Deadly Statistics – The chances of being killed as a result of a motorcycle accident vs. an auto accident

By: Melanie Harris, Case Manager, Ledger & Associates

In the United States, motorcycle deaths account for approximately 13% of deaths resulting from a collision. (NHTSA DOT HS 811 149). California is certainly a motorcycle friendly state. And with consistent warm, dry weather, considerations of traffic, and parking, it is no surprise. California is the only state that does not prohibit lane splitting (riding the bike between highway or road lanes in the direction of traffic), providing for a more efficient means of commuting in heavy traffic, but also presenting a risk to those operators who are careless or inexperienced. There are more stringent requirements on obtaining a license to operate a motorcycle in California, and for good reason: a motorcyclist is 16 times more likely to die in a collision than an occupant in an automobile.

The California Department of Motor Vehicle’s records show that fatal motorcycle accidents have been rising every year since 1990. The most recent reports show that between 2007 and 2009, motorcycle fatalities increased by 10%.

Below is a list factors that may increase the risk of death in a motorcycle accident, opposed to a motor vehicle accident:

  1. Use of a Helmet and/or Protective Clothing
  2. Speed
  3. Road Design
  4. Licensing & Experience
  5. Braking and steering maneuvers
  6. Visibility
  7. Age
  8. Intoxication

Use of Helmet and Protective Clothing

Motorcyclists do not have the protection an occupant of a vehicle has: thousands of pounds of steel and metal. With a collision involving a motorcycle and a vehicle, the motorcyclist is in a compromising position of vulnerability. Most states have enacted laws that actually require motorcyclists to wear a helmet: including California. A helmet greatly reduces the risk of brain injury. According to the NHTSA, a helmet reduces the risk of head injury by 16%. Clothing such as gloves, leather, and boots, can also provide some level of protection for the exposed motorcyclist.


Over one-third of motorcycle accident fatalities were caused by speeding.

Road Design

Many motorcycle accidents occur in rural areas due to surface structure and road design. Maneuvering a motorcycle around pot holes, rocks, and other conditions can be very difficult due to the instability of the bike.


California department of motor vehicles reports that in 2008, 37% of motorcyclists killed in a collision did not have a valid motorcycle license. Nationally, 25% of motorcyclists involved in a fatal accident did not have a valid license in 2008. (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration DOT HS 810 820).

Breaking and Steering Maneuvers

It is estimated that Braking and steering mistakes contribute for more than twenty five percent of the fatalities. (NHTSA, Fatality Analysis Reporting System).


An operator of a motorcycle has the same rights and responsibilities as the operator of a motor vehicle. Motor vehicles are charged with the legal duty to drive with reasonable care to avoid injury to others: including motorcyclists. This duty requires drivers to be conscious of others on the road, including motorcyclists. However, in California, a motorcyclists although charged with the same legal duty as one operating a motor vehicle, is permitted to ride between lanes, in effect traveling in a motor vehicle’s blind spot and greatly reducing visibility. This creates the risk that motor vehicle operators are not aware of their presence.

In addition, because a motorcycle is a two wheel vehicle and only contains one headlight, driving at night presents a great risk that the operator of a motor vehicle will not see the motorcyclists before colliding into him or her. Almost 60 percent of motorcyclist fatalities occur at night.


Recent studies show that drivers over the age of 40 are more likely to be killed in a motorcycle collision than those under the age of 40. This is quite the opposite to the reported statistics of motor vehicle accidents, which show 12% of all fatal crashes in 2008 involved drivers ages 16 to 20. (The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration).


Half of fatal motorcycle accidents involved drivers under the influence of alcohol. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Fatalities on the Decline

According to the Governors Highway Safety Association report, motorcyclist fatalities dropped 10% in 2009 and it is predicted to continue to decrease in California throughout 2010 by at least 29%. Experts contribute the decline to the enactment and enforcement of helmet laws and motorcyclist education and licensing requirements reducing the risk of inexperienced and incompetent motorcycle operators on California roads. (Governors Highway Safety Association report April 22, 2010).

If you have been injured in an automobile or motorcycle accident please contact the Law Offices of Ledger & Associates.

Call us today Toll Free at 800.300.0001 for a free case evaluation or contact us