Motorcycle Accidents & Casualties

Motorcycling Statistics: 2010

• In 2009 there were 140 deaths and 1,709 people killed and seriously injured (KSI) per billion vehicle miles for motorcycle riders. The corresponding figures for car drivers were 3 killed and 30 KSI per billion vehicle miles.

• The number of motorcycle rider KSIs fell from 2,631 per billion vehicle miles in 1994 to 1,709 in 2009. This represents a 35 per cent decrease. Over a similar time period, KSIs for car drivers fell by over 57 per cent.

• There were 5,554 motorcycle rider KSIs in 2009; 94 per cent of the casualties were male. A decade earlier, in 1999, there were 6,443 KSIs.

• As with other road users, the highest rate of motorcycle KSIs occur between midday and 6 pm. There are very few accidents and casualties between midnight and 6 am; this is probably due to there being fewer motorcycles and other vehicles on the road at that time.

• The most common factors which contributed to motorcycle accidents were ‘loss of control’ (a contributory factor in 16 per cent of accidents), ‘failure to look properly’ (15 per cent of accidents) and ‘failure to judge another person’s path or speed’ (12 per cent of accidents). However, on bikes with an engine size of 50cc or smaller, 23 per cent of accidents were due to the inexperience of the rider.

• In 2009 nearly 11 thousand of the 21.5 thousand riders involved in an accident had a breathalyser test. Of those that were tested, 2.6 per cent failed the test. This is lower than the failure rate for all vehicles which stood at 3.4 per cent. The age group which had the highest failure rate was 20 to 24 year olds; 4.2 per cent of this group failed breathalyser tests.

Motorcycling Statistics: 2005

Casualty Rates
Much of the increase in motorcyclist casualties in recent years may be due to the fact that the amount of motorcycling has increased (by 33% since 1994-98). This means that the rate of motorcyclist killed or seriously injured casualties per billion kilometres travelled in 2004 had fallen by 23% from its 1994 - 98 level. The slight casualty rate has fallen by 19% and the overall casualty rate by 20%.

Nevertheless, motorcyclist casualty rates are much higher than other road users.

The casualty rate for motorcyclists is 15 times higher than that of car drivers, but similar to that of pedal cyclists. The fatality rate for motorcyclists is three times higher than for pedal cyclists, but 36 times higher than that for car drivers, reflecting the fact that motorcyclists are not protected by a vehicle body, seat belts or the other occupant protection systems that car drivers enjoy.

Vehicle Involvement Rates
Vehicle accident involvement rates show that motorcyclists are seven times more likely to be involved in an accident than a car, and 15 times more likely to be involved in a fatal or serious accident.

Motorcyclist Casualties by Age
There is a clear relationship between motorcyclist casualties and age. There are few casualties below the age of 16 years because children do not generally use motorcycles. Moped users show a casualty peak between the ages of 16 and 19 years. Motorcycle and motorcycle scooter user casualties peak between 20 - 49 years. These patterns probably reflect usage patterns of different types of motorcycles.

An In-depth study of motorcycle accidents12 found that there are two peak ages for motorcyclist casualties: 16 – 20 years and 35 – 39 years.

Motorcyclist Casualties by Gender
Motorcyclist casualties are predominately male. Men account for 91% of motorcyclist deaths and serious injuries, and 89% of total motorcyclist casualties.

The In-depth study12 estimated that there are more than twelve times as many male motorcyclist casualties than female ones.

Casualties by Location
Overall, almost three quarters (72%) of motorcyclist casualties occur on built-up roads (roads with a speed limit of up to 40 mph), even though such roads carry less than half of motorcycle traffic. Around 89% of moped casualties occur on built up roads, compared.

One quarter (26%) of motorcyclist casualties and 10% of moped casualties occur on non built-up roads (roads with a speed limit of over 40 mph). And less than 2% of motorcyclist casualties (and virtually no moped casualties) occur on motorways, which carry 7% of motorcyclist traffic.

However, the pattern for motorcyclist fatalities differs: 59% of motorcyclist deaths occur on non built-up roads, 38% on built-up roads and 2.5% on motorways. The reverse is true for moped users: 64% of moped deaths occur on built-up roads and 36% on non-built-up roads.

Urban A roads, followed by urban minor roads, have the highest casualty rates for motorcyclists. However, the fatality rate for motorcyclists is much higher on rural roads than on urban roads.

A detailed examination of 1,790 motorcycle accidents13 identified that almost three-quarters of motorcycle accidents occur in urban or suburban areas. But it also found that there are over five times as many accidents on bends in rural areas than in urban areas. Motorcycle accidents in rural areas also tend to be more severe – they are three times more likely to be fatal and 1.5 times more likely to be serious, than motorcycle accidents in urban areas.

An earlier analysis of motorcycle accidents in Cheshire14 indicated a shift in the balance of casualties from urban to rural roads, along with an increase in the proportion of casualties who are killed or seriously injured.

Motorcyclist Casualties by Month
Motorcyclist casualties are highly seasonal. Fatalities and overall casualties peak during the Spring and Summer months, which reflecting increased riding during this period.

Casualties by Time and Day
Fridays have the highest number of motorcyclist casualties, followed by the other days of the week which each have a similar level. During the week, casualties peak between 4:00 pm and 6:00 pm and between 7:00 am and 9:00 am. The number of weekend casualties is slightly lower, and more evenly spread through the day, with a slight peak between midday and 6:00 pm.

An analysis of fatal accidents involving motorcyclists15 found that 63% of such accidents occurred in daylight, and a further 26% occurred on lit roads in the dark. However, there were a higher proportion of motorcycle only crashes in the dark.

Road Surface Condition
Motorcyclists are more susceptible to the condition of the road surface. They are more likely to skid on both dry and wet road surfaces, and in particular are put at greater risk by mud or oil on the road. Snow and ice seems to affect car drivers just as much as motorcyclists, although motorcycle use probably drops significantly when ice and snow make riding very difficult and unpleasant.

The study of fatal accidents involving motorcyclists15 found that 88% of these accidents occurred in fine weather and 80% on dry roads.

Motorcyclist Casualties by Manoeuvre
As with all road user groups (except pedestrians) most motorcycle accidents are listed as “Going ahead other”. However, 12% of motorcycle accidents are listed as “Going ahead on a bend”, compared to only 9% of cars. Similarly, 15% occur when the rider is overtaking another vehicle, compared to only 3% of car accidents during this manoeuvre. This reflects motorcyclists’ greater vulnerability during these manoeuvres.

Types of Motorcyclist Crashes

There are a number of common types of crashes involving motorcyclists
  • Failure to negotiate bends on rural A roads
  • Collision at junctions (Right of Way Violations)
  • Collision while overtaking
  • Rider losing control without another vehicle being involved.
Losing control on a bend accounted for about 15% of motorcycle accidents in the In-depth study. This type of crash tends to be the fault of the rider, often because s/he approaches the bend too fast and/or mis-judges the curve of the bend. They occur more often on leisure rides. Riders involved in this type of accident are more likely to be inexperienced, either because they have not held a motorcycle licence for very long or because they have returned to motorcycling after a long gap.

Right of way violations accounted for about 38% of motorcycle accidents in the In-depth study. They were usually the fault of the other road user, who was usually a driver. Most occurred at T-junctions, although they also happened at crossroads and roundabouts. About two-thirds of these types of crashes, where the rider was not to blame, the driver failed to see a rider who was in clear view (and was often seen by other road users). In about 12% of these cases, the driver failed to see the motorcyclist even though s/he was wearing high visibility garments or using daytime running lights.

This concurs with earlier research. The Booth report17, published in 1989, assessed nearly 10,000 motorcycle accidents in the Metropolitan Police area. It concluded that nearly two-thirds (62%) were primarily caused by the other road user. Half of the accidents were caused by car drivers, and 10% by pedestrians. The report found that two-thirds of motorcycle accidents where the driver was at fault were due to the driver failing to anticipate the action of the motorcyclist.

Another common type of motorcycle accidents at junctions identified in the In-depth study was ‘shunts’, which accounted for over 11% of all motorcycle accidents in the study. The rider is more often at fault in shunt accidents than the other driver, and the rider tends to be younger, less experienced and riding a smaller machine.

Rider Losing Control

Almost one in five (18%) motorcycle accidents involve the motorcyclist losing control, without any other road user being involved. They are due to rider error, poor road surfaces and avoiding other road users.

Over one quarter (29%) of the fatal accidents in TRL’s analysis of Police reports of fatal accidents involving motorcyclists18 were motorcycle-only accidents. These were more common on rural roads and often linked to excessive speed, alcohol, other impairment or careless/reckless behaviour.

An analysis of motorcycle accidents in rural Cheshire19 found that 67% of such accidents were due to rider error, with losing control on a bend and overtaking featuring strongly.

The In-depth16 study found that overtaking by a motorcyclist was involved in 16.5% of crashes in which the rider was wholly or partly to blame. A further 5% involve riders ‘filtering’ through stationary or slow moving traffic. In filtering accidents, a driver is more than twice as likely to be at fault for the collision than the filtering rider.

The study of police reports of fatal accidents involving motorcyclists16 suggested that poor overtaking was a more common factor in accidents involving riders of 201 – 650 cc machines, possibly because the riders were seeking to emulate the behaviour of riders of more powerful motorcycles.

Motorcyclists and Drink Driving
Motorcyclists have a lower breath test failure rate than car drivers

A lower proportion of motorcyclist fatalities (14%) were over the drink drive limit than car driver fatalities (21%).

Motorcyclist Injury Patterns
Various studies20,21 have assessed the types and frequencies of injuries to motorcyclists. Legs are the most commonly injured, followed by the head and arms.

Around 80% of motorcyclist casualties suffer leg injuries, 56% suffer injuries to the arms and 48% to the head. However, head injuries are usually more severe than those to the legs or arms, and account for over 70% of motorcyclist fatalities9. Injuries to the thorax and pelvis are infrequent, but usually severe.

Head Injuries
Around 80% of seriously injured motorcyclists, and 73% of motorcyclist fatalities suffer head injuries (they usually suffer other injuries as well), including cuts, abrasions, concussion, severe facial injuries, skull fractures and brain injuries.9 They appear to be more likely in crashes in which the motorcyclist collides with another vehicle at right angles and the head impacts against the vehicle, or where the rider slides along the ground and strikes their head on a kerb or piece of roadside furniture. Skull fractures may occur at speeds of 30 km/h or more, but brain injuries may happen at much lower speeds, from 11 km/h upwards.

Leg Injuries
Leg injuries, including cuts and abrasions, fractures, broken bones and dislocated joints, account for 60% of serious injuries. The knee and lower leg appear to be the most vulnerable. Leg injuries are most frequently caused in accidents that involve the motorcyclist striking the side of a vehicle at an oblique angle, or a vehicle striking the motorcyclist side-on. The injuries are caused by a direct impact or by the leg being trapped and crushed between the vehicles.

The following sections of this report explore a number of key issues:
  • Riders
  • Other Road Users
  • Motorcycles
  • Roads


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