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Motorcycle safety in the US: Where are we?. National Association of State Motorcycle Safety Administrators, Annual conference August 25, 2012. Eric R. Teoh, Senior Statistician. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Nonprofit, independent research and communications organization

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motorcycle safety in the us where are we
Motorcycle safety in the US: Where are we?
  • National Association of State Motorcycle Safety Administrators, Annual conferenceAugust 25, 2012
  • Eric R. Teoh, Senior Statistician
insurance institute for highway safety iihs
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)

Nonprofit, independent research and communications organization

Mission to save lives, prevent injuries, and reduce property damage in crashes

Research goal to determine what works and what doesn’t to improve highway safety

Funded by automobile insurance companies

motorcycle crashes and resulting injury
Motorcycle crashes and resulting injury

Risk factors

Motorcycles largely lack the ability to protect their occupants from crash forces

  • Lack of safety cage, restraints, airbags, crumple zones, etc.
  • Transfers the burden of self protection to the riders

Motorcycles lack conspicuity relative to other types of vehicles

Motorcyclists, like other drivers, often take unnecessary risks

  • Alcohol, speeding, lack of protective gear, distraction
  • Varies by age, motorcycle type, and other factors

Motorcycle braking is more complicated than for most other types of vehicles

motorcyclist self protection
Motorcyclist self protection

Helmets and other protective gear

Helmets and laws requiring them are the most effective countermeasures

  • Helmets are 37 percent effective at preventing crash deaths
  • Fifty-eight percent of motorcyclists killed in crashes in 2010 were helmeted. Had they all been helmeted, 706 would have survived
  • In states with laws covering all riders, helmet use is virtually 100 percent and death rates are reduced

Other forms of protective gear designed for motorcyclists include boots, gloves, pants, jackets, and eye protection

  • Research on their effectiveness is less developed than that on helmets, largely due to lack of data on their use
states with universal helmet laws
States with universal helmet laws

1976: Highway Safety Act removed authority to withhold funds from states without helmet laws

1995: Grants removed

1991: Incentive grants for helmet and safety belt laws

1967: Helmet laws required for states to qualify for federal highway funds

motorcyclist self protection1
Motorcyclist self protection

Role of the vehicle

Motorcycle frontal airbag by Honda

  • Gold Wing airbag looks good in crash tests
  • Not studied in real-world crashes yet
  • One upcoming model (VFR 1200T) rumored to include airbag and crumple zone to improve rider interaction with airbag

Other crashworthiness issues

  • Padding or breakaway components
  • Crash bars
  • Rider kinematics
motorcycle conspicuity
Motorcycle conspicuity

Problem and countermeasures

Motorcycles are harder to see than other types of vehicles

  • Smaller profile, often a single headlight
  • Rider often dressed in dark colors

Daytime use of headlights associated with reduced crash risk

Advanced crash avoidance technologies on passenger vehicles may help

  • Forward collision warning, blind spot detection, lane change warning, lane departure warning, etc.
  • Need to be able to detect a motorcycle
motorcyclist deaths
Motorcyclist deaths

By age, 1975-2010

motorcycle driver deaths per registered vehicle year
Motorcycle driver deaths per registered vehicle year

Relative to cruiser/standard motorcycles, 2000, 2003-08

motorcycle braking
Motorcycle braking

More complicated than automobile braking

  • Separate brake controls (typically)
  • Locking a wheel in hard braking results in loss of stability

Improper braking is a common crash factor

  • Locked wheel
  • Inadequate braking
  • Non-use of front brake
test track performance
Test track performance

Average braking deceleration (m/s2)


experienced riders

fatal crash rates
Fatal crash rates

Fatal crashes per 10,000 registrations, 2003-08

37% reduction *

* statistically significant at 0.05 level

collision insurance losses
Collision insurance losses

Percent change in collision losses for motorcycles with ABS,

2003-12 models


not significant

effect of abs on collision claim rate
Effect of ABS on collision claim rate

By amount of time the motorcycle has been insured,

2006-10 models

rider training
Rider training

No demonstrated reduction in crash risk

  • Why?
  • Courses evolving
  • Still important

Filtering potential new riders?


  • Encourage use of DOT-compliant helmets
  • ABS

Progress in motorcycle safety hasn’t kept pace with that of passenger vehicles

Helmet laws are an important first step

Vehicle improvements

  • Conspicuity, occupant protection, ABS, technology

Data needs

No single solution