  • In 2011, 35% of all motorcycle riders involved in fatal crashes were speeding, compared to only 22% for passenger car drivers (NHTSA).
  • Road conditions like potholes, gravel, or wet surfaces can be extremely dangerous for riders, and can easily contribute to crashes, especially at high speeds.
  • In 2011, 48% of riders killed in single-vehicle motorcycle crashes were speeding (IIHS)

Looking for More Information?

  • Check out the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s list of recommendations for motorcyclists and drivers to share the road safely!
  • Motorcycles are smaller and harder to see than cars. Drivers, keep a sharp eye out and check your blind spots. Motorcyclists, wear bright colors and reflective tape, and use turn signals and hand signals to stay visible!
  • Make sure you know the laws for the state you’re riding in! Some states allow motorcycles to “split lanes,” or travel in the unused space between two lines of moving or stationary vehicles, but other states have laws against it. Check out the American Motorcyclist Association’s state-by-state list, or with your state DMV.