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Mineta Announces Analysis of Motorcycle Fatalities, Safety Plan

U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta today announced a comprehensive analysis by the department's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) of motorcycle fatalities over the past decade. Motorcycle fatalities decreased steadily between 1993 and 1997, but rose 16.8 percent between 1997 and 1999, underscoring the importance of NHTSA's new draft motorcycle safety plan.

"Unfortunately, the increase in motorcycle popularity has been followed by a rise in fatalities, and we must find ways to prevent these unnecessary deaths," Secretary Mineta said. "As we work together with our partners in developing effective motorcycle safety programs, we must understand the reasons for the trend toward increasing motorcycle rider fatalities, and that is what our analysis does."

NHTSA last week released a draft motorcycle plan that will serve as a blueprint for future agency motorcycle safety programs.

According to NHTSA's analysis, entitled Recent Trends in Fatal Motorcycle Crashes, fatality rates are increasing after declining to an all time low in 1997. For motorcycle fatalities:

  • Motorcycle registrations increased from 3.8 million in 1997 to 4.2 million in 1999, an increase of 8.5 percent. According to a report by the Motorcycle Industry Council, 2000 Motorcycle Industry Council Statistics, the West had the highest motorcycle penetration followed by the Midwest, East and South.
  • The fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled dropped from 33.9 motorcycle rider fatalities in 1990 to 21.0 in 1997. The rate increased to 22.3 in 1998 and 23.4 in 1999. Similar trends in fatality rates were recorded based on registered motorcycles and resident populations.
  • Most of the increases in fatalities between 1997 and 1999 were among older riders (40 and over) and larger displacement (over 1000 cubic centimeters) motorcycles. In fact, the 40 and older groups were the only age categories that recorded an increase in fatality rates between 1990 and 1999 based on 100,000 resident populations. The age and sales statistics mirror trends in Motorcycle Industry Council sales figures and U.S. Census Bureau data.
  • Assessing fatal crashes, in 1990, the average age of a motorcyclist killed was 29.3 and the average motorcycle engine size was 769 c.c. In 1999, the average age of a motorcyclist killed was 36.5 and the average engine size was 922 c.c.
  • The average age of a motorcycle owner was 26.9 in 1980 and 38.1 in 1998.
  • In 1998 and 1999, more motorcyclists were killed on rural roads than urban roads, reversing a trend from 1990-1997.
  • More than half of all motorcycle fatalities involved a crash with another type of motor vehicle.
  • Alcohol involvement among rider fatalities has declined; however, the consequences of drinking and riding continue to be a significant factor in fatal motorcycle crashes.
  • Fifty-eight percent of rider fatalities in the 30-39 age group involved alcohol, the highest percentage of all age groups.
  • NHTSA's comprehensive analysis represents its commitment toward improving motorcycle safety by taking the initiative to examine the agency's crash data in light of current trends in motorcycle ownership. Recent Trends in Fatal Motorcycle Crashes is also the first step in one significant area, crash and injury data and analysis, of the agency's recently released draft motorcycle safety improvement plan. NHTSA's analysis is the first effort by the agency to analytically link its existing crash data to data on motorcycle owners and their vehicles.

    The analysis is available on the NHTSA website at:

    The department's draft Motorcycle Safety Improvement Plan outlines steps that NHTSA and the department's Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) will take in the following areas: rider and passenger safety, riding environment, motorcycle safety standards, and research. NHTSA and the FHWA believe that a renewed national effort is needed at all levels - federal, state, and community - in order to reduce the levels of motorcycle crashes, fatalities, and injuries in the United States.

    The NHTSA draft plan follows the independent December 2000 National Agenda for Motorcycle Safety, a comprehensive plan that was developed in partnership with the Motorcycle Safety Foundation by a coalition of representatives from government, law enforcement, industry and the riding community.

    NHTSA intends to continue to serve as a leader and major partner in motorcycle safety. NHTSA's draft plan responds to and supports the framework of National Agenda for Motorcycle Safety (DOT-HS 809 156, November 2000). The draft plan reflects a coordinated agency-wide planning effort that also involved NHTSA's sister agency, the FHWA, to address roadway and environment safety issues related to improved safety for motorcyclists on the nation's roadways.

    The draft plan was published in the Federal Register on June 25, 2001. It also is available on line at The agency will receive comments on the proposal for 45 days.


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