What Are the Common Causes of Motorcycle Fatalities?

Mary McMahon

Common causes of motorcycle fatalities include alcohol impairment, speeding, and inexperience, or by other drivers on the road. Motorcycles tend to be less crash-worthy than cars and trucks, making accidents less survivable for their drivers. Trends in accidents and fatalities can fluctuate in response to economic trends, safety programs, and other factors. Many nations maintain separate statistics on motorcycle accidents for the benefit of analysis by insurance agencies, government regulators, and other interested parties.

Motorcycles and riders may be hard to see on roads.
Motorcycles and riders may be hard to see on roads.

Factors like age and inexperience can play a role in motorcycle fatalities. Research by the U.S. National Highway Transportation Safety Administration shows that over half of accidents involve drivers over 40. New drivers of any age are at increased risk of making mistakes, especially in the dark or in poor weather conditions like rain and snow. They may be less capable of recovering in the event of a slide or other problem, which can result in an accident.

Age and experience play key roles in motorcycle fatalities.
Age and experience play key roles in motorcycle fatalities.

Speeding is another common contributor to motorcycle fatalities. Many accidents occur at curves, showing that speeding drivers may not be as able to negotiate turns or recover from slides while navigating turns. High powered motorcycles can also add to fatality rates, particularly for motorcyclists used to handling equipment with less power. It can be easier to speed and get out of control with a stronger engine.

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Alcohol and drug intoxication can play a role in motorcycle fatalities, particularly at night. Impaired drivers have slowed response times, and may be more prone to bad decisions like not wearing a helmet. Drivers in excess of the recommended blood alcohol limit can be subject to penalties like fines and mandatory classes, in an attempt to limit the number of impaired drivers on the road.

Finally, other drivers can be at fault in motorcycle fatalities. Motorcycles are hard to see and other drivers may fail to yield right of way or make other mistakes around motorcycles, especially at intersections and during lane changes. The comparatively smaller size of a motorcycle means that a mistake like merging without checking the mirrors can have fatal consequences for the motorcyclist.

Safety programs may focus on educating other drivers about motorcycles to reduce the number of multi-vehicle accidents by making all drivers more aware of the presence of motorcycles and the laws pertaining to right of way and related topics. Regional laws can also have an impact. For example, in some regions, lane splitting is allowed for motorcyclists, which can increase the risk of fatal accidents. This involves passing between lanes of vehicles that are either stopped or moving slowly, a practice that is legal in much of Europe.

Motorcycle drivers are more at risk of dying in a crash than car and truck drivers.
Motorcycle drivers are more at risk of dying in a crash than car and truck drivers.

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Discussion Comments


A 93 year old driver made an abrupt left turn in front of me. I was going the posted speed limit of 50 mph. Never had a chance.

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