Auto and Road User Journal
Auto and Road User Journal
May 1, 1998
TranSafety, Inc.
(U.S. and Canada)
(360) 683-6276
Fax: (360) 335-6402


Traffic Safety Facts 1996

U.S. Department of Transportation
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration




In 1996, 2,160 motorcyclists were killed and an additional 56,000 were injured in traffic crashes in the United States -- 3 percent less than the 2,227 motorcyclist fatalities and 2 percent less than the 57,000 motorcyclist injuries reported in 1995.

More than 100,000 motorcyclists have died in traffic crashes since the enactment of the Highway Safety and National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966.

For motorcyclists, the 1995 fatality rate per 10,000 registered vehicles was nearly 30 percent lower than the 1985 rate (5.9 and 8.4 in 1995 and 1985, respectively), compared with a decrease of 10 percent for passenger car occupants over the same period (1.8 and 2.0 fatalities per 10,000 registered vehicles in 1995 and 1985, respectively). The fatality rate for motorcyclists per 100 million vehicle miles traveled declined by 55 percent (from 50.2 in 1985 to 22.7 in 1995), compared with a 26 percent decrease (from 1.9 to 1.4) in the corresponding fatality rate for passenger car occupants (1996 registered vehicle and vehicle miles traveled data not available).

Motorcycles made up 2 percent of all registered vehicles in the United States in 1995 and accounted for only 0.4 percent of all vehicle miles traveled.

Per vehicle mile traveled in 1995, motorcyclists were about 16 times as likely as passenger car occupants to die in a motor vehicle traffic crash and about 4 times as likely to be injured.

Per registered vehicle, the fatality rate for motorcyclists in 1995 was 3.1 times the fatality rate for passenger car occupants, and the injury rate was 1.3 times the injury rate for passenger car occupants.

In 1996, motorcyclists were involved in only 1 percent of all police-reported traffic crashes, but they accounted for 5 percent of total traffic fatalities, 6 percent of all occupant fatalities, and 2 percent of all occupants injured.

More than one-half (1,184) of all motorcycles involved in fatal crashes in 1996 collided with another motor vehicle in transport. In two-vehicle crashes, 76 percent of the motorcycles involved were impacted in the front. Only 5 percent were struck in the rear.

Motorcycles are more likely to be involved in a fatal collision with a fixed object than are other vehicles. In 1996, 28 percent of the reported fatal crashes involving motorcycles were fixed object crashes, compared to 23 percent for passenger cars, 18 percent for light trucks, and 6 percent for large trucks.

Motorcycles are also more likely to be involved in an injury collision with a fixed object than are other vehicles. In 1996, 15 percent of the reported injury crashes involving motorcycles were fixed object crashes, compared to 8 percent for passenger cars, 8 percent for light trucks, and 5 percent for large trucks.

In 1996, there were 1,048 two-vehicle fatal crashes involving a motorcycle and another vehicle. In 35 percent (363) of these crashes the other vehicle was turning left while the motorcycle was going straight, passing, or overtaking the vehicle. Both vehicles were going straight in 302 crashes (29 percent). Almost half (43 percent) of all motorcyclist fatalities in 1996 resulted from crashes in seven states: 232 in California, 160 in Florida, 117 in Ohio, 115 in Texas, 109 in Illinois, 98 in Pennsylvania, and 95 in New York.

In 1996, 42 percent of all motorcyclists involved in fatal crashes were speeding, nearly twice the rate for drivers of passenger cars or light trucks. The percentage of alcohol involvement was 50 percent higher for motorcyclists than for drivers of passenger vehicles.


One out of five motorcycle operators (20 percent) involved in fatal crashes in 1996 were operating the vehicle with an invalid license at the time of the collision, while only 12 percent of drivers of passenger vehicles in fatal crashes did not have a valid license.

Motorcycle operators involved in fatal traffic crashes were nearly twice as likely as passenger vehicle drivers to have a previous license suspension or revocation (22 percent and 12 percent, respectively).

Almost 7 percent of the motorcycle operators involved in fatal crashes in 1996 had at least one previous conviction for driving while intoxicated on their driver records, compared to less than 4 percent of passenger car drivers.


Motorcycle operators involved in fatal crashes in 1996 had higher intoxication rates, with blood alcohol concentrations (BAC) of 0.10 grams per deciliter (g/dl) or greater, than any other type of motor vehicle driver. Intoxication rates for vehicle operators involved in fatal crashes were 30.3 percent for motorcycles, 21.9 percent for light trucks, 18.8 percent for passenger cars, and 1.4 percent for large trucks.

In 1996, 31.0 percent of all fatally injured motorcycle operators were intoxicated (BAC 0.10 g/dl or greater). An additional 11.5 percent had lower alcohol levels (BAC 0.01 to 0.09 g/dl). The intoxication rate was highest for fatally injured operators between 40 and 44 years old (43.0 percent), followed by ages 35 to 39 (41.9 percent), and ages 30 to 34 (41.7 percent).

Almost half (46 percent) of the 852 motorcycle operators who died in single-vehicle crashes in 1996 were intoxicated. Three-fifths (60 percent) of those killed on weekend nights were intoxicated.

Motorcycle operators killed in traffic crashes at night were 3.6 times as likely to be intoxicated as those killed during the day (46 percent and 13 percent, respectively).

The reported helmet use rate for intoxicated motorcycle operators killed in traffic crashes was 51 percent, compared with 60 percent for those who were sober.


NHTSA estimates that helmets saved the lives of 490 motorcyclists in 1996. If all motorcyclists had worn helmets, an additional 279 lives could have been saved.

Helmets are estimated to be 29 percent effective in preventing fatal injuries to motorcyclists.

Helmets cannot protect the rider from most types of bodily injuries. However, a recent NHTSA study showed that motorcycle helmets are 67 percent effective in preventing brain injuries. (Source: 1996 Crash Outcome Data Evaluation System (CODES): Report to Congress on Benefits of Safety Belts and Motorcycle Helmets.)

According to NHTSA's National Occupant Protection Use Survey, a nationally representative observational survey of motorcycle helmet, safety belt, and child safety seat use, helmet use was 64 percent in 1996. According to previous NHTSA surveys, helmet use was reported to be essentially 100 percent at sites with helmet use laws governing all motorcycle riders, as compared to 34 to 54 percent at sites with no helmet use laws or laws limited to minors.

Reported helmet use rates for fatally injured motorcyclists in 1996 were 57 percent for operators and 45 percent for passengers, compared with 57 percent and 44 percent, respectively, in 1995.

All motorcycle helmets sold in the United States are required to meet Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 218, the performance standard which establishes the minimum level of protection helmets must afford each user.

Currently, 25 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico require helmet use by all motorcycle operators and passengers. In another 22 states, only persons under a specific age, usually 18, are required to wear helmets. Three states have no laws requiring helmet use.

NHTSA estimates that $10.4 billion was saved from 1984 through 1996 because of the use of motorcycle helmets. An additional $9.2 billion would have been saved if all motorcyclists had worn helmets.

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