Common Motorcycle Accident Questions

Motorcycle Accident Frequently Asked Questions

Minnesota & Wisconsin Motorcycle Accident Lawyers

1 | Do motorcyclists have high crash death rates?

Yes. According to the federal government, per mile traveled in 2006, the number of deaths on motorcycles was about 35 times the number in cars. Motorcycles are less stable than cars during emergency braking situations and are less visible on the road. Some motorcycles have high performance capabilities that can encourage riders to speed, accelerate quickly, or engage in other risky driving maneuvers. When motorcyclists crash, they lack the protection of an enclosed vehicle so they are more likely to be injured or killed.

2 | What are the most common types of motorcycle crashes?

Crashes involving a motorcycle and at least one other vehicle accounted for 56% of all motorcycle fatal crashes in 2006. In two-vehicle fatal crashes, 79% of the motorcycles involved were struck in the front and only 5 % were hit in the rear. 40% of the two-vehicle crashes involved a vehicle turning left while the motorcycle was going straight, passing, or overtaking the vehicle. Crashing into a fixed object is a bigger problem on a motorcycle than it is for other motor vehicles. In 2006, 25% of motorcycles involved in fatal crashes collided with fixed objects, compared with 18% of cars in fatal crashes.
(back to top)

3 | Are most fatal motorcycle crashes caused by passenger vehicles?

No. Nearly half of all motorcycle driver deaths involve just the motorcycle and no other vehicle. This proportion has remained largely unchanged over time. Speeding and alcohol use contribute to many of these fatal single-vehicle crashes. In 2006, 49% of the 2,037 motorcycle drivers in single-vehicle fatal crashes were speeding. 41% of motorcycle drivers killed in single-vehicle crashes in 2006 had blood alcohol concentrations (BAC) of 0.08% or higher.

In an institute-sponsored study of fatal motorcycle crashes, the majority of fatal multiple-vehicle crashes were head-on, involved one vehicle running a traffic control, or involved one vehicle turning left in front of the other. In head-on crashes, the driver of the other vehicle, not the motorcyclist, more often ran the traffic signal or turned left in front of the motorcycle. However, motorcycles were more often speeding or not in the proper lane.
(back to top)

4 | Are rider deaths increasing?

Yes. In 2006, fatalities among motorcycle drivers and passengers more than doubled since 1997. They reached 4,697 in 2006, accounting for 11% of total highway crash deaths. In 2006, motorcyclist deaths exceeded the number of pedestrian fatalities for the first time since the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) began collecting fatal motor vehicle crash data in 1975.
(back to top)

5 | Is motorcycling becoming more popular?

Yes. More than 1.1 million motorcycles were sold in 2006, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council, a nonprofit trade group based in Irvine, California. The record was in 1973 when Americans bought more than 1.5 million bikes. Sales cooled in the 1980s before starting to climb again in 1993. The council says the latest surge is partly because bikes have become more specialized and stylish. More than 300 models appeal to a broader range of potential riders. Sales are especially strong among baby boomers, who are taking up cycling as a hobby or returning to riding after breaks to raise families, industry representatives say. Higher fuel cost is another reason..
(back to top)

6 | Have rider demographics changed over time?

Yes. The typical motorcycle owner in 2003 was 42 years old, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council's latest available Motorcycle/ATV Owner Survey. This is up from 1998, when the typical owner was 38, and a leap from the typical 24-year-old owner in the 1980s. As a result, the average age of fatally injured motorcycle drivers climbed to 39 in 2006 from 37 in 2000 and 30 in 1990.

Nearly 10% of owners in 2003 were women, up from 6% in 1990. Only 3% of motorcycle drivers killed in 2006 crashes were women, while 87% of passengers who died were women.
(back to top)

7 | Is engine size increasing?

The average engine size in all classes of motorcycles involved in fatal crashes has risen sharply. Among motorcycle drivers killed in 2006, 33% drove motorcycles with engine sizes larger than 1,200 cubic centimeters, compared with 26% in 2000 and 17% in 1997.
(back to top)

8 | Which age group of motorcyclists has the highest death risk?

Death rates by motorcyclist age aren't available because we don't have age-specific data on registrations or on miles traveled. Looking at motorcycle type, we know that drivers of cruisers, standards, and touring motorcycles have the lowest death rates. These motorcycles, which together form the largest class of registered motorcycles on the road, are most often driven by people age 40 and older, according to data from the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI).

Primary contributors to the worsening motorcycle crash death problem are those who drive supersport motorcycles, which make up a small fraction of registered motorcycles, but are overrepresented in fatal crashes. A combination of light weight and high-horsepower engines means many of these motorcycles can reach speeds of nearly 190 miles per hour. Motorcyclists who ride supersports tend to be younger than 30, with a driver death rate per 10,000 registered motorcycles--about 4 times higher than the rate for motorcyclists who ride cruisers and standards or touring bikes.
(back to top)

9 | What types of motorcycles have the highest death risk?

In 2005, motorcyclists who rode supersports had driver death rates per 10,000 registered motorcycles at a rate of 4 times higher than rates for motorcyclists on cruiser and standard bikes, the largest class of registered motorcycles. Sport and unclad sport bikes, which are similar to supersports, had the next highest driver death rates, at nearly twice the death rates for cruisers and standards. Touring motorcycles had a death rate per 10,000 registered motorcycles of 6.5, compared with 5.7 for cruiser and standard motorcycles in 2005.
(back to top)

10 | What's the difference between supersport, sport, and unclad sport motorcycles?

Supersport motorcycles are built on racing platforms, but modified for the highway and sold to consumers. They are especially popular with riders younger than 30. Supersports typically have more horsepower per pound than other types of vehicles on the road. A 2006 model Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R, for example, produces 111 horsepower from a 636 cubic centimeter engine and weighs 404 pounds. In contrast, the 2006 model Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic Electra Glide, a touring bike, produces 65 horsepower from a 1,450 cubic centimeter engine and weighs 788 pounds. In the sport bike class, a 2006 Suzuki Katana 750 produces 92 horsepower from a 750 cubic centimeter engine and weighs 465 pounds. Among unclad sports, the 2006 Suzuki SV650 produces 70 horsepower from a 645 cubic centimeter engine and weighs 363 pounds.

Sport and unclad sport motorcycles have more upright riding positions than supersports, with more leg room between the seat and foot pegs. They generally have lower power-to-weight ratios than supersports and also can be equipped with a rear trunk and the capability of carrying side bags. Unclad sport motorcycles are derivatives of sport/supersport motorcycles in design and performance but they don't have the full body panels, fairing coverings, or windscreens typically found on sport and supersport bikes.
(back to top)

11 | Is alcohol use among motorcyclists a problem?

Alcohol is a factor in many fatal crashes of motorcyclists, although less so than it is with passenger vehicle drivers. Twenty-seven percent of fatally injured motorcycle drivers in 2006 had BACs at or above 0.08 percent. By comparison, 33 percent of fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers had BACs at or above 0.08 percent in 2006. Alcohol is a bigger problem in single-vehicle crashes of motorcyclists. Forty-one percent of fatally injured motorcycle drivers involved in single-vehicle crashes in 2006 had BACs at or above the legal threshold for impairment, versus 48 percent for fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers.

Alcohol was a factor in the fatal crashes of 20 percent of fatally injured supersport drivers and 22 percent of fatally injured sport and unclad sport riders in 2006. Impairment was a bigger factor in the fatal crashes of cruisers, standard bikes, and touring motorcycles, particularly among riders 30-49 years old. Thirty-three percent of fatally injured cruiser and standard riders and 26 percent of touring motorcycle riders had BACs above the legal limit.

A recent study by NHTSA carefully measured rider performance under different BACs on a closed course. It found that BAC levels as low as 0.05 percent significantly increased riders' reaction times and likelihoods of lane departure, as compared with zero BAC.
(back to top)

12 | Which motorcycles have the highest insurance losses?

Supersport motorcycles had the highest overall collision coverage losses among 2002-06 model bikes, almost 4 times higher than losses for touring motorcycles and more than 6 times higher than cruisers, according to data from the HLDI. Nine of the 10 motorcycles with the highest losses were supersports. Five of the 10 motorcycles with the highest overall losses had engine displacements of 1,000 cubic centimeters or larger.

Supersport motorcycles also are the most frequently stolen. Their overall theft losses, measured as average loss payments per insured vehicle year (a vehicle year is 1 vehicle insured for 1 year, 2 insured for 6 months, etc.), averaged $246 for 2002-06 models. This is more than 7 times higher than the average for all motorcycles. Sport class motorcycles had the next highest overall theft losses at $55. In the other motorcycle classes, theft losses ranged from $13 to $18 per insured vehicle year.

Touring motorcycles had the most expensive claims for both collision coverage and theft. These heavy, powerful bikes aren't involved in fatal collisions in relation to their numbers on the road as often as supersports, but when touring bikes crash their insurance costs are high since they're pricier. These bikes aren't stolen nearly as often as supersports, but their expensive features (like cruise control and sound systems), make them costly to replace. Touring motorcycles had the highest average loss payment per insurance claim for theft at $15,696 among 2002-06 models.
(back to top)

13 | Do motorcycles have safety features commonly found in passenger vehicles?

Motorcycles don't have much safety gear that's comparable to what's found in passenger vehicles. Electronic stability control, for instance, isn't designed for two-wheel vehicles. The technology helps prevent some types of crashes among cars and SUVs. Daytime running lights make motorcycles more visible to other drivers. Advanced brake systems, such as antilocks and combined braking systems, can shorten stopping distance and improve stability in hard braking situations.6 Some manufacturers are exploring ways to adapt other safety advances to motorcycles. Airbags are one such feature. A frontal airbag is optional on new models of Honda's Gold Wing touring motorcycle.
(back to top)