Trends in motorcycle safety in the U.S.

Andrey Kamenov

Andrey Kamenov, Ph.D. Probability and Statistics

In 2017, one in every seven fatal roadside incidents in the United States involved a motorcycle; this number has remained relatively stable for the past 10 years.

A lot of progress in road safety has been made recently. However, most of the advances seem to focus primarily on cars — examples include stricter crash testing and driver assistance systems.

What has changed in motorcycle safety?

First, let’s examine the percentage of all fatal crashes that actually involve a second vehicle. Looking at this number reveals a noticeable trend: Motorcycles on their own are becoming safer, and most of the fatalities come from collisions with another vehicle.

Other crashes exhibit a similar trend, but it is much shorter and less pronounced.

Can this be attributed to the fact that more Americans prefer larger vehicles now? The recent growth in SUV sales would explain this, but only if SUVs were indeed more dangerous for motorcyclists.

Of course, it’s relatively easy to check this since we have the number of fatal two-vehicle crashes where the second car was an utility vehicle (or a passenger car).

However, we also have to account for the fact that there are simply more passenger cars on the road. Luckily, the NHTS data provides an estimate of the number of vehicles of each type.

The graph below shows the number of motorcycle fatalities per million vehicles by vehicle type in 2017. This shows us how dangerous each body type is when colliding with a motorcycle.

Incidentally, SUVs are indeed more dangerous than cars, but not much — especially compared to pickups. At the same time, the number of pickups on the roads is actually decreasing, so we can assume that there are multiple factors at play here.

There’s also a clear geographical pattern: The number of motorcycle fatalities has fallen in the Northeast and has increased in the Southwest.


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About Andrey Kamenov

Andrey Kamenov

Andrey Kamenov, Ph.D. Probability and Statistics

Andrey Kamenov is a data scientist working for Advameg Inc. His background includes teaching statistics, stochastic processes and financial mathematics in Moscow State University and working for a hedge fund. His academic interests range from statistical data analysis to optimal stopping theory. Andrey also enjoys his hobbies of photography, reading and powerlifting.

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