The Hard Facts of Motorcycle Crashes

By Ellen Kuwana
Neuroscience for Kids Staff Writer
March 8, 2002


--"Born to Be Wild" by the band Steppenwolf

Looking for adventure? There's no denying the rush that comes from riding a motorcycle on a highway, wind in your hair...what?!? There should be no wind in your hair if you are wearing a helmet.

Even with a helmet, motorcycle riding is dangerous. According to a study in the February 2002 Annals of Emergency Medicine, which analyzed statistics provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, motorcycle deaths increased by about 30% from 1998 to 2000 (See Figure 1). This increase in fatalities ended a 15-year downward trend in the number of fatal motorcycle crashes (See Figure 2). This disruption of the trend is what prompted the researchers to take a close look at the statistics to see if they could find the reasons behind the abrupt increase in fatalities. Did motorcycles suddenly get more dangerous?

The statistics show that older riders are involved in more deadly accidents, and that the average age of riders killed on motorcycles is going up:

  • In 1990, the average age for a rider killed in a crash was 29.
  • In 1999, the average age for a rider killed was 36.5.

Although riders in this age group tend to wear helmets, they are also more likely to be involved in single vehicle collisions when they lose control of their own motorcycle. Another interesting statistic: The average engine size of motorcycles involved in deadly crashes is getting bigger; 769 cubic centimeters in 1990 compared to 922 cubic centimeters in 1999.

It seems that a combination of bigger, more powerful motorcycles and an aging riding population contribute to the increase in fatal motorcycle crashes. Young or old, the evidence is clear. Motorcycles can be deadly, so wear a helmet.

Did you know?

  • In the year 2000, 52.3% of motorcyclists (the driver) involved in a fatal crash were wearing helmets; for passengers involved in a fatal crash, 45.8% were wearing helmets.

  • In the year 2000, 31% percent of all traffic fatalities (10,831 deaths) involved at least one driver or nonoccupant with blood-alcohol concentrations of 0.10 or greater.

  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that in 2000, 631 motorcyclists were saved by wearing their helmet.

[Statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration]


  1. "Safety: Grim Statistics on Older Motorcyclists," by John O'Neil, New York Times, February 19, 2002.

  2. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

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