Statement of Cathy Chase, President, on Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month

  • May 1, 2023
150 150 Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety


Statement of Cathy Chase, President, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety,

on Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month

(Washington, DC-May 1, 2023) Motorcycles are the most hazardous form of motor vehicle transportation. That’s why in May, as the weather warms up and more motorcycle riders take to the roads, we bring attention to the need to reduce the climbing death and injury toll from motorcycle crashes during Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month.

In 2021 alone, 5,932 motorcycle riders were killed. That is the largest number of deaths in a single year since data collection began in 1975. This was also an alarming nearly eight percent increase from 2020 and accounted for 14 percent of all roadway deaths. Additionally, approximately 83,000 motorcyclists were injured in 2021, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). In addition to the loss of life and injuries, motorcycle crashes cost nearly $17 billion in economic impacts and $107 billion in societal harm as measured by comprehensive costs based on 2019 data. Proven solutions are urgently needed to stem the rising physical, emotional and economic toll of motorcycle crashes.

Motorcycle helmets reduce the risk of head injury by 69 percent and the risk of death by 42 percent. Estimates show helmets save the lives of approximately 1,800 motorcycle riders each year.  Yet only 18 states and Washington, DC require helmet use by all riders. Unfortunately, this legislative session, at least five states (MD, MA, NE, TN, WV) are considering, or have considered, exemptions or repeals to their all-rider helmet laws. Two states (CT, HI) laudably are considering, or have considered, upgrading to an all-rider helmet law.

Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates) prioritizes an all-rider motorcycle helmet requirement as a critical law for all states to enact in our Roadmap to Safety.  In states without universal helmet laws, almost 60 percent of motorcyclists killed in 2020 were not wearing helmets, compared to just 11 percent in states with such laws, according to NHTSA. In 2019, motorcycle helmets were preventing $21.2 billion in societal harm costs annually, but another $9.4 billion in harm costs could have been prevented if all motorcycle riders had worn helmets. Given this clear and compelling evidence, Advocates urges states to preserve existing all-rider motorcycle helmet requirements and calls upon states lacking this lifesaving law to take swift action to add it.

Vehicle safety improvements are critical to the solution as well. Technology including automatic emergency braking (AEB) and other advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) should be required in all new vehicles with a performance standard which ensures it will detect and respond to motorcycle riders and other vulnerable road users. The 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA, Pub. L. 117-58) requires AEB in new passenger vehicles and large trucks. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) must act urgently to issue comprehensive rules for AEB and include protections for motorcyclists and other vulnerable road users on all new vehicles.

Safety technology for motorcycles that is proven to prevent crashes should be advanced immediately as well. When examining fatal crash rates for 65 motorcycle models offering antilock brake systems (ABS) as an option during 2013-2019, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found motorcycles equipped with ABS were involved in 22 percent fewer fatal crashes. It’s clear that U.S. DOT action to set performance standards for motorcycle ABS will make an important difference to the safety of all riders.

When I took a motorcycle safety course when learning to ride, the instructor told the class that it’s not a question of if you will be in a crash, it’s a question of when. All-rider motorcycle helmet requirements and enhanced safety technology on motorcycles and all vehicles will make the when a less dangerous, damaging and destructive outcome. We call on state lawmakers and the U.S. DOT to advance these proven solutions to improve motorcyclists’ safety and the safety of all road users.