Tell people you want to purchase a motorcycle and the usual response is "I hope you have your will made out" or "I don't want you to die" or similar. The implication is that motorcycle riding is more risky than car driving.

Per mile driven, are motorcycle riders more likely to die, more likely to get in an accident, or more likely to get in a severe accident, than the average driver of a four-wheel car?

To simplify things, I hope, let's limit the comparison to riders with a helmet, assuming that helmets reduce the risk of fatal accidents.

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    Not an answer, but it's important to recognize the difference between a helmet and a piece of safety gear called a helmet. There are lots of people (idiots, IMO) who ride with "novelty"helmets, and with half helmets. They get included in the helmet side of the statistic "injured while wearing a helmet" (BTW my "idiots" comment is based on 44 years of riding, 140,000 miles of it just in the last decade)
    – Dan Haynes
    Commented Nov 17, 2014 at 15:40

1 Answer 1


Per mile driven, are motorcycle riders more likely to die, more likely to get in an accident, or more likely to get in a severe accident, than the average driver of a four-wheel car?

Wikipedia's Motorcycle safety: Accident rates article starts with,

According to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2006, 13.10 cars out of 100,000 ended up in fatal crashes. The rate for motorcycles is 72.34 per 100,000 registered motorcycles.[1] Motorcycles also have a higher fatality rate per unit of distance travelled when compared with automobiles. Per vehicle mile traveled, motorcyclists' risk of a fatal crash is 35 times greater than a passenger car.[1] In 2004, figures from the UK Department for Transport indicated that motorcycles have 16 times the rate of serious injuries compared to cars, and double the rate of bicycles.[2]

Another worthwhile question may ask whether helmets reduce the risk of a fatal accident.

Concussion and brain damage, as the head violently contacts other vehicles or objects. Riders wearing an approved helmet reduce the risk of death by 37 percent.[33]

See also gloves, boots, goggles, jacket, pants, etc.

If you choose to get a motorcycle I would suggest you carefully research:

  • What the consequence of an accident are, from a motorcycle, if you have one
  • How easy it is to get in an accident, for example:

    • 75% of accidents were found to involve a motorcycle and a passenger vehicle
    • In the multiple vehicle accidents, the driver of the other vehicle violated the motorcycle right-of-way and caused the accident in two-thirds of those accidents.
  • How to avoid becoming part of the accident statistics (careful training etc.).

Some people claim that motorcycling can become relatively safe for you:

David Edwards of Cycle World wrote, "Here's the thing: motorcycles are not dangerous," saying that if a rider has a license, attends riding schools, wears all the gear all the time (ATGATT), and develops an accident avoidance sixth sense, motorcycling can become safe; "... do all of these things, become really serious about your roadcraft, and you'll be so under-represented in accident statistics as to become almost bulletproof."

The List of findings in the Hurt Report is quite interesting. Although (as stated above) it shows that, more often than not, it's the car driver's fault, that (it's being the driver's fault) doesn't help you to avoid accidents. Fortunately the list also gives many ways in which motorcyclists contribute to accidents, for example:

  • Conspicuity of the motorcycle is a critical factor in the multiple vehicle accidents, and accident involvement is significantly reduced by the use of motorcycle headlamps-on In daylight and the wearing of high visibility yellow, orange or bright red jackets.

  • Motorcycle riders between the ages of 16 and 24 are significantly Overrepresented in accidents; motorcycle riders between the ages of 30 and 50 are significantly underrepresented.

  • The motorcycle riders involved in accidents are essentially without training; 92% were self-taught or learned from family or friends. Motorcycle rider training experience reduces accident involvement and is related to reduced injuries in the event of accidents.

  • More than half of the accident-involved motorcycle riders had less than 5 months experience on the accident motorcycle, although the total street riding experience was almost 3 years. Motorcycle riders with dirt bike experience are significantly underrepresented in the accident data.

  • Motorcycle riders in these accidents showed significant collision avoidance problems. Most riders would overbrake and skid the rear wheel, and underbrake the front wheel greatly reducing collision avoidance deceleration. The ability to countersteer and swerve was essentially absent.

  • The likelihood of injury is extremely high in these motorcycle accidents; 98% of the multiple vehicle collisions and 96% of the single vehicle accidents resulted in some kind of injury to the motorcycle rider; 45% resulted in more than a minor injury. (subsequent item talk about protective gear like gloves and boots and crash bars etc)

  • Seventy-three percent of the accident-involved motorcycle riders used no eye protection, and it is likely that the wind on the unprotected eyes contributed an impairment of vision which delayed hazard detection.

So apparently there are things you can do to make it less dangerous for you in particular: perhaps starting with getting professional training, safety gear, communicating with other road users, learning what you can and cannot do with brakes and steering in an emergency, refraining from emergencies, etc.

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    In the multiple vehicle accidents, the driver of the other vehicle violated the motorcycle right-of-way and caused the accident in two-thirds of those accidents. Really? Granted, I've never seen a motorcycle-vs-car accident, but what I do see, on a daily basis, is motorcycles aggressively encroaching into cars' space, and especially lane-splitting, which is a fatal accident just waiting to happen. And when it finally does, no one's gonna say it was the driver's fault. Commented Nov 9, 2014 at 21:53
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    I thought you were in Seattle. Anyway you say you've never seen a motorcycle accident; let's hope you never will. FYI I ride a bicycle, and so I'm aware that when I drive a car I take some risks that I wouldn't on a bike: e.g. on a bicycle on a main road, I avoid crossing in front of a car that is stopped or is stopping on a side road, until I have made eye contact with the driver and know he has seen me coming. WHereas in a car I continue across their path, knowing it's my right of way and that in a car I'd protected in a low-speed accident.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Nov 9, 2014 at 23:21
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    I was living in Seattle 5 years ago when I filled in that information. I've moved since then. And you sound like a very smart cyclist. That's what I always do when I'm a pedestrian: make eye contact with a driver before crossing in front of the car, even if it's stopped. (And yes, bicycles are pedestrians: foot-powered traffic. And whoever drafted the law that says they belong on roads--in car territory--and not on sidewalks--in pedestrian territory--is an idiot with blood on his hands. But that's getting off topic.) Unfortunately, most motorcyclists here aren't as smart as you. Commented Nov 9, 2014 at 23:27
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    20 KPH ~= 12.5 MPH. The speed limit in most city roads is 35. If you can't go the speed limit, you don't belong in traffic. It's not safe for you (because all the cars are going 3x faster than you) and it's not safe for the car that gets stuck behind you (because he can't safely change lanes to go around you when the cars in the next lane over are going 3x faster than him). It's a dead cyclist waiting to happen. I have seen that, just a couple days ago in fact, about a block from where I work. Not sure if the guy died, but he definitely got hit, because he was in traffic. Commented Nov 9, 2014 at 23:57
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    Let us continue this discussion in chat.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Nov 10, 2014 at 0:06

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