2021 SafeTREC Traffic Safety Fact Sheet: Motorcycle Safety


Crashes involving motorcycles are a major traffic safety concern in the United States. Since motorcyclists are susceptible to injury during crashes, they comprise a disproportionate share of all injured and killed vehicle occupants. In 2018, motorcyclists were 27 times more likely than passenger car occupants to be fatally injured in a traffic crash, per vehicle miles traveled. The primary countermeasures used to address this problem have included motorcycle helmet laws and other helmet-oriented programs, rider training and licensing programs, vehicle enhancements, including anti-lock braking technology, rider conspicuity programs, campaigns to increase other road users’ awareness of motorcycles, and campaigns to reduce impaired riding.

The National Occupant Protection Use Survey (NOPUS) reported that 71.0 percent of motorcyclists in the United States wore a DOT-compliant helmet in 2018, higher than the 65.2 percent found in 2017. In states with a universal helmet law, which requires all motorcyclists to use a helmet, the known helmet use rate among fatally injured motorcyclists ranged from 62 percent to 97 percent in 2018. In states without a universal helmet law, the rate was lower and ranged widely from 19 percent to 58 percent in 2017. In California, which has a universal helmet law, the known helmet use rate among fatally injured California motorcyclists in 2019 was high (93.9 percent). NHTSA estimates that helmets saved 287 lives in California in 2017, and 16 additional lives could have been saved if all motorcyclists wore helmets.

Historically, road safety efforts focused on changing human behaviors to prevent crashes. The Safe System approach reframes efforts to save lives by expecting crashes to happen and focusing attention on reducing the severity of injuries when a crash occurs. By understanding the nuances of motorcycle crashes, transportation professionals can better address every aspect of crash risks and implement multiple layers of protection to ensure that everyone traveling on California roadways will go safely. Analyses presented in the motorcycle program area include fatal and serious injuries to drivers and passengers riding two- and three-wheel motorcycles, mopeds, motorized scooters, motorized bicycles, off-road motorcycles, and other motor-driven cycles. Motorcycle crashes are defined as a crash where one or more victims is a motorcycle driver or passenger.

Garrett Fortin
Jill F. Cooper
Publication date: 
September 30, 2021
Publication type: 
Fact Sheet