U.S. Motorcycle Deaths Went Up Quite A Bit Last Year

(Image: !Koss/Flickr, edited by the author)

Preliminary data from state highway safety offices around America shows annual traffic fatalities for motorcyclists going up an estimated 10 percent in 2015. That meant about 450 more bikers killed on the road last year than the year before for an expected total of just over 5,000. Here’s what we know.

The Governors Highway Safety Association has put together an annual report on motorcycle safety every year since 2009. The 2015 edition submits that over 3.1 trillion miles were traveled on U.S. roads that year.


Motorcycles accounted for less than one percent of that figure, but “nearly 15 percent of all motor vehicle fatalities.” The association says that translates to motorcycles having a 26 times fatality rate “per-mile” than passenger vehicles.

The association points to the repeal, and general lack, of helmet laws as a significant factor here.

“Currently, only 19 states and D.C. require all riders be helmeted,” their site reads. “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.”

According to the 2015 crash report and the NHTSA, a proper helmet decreases a motorcyclist’s chance of dying by 37 percent. By the association’s estimation, universal helmet usage and would have “saved 715 bikers’ lives” in 2013.


Florida posted the highest number of biker deaths at 550, while Washington D.C. reported just three fatal motorcycle crashes.

(Table: GHSA)

The data also indicates that motorcyclist deaths have become significantly more common around America in the last 15 years.

(Table: GHSA)

Of course while the overall trend in America seems to be an increase in fatalities, there were still 16 states that actually reported a decrease, and three plus D.C. showing no change. Interestingly, of those 16 states actively improving their bikers’ safety record, 10 do not have universal helmet laws according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

So what’s the takeaway here? For riders, I suppose it’s “wear all the armor and visibility you can.” And for drivers, it’s “please pay attention to your surroundings.”


The odds are getting worse against folks on two wheels. If you know to solve this problem, well, you’re better qualified to be Secretary of Transportation than I am. Read the full report to get a more complete idea of the environment we’re riding in these days.

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Andrew P. Collins

Reviews Editor, Jalopnik | 1975 International Scout, 1984 Nissan 300ZX, 1991 Suzuki GSXR, 1998 Mitsubishi Montero, 2005 Acura TL