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Motorcycles have a reputation for being dangerous vehicles, and there is certainly some truth behind that reputation. In 2006, almost 5,000 people were killed while riding motorcycles, and most died in accidents that involved passenger vehicles.

In order to try and determine the causes or contributing factors of motorcycle crashes, the University of Southern California did a study on behalf of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Some of the results of the study were quite surprising.

For one, the study busted the myth of the dangerously speeding motorcyclist causing accidents; "the median pre-crash speed was 29.8 mph, and the median crash speed was 21.5 mph". The study also suggested that crash bars were not helpful for the motorcyclist, since the reduction in injury to the ankle or foot was countered by an increase in injury to the legs.

Other results were less surprising. The study supported the commonly-held notion that the actions of the driver of the other vehicle are the predominating causes of motorcycle crashes. It also supported the idea that motorcycle helmets help save lives, and don’t make it any harder to see the road. The study also concluded that young motorcyclists are highly overrepresented in motorcycle crashes, as are motorcyclists who have consumed alcohol, which suggests that the motorcycle driver may play a large role in the accident as well.

Some other results of the study include:

9. Intersections are the most likely place for the motorcycle accident, with the other vehicle violating the motorcycle right-of-way, and often violating traffic controls.

10. Weather is not a factor in 98% of motorcycle accidents.

11. Most motorcycle accidents involve a short trip associated with shopping, errands, friends, entertainment or recreation, and the accident is likely to happen in a very short time close to the trip origin.

12. The view of the motorcycle or the other vehicle involved in the accident is limited by glare or obstructed by other vehicles in almost half of the multiple vehicle accidents.

13. 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.

14. Fuel system leaks and spills were present in 62% of the motorcycle accidents in the post-crash phase. This represents an undue hazard for fire.

If you are a motorcyclist, it is important that you take every precaution while on the road. Never consume alcohol before getting on your bike; make sure you are as conspicuous as possible; and drive cautiously, even if you are only making a short trip, since it is always possible that a car might not see you in time to avoid an accident. Also, make sure you have insurance; less 10% of the motorcylists surveyed in the study had enough insurance to pay for any sort of damage to their vehicle, and you don’t want to be part of that statistic.

If you drive a passenger vehicle, it is important to always pay attention to your surroundings. Motorcycles are often harder to spot than other cars or trucks, but if you aren’t careful about watching out for them then the consequences could be disastrous. Driving safely and cautiously will save more lives than those of the people in your own vehicle.


  1. Very good information, it is important that people looking to be represented after a motorcycle collision understand the difference between these cases and just any car collision.

  2. Gravatar for Noah Schwinghamer
    Noah Schwinghamer

    Did the study say anything about motorcyclists splitting lanes when there's heavy traffic? I have heard conflicting stories about whether this actually increases or decreases safety.

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