New Data: Motorcyclist Deaths Surge 10% in 2015

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News Releases

May 19, 2016

Contact: Kara Macek,
202-789-0942 x140

New Data: Motorcyclist Deaths Surge 10% in 2015

Fatalities Expected to Top 5,000

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Preliminary data provided by state highway safety offices indicates that more than 5,000 people were killed on motorcycles 2015. This represents an estimated 10 percent increase compared with 2014 ─ more than 450 additional deaths. This grim news, presented in the Governors Highway Safety Association’s (GHSA) annual forecast of motorcyclist fatalities, comes as warm weather prompts thousands of bikers to hit the road either for the first time, or after taking their motorcycles out of storage following winter.

Motorcyclist Traffic Fatalities by State: 2015 Preliminary Data is GHSA’s sixth annual motorcyclist fatality Spotlight report. The series provides an early look at current data, trends, and developing issues. GHSA projects the final motorcyclist fatality total for 2015 will be 5,010 – only the third year in U.S. history and the first time since 2008 in which the fatality number topped 5,000.

All 50 states and the District of Columbia contributed their preliminary motorcyclist fatality counts for the full 2015 calendar year for this latest report. Compared with 2014, motorcyclist fatalities increased in 31 states, decreased in 16 states, and remained the same in three states plus the District of Columbia. The report was authored by Richard Retting and Heather Rothenberg of Sam Schwartz Consulting.

According to Retting, “These sobering findings provide a stark reminder of how susceptible motorcyclists are to fatal and life-threatening injuries. The risk of motorcycle crashes and fatalities is compounded by factors such as alcohol and drug use, increased speed limits, the repeal of state helmet laws, and a record number of vehicles on U.S. roads. Concerted efforts are needed to reduce this tragic loss of life.”

The change likely to produce the largest reduction in motorcyclist fatalities would be restoration of helmet use laws covering all motorcyclists in the 32 states that lack such measures. Even in states with helmet use laws, not all specify that helmets must comply with U.S. Department of Transportation standards. This additional requirement could also improve enforceability of helmet laws and the level of protection offered by helmets.

Currently, only 19 states and D.C. require all riders be helmeted. Another 28 mandate helmet use by riders younger than age 18 or 21, and three have no requirement. According to a 2014 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) study, the use rate of helmets in universal law states was 89 percent, compared with 48 percent in all other states.

GHSA Executive Director Jonathan Adkins notes that “State and national data illustrate that motorcyclists are far more likely to be injured or killed in a crash than motor vehicle occupants. GHSA and its members will continue to support the development, implementation, and evaluation of evidence-based motorcycle safety countermeasures to improve rider safety and, ultimately, save lives.”

Motorcyclists can take actions on their own to reduce the risk of being involved in a fatal crash, including the following:

  • Always wear a DOT-compliant helmet, even when not required by state law.
  • Wear bright-colored clothing to make it easier to be seen by other drivers.
  • Never ride impaired by alcohol or other drugs.
  • Obey posted speed limits.
  • When purchasing a new motorcycle, opt for a model with antilock brakes, which have been shown to decrease fatal motorcycle crashes by preventing a motorcycle's wheels from locking during braking and assisting with maintaining the stability of the motorcycle.

Drivers of other motor vehicles should always be aware and looking out for motorcyclists around them and, of course, obey all traffic laws.

All 2015 data in the report are preliminary. State-by-state data and image files are available from GHSA.

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The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) is a nonprofit association representing the highway safety offices of states, territories, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. GHSA provides leadership and representation for the states and territories to improve traffic safety, influence national policy, enhance program management and promote best practices. Its members are appointed by their Governors to administer federal and state highway safety funds and implement state highway safety plans. Contact GHSA at 202-789-0942 or visit Find us on Facebook at or follow us on Twitter @GHSAHQ.