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Riding a motorcycle presents unique challenges that drivers of other motor vehicles do not confront. Less stability, less structural protection, less visibility on the road, and greater susceptibility to road hazards all present safety issues that motorcyclists need to be aware of and address when riding. It also means that when motorcycle accidents do occur, they are often more serious—and even deadly—for the riders and passengers involved.

The most recent motorcycle safety data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) shows that in 2008 alone, 5, 290 motorcyclists were killed and another 96,000 were injured. In North Carolina (NC), the number of motorcycle fatalities in 2008 reached nearly 160 individuals. While these raw numbers are staggering in and of themselves, the inherent dangers of motorcycle riding are even more stark when motorcycle accidents are compared to passenger car accidents. For example:

  • Per vehicle mile traveled in 2007, motorcyclists were about 37 times more likely than passenger car occupants to die in a motor vehicle traffic crash and 9 times more likely to be injured.
  • Per registered vehicle, the fatality rate for motorcyclists in 2007 was 6 times the fatality rate for passenger car occupants.

The stats provided by NHTSA also give us an idea of the types of crashes motorcycles are more likely to be involved in. For example, 47% of all fatal motorcycle crashes in 2008 involved a collision with another motor vehicle while in transport. The vast majority of these accidents, 77%, involved a motorcycle being struck in the front. Collisions with turning vehicles are among the types of accidents that stand out in the numbers. In 41% of the two-vehicle crashes recorded in 2008, a motor vehicle turned left in front of an oncoming motorcycle, causing a collision. Motorcycles are also much more likely to be involved in a fatal collision with a fixed object. In 2008, 25% of fatal motorcycle accidents occurred when the motorcycle collided with a fixed object.

Available data also shows that speeding, alcohol and motorcycle licensing all have a role to play in the occurrence and severity of accidents; and that helmet use plays a significant role in the likelihood of fatalities when accidents do occur.

While motorcycle riding is inherently dangerous, many of these accident statistics could be improved upon with riders and drivers both putting into practice some basic safety practices.

About the Editors: The Shapiro, Cooper, Lewis & Appleton personal injury law firm, which has offices in Virginia (VA) and North Carolina (NC), edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard and Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as pro bono services.


  1. Gravatar for Fred Wheeler

    I enjoyed your article and it makes some good points, but I take issue with the labling of motorcycle riding being inherently dangerous. Motorcycle riding is a risked based activity that with proper training and experience can reduce the level of risk in that activity. The level of states concern reguarding motorcycle riding remains small due to the number of motorcycle riders to drivers in cars, if most states were to apply the statisics you cited and included a more comprehensive motorcycle training and awareness campaign then those statistics would probably drop. Currently their approach is to stick a helmet on you and let you go your merry way, this has been exhibited as high as Federal level when funding for Mtorcycle Accident Causal Study was lowered to allow for only 300 accidents as opposed to the gold standard Hurt study of 1000. Motorcycling can be done safely it just must have the proper emphasis within the state.

    Thank You

  2. Gravatar for Kevin Duffan


    Thanks for the comments. I hope that my post didn't come off as "anti motorcycle" as that was not the intention. Do I believe that it is a dangerous activity? Sure. I also believe that with proper training and experience, that risk can be reduced, just like you suggested. Unfortunately all the training in the world can't prevent the drivers around the motorcyclist from being negligent. What may be a slight fender-bender in a car on car accident could be fatal to a motorcyclist. I actually have a good friend that was injured (luckily not severely) when the driver of a truck didn't look before he changed lanes and caused my friend to go sliding off the road. That's the kind of thing I meant by saying "inherently dangerous activity."

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