years, I used the fatalities-per-registrations rate, because it was readily
available and reliable. I finally realized
that while the numbers might be mathematically correct, it’s not a realistic
measure of the relative risk, because
one registered motorcycle does not
equal one motorcyclist on the road.
THE MAJORITY OF motorcycles see
a fraction of the miles of a typical
passenger car. People who ride for daily
transportation are relatively rare. An
active motorcyclist may clock 200 miles
every other weekend six months out of
the year, but commute to work in the
car year-round. Their bike may click
through 2,400 miles per year, while the
car racks up 24,000. Using Vehicle Miles
Traveled (VMT) produces a more realistic evaluation of motorcycling.
It is informative to compare motorcycles to passenger cars, since we have
pretty good measures of driving risk.
The National Highway Transportation
Safety Administration (NHTSA) has
many charts and graphs we can study
to compare motorcycles to passenger
vehicles. For instance, NHTSA Traffic
Safety Facts for 2014 (Table 2, above)
compares fatality rates of motorcycles,
passenger cars, and light trucks, for
2013 and 2014, using both registered
vehicles and VMT.
In 2014, the fatality rate for motorcycles per 100,000 registered vehicles was
54.48 versus 9.09 for automobiles, indicating that on average, motorcycles are
about six times more dangerous than
cars, based on registrations. Remember,
a registered motorcycle doesn’t equal a
motorcyclist on the road.
Looking at the Vehicle Miles Traveled
line for 2014, motorcycles come in at
22.96 per 100 million VMT versus 0.85
for cars. That makes motorcycles about
26 times more dangerous than cars, on
average. To be clear, the difference is
not 26 percent, but 2,600 percent. That’s
such a huge difference that most of us
can’t wrap our brains around it.
WE MIGHT WONDER if the danger of
motorcycling is cyclical. Are we seeing
an abnormal peak that should be
followed by a reduction? To answer that,
we’ll consult ( Table 1, page 38) total motorcycle and passenger vehicle driver
fatalities for the U.S., from 2009 to 2014.
The red graph shows motorcycle
driver fatalities, which peaked in 2008,
then leveled. Scanning the mid-90s,
it is clear that fatalities in recent years
are about double what they were 20
years ago. The danger level goes up and
down, but it’s been up since 1997. This
indicates that current “safety” tactics
have not reduced crashes or fatalities.
Passenger vehicle driver fatalities,
shown in blue, were relatively steady
from 1996 to 2005, then decreased,
while motorcycle driver fatalities soared
between 1999 and 2008.
From 2008 through 2014, motorcycle
driver fatalities rose to 20 percent of
total fatalities (purple graph), which is
very disturbing, considering motorcycles represent 5 percent of registered
motor vehicles. This emphasizes the
comparative danger of motorcycling.
I haven’t found anything that scientifically refutes these conclusions. The
fatality totals are undoubtedly correct
and would be awfully hard to fudge.
NHTSA has developed sophisticated
ways to determine motorcycle VMT
that are reasonably reliable. Statistically
speaking, motorcycling is exponentially
more dangerous than driving a car.
Understanding that motorcycling is
potentially dangerous, the industry has
developed tactics to try and reduce the
danger, including training, licensing,
protective gear, conspicuity and avoid-
ing intoxicants or distractions. How-
ever, the numbers indicate that those
well-known danger reduction tactics
have not proven very effective, and may
have actually made matters worse. For
instance, rider training programs have
attracted more people to motorcycling,
which inevitably results in an increased
number of crashes and fatalities.
THERE ARE TACTICS that can reduce
your personal danger, supported by
the statistics. First, understand that
motorcycling is much more dangerous than riding in passenger vehicles.
Knowing the relative danger gives you
a better perspective upon which to
make decisions. Is avoiding injury your
highest priority, or are you willing to
risk getting hurt for the satisfaction
of riding? Is commuting to work by
motorcycle a reasonable alternative for
you? Should you avoid motorcycling
while your children are dependents?
Are there situations in which you
should drive rather than ride, to better
I have survived a million miles of
motorcycling, but I’ve had my share of
crashes. I wish that motorcycling wasn’t
so dangerous and I am extremely disappointed that countermeasures such
as training and protective gear haven’t
made a marked reduction in the fatality
rates. I hope that every motorcyclist
might be equally blunt about the risk
inherent in motorcycling.
My best suggestion is to seek valid
research and statistics when assessing
the information on which you base your
own riding decisions. MCN
Ride Better I MCN 39 MCNEWS.COM
Table 2: Occupant Fatality and Injury Rates, by Vehicle Type, 2013 & 2014
Fatality Rate Motorcycles Passenger Cars Light Trucks
Fatality Injury Fatality Injury Fatality Injury
2013 — Per 100,000 Registered Vehicles 55.83 1,052 9. 34 1,005 7.62 622
2013 — Per 100 million Vehicle Miles Traveled 23.04 434 0.87 94 0.71 58
2014 — Per 100,000 Registered Vehicles 54.48 1,088 9.09 985 7. 37 633
2014 — Per 100 million Vehicle Miles Traveled 23.04 434 0.87 94 0.71 58
Source: Fatalities—FARS 2013 Final and 2014 ARF; Injury - GES 2013 and 2014 Vehicle miles traveled and registered vehicles—Federal Highway Administration.