Car and motorcycle accidentMotorcycles are inherently more dangerous than cars; in fact, that’s a large part of their appeal. Motorcycles account for just 3% of all registered vehicles on the road with about 9 million registered motorcycles in the United States, yet they account for a disproportionate number of traffic fatalities and injuries. Motorcycles are not just more likely to be involved in a crash that causes death or injury; a greater percentage of motorcycle accidents are also caused by alcohol compared to car accidents.

Here’s how car and motorcycle accidents compare in terms of circumstances, fatality rates, and other important areas.

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Accident Causes

Motorcycle and car accidents are similar in that both are often caused by speeding and/or alcohol. According to the Department of Transportation’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), speeding, alcohol, and/or distracted driving were a factor in 58% of fatal traffic accidents between 2004 and 2013. 31% of fatal accidents involved alcohol, claiming more than 116,000 lives. Speeding was a factor in 31% of fatal accidents. Distracted driving was a factor in 18% of fatal accidents. Despite the dangers of driving while using a cell phone and many targeted media campaigns, the Department of Transportation found cell phone use was a contributing factor in just 1% of fatal accidents between 2004 and 2013. The number of non-fatal car accidents related to cell phone use is higher, however.

Here is more in-depth information about the most common causes of car and motorcycle accidents.

Common Causes of Car Accidents
There are more than 11 million car accidents in the United States each year. The causes of these accidents may be grouped in two main categories: driver error and other causes such as weather conditions, road conditions, health emergencies, and tire or brake failure.

Common causes of car accidents include:

  • Distracting driving is a common cause of car accidents. The National Safety Council (NSC) reports that 25% of all car accidents are related to the use of a cell phone. Distracted driving is so dangerous because the brain cannot properly process information coming from more than one source which delays reaction time.
  • Driver fatigue. Between 2.5% and 3.0% of traffic fatalities in the U.S. are caused by driver fatigue and falling asleep at the wheel.
  • Alcohol and/or speeding are related in nearly half of all car accidents.
  • Aggressive driving. Aggressive driving may include aggressive tailgating, disregarding traffic signals, failure to yield the right of way, and frequently changing lanes.

Common Causes of Motorcycle Accidents
The following are the most common causes of accidents involving motorcyclists:

  • Car making a left-hand turn. Motorcyclists are most in danger of an accident when a car is making a left-hand turn. About 42% of all traffic accidents involving a car and motorcycle involve a car turning left. This is dangerous because the motorcycle may be struck while going straight through an intersection, trying to pass the vehicle, or trying to overtake the car. In many cases, motorcycles are trying to pass a car within the same lane and the car driver cannot see or expect the motorcycle’s maneuver.
  • Lane splitting. Lane splitting is not legal in all states because it’s often a contributing factor in motorcycle accidents. Motorcycles driving between two lanes are at a higher risk of being involved in an accident due to reduced space for maneuvering, close proximity to nearby vehicles, and the fact that a car driver doesn’t anticipate a motorcycle passing them in slow or stopped traffic.
  • Speeding and alcohol use. About half of all single motorcycle accidents are caused by alcohol or speeding.
  • Collision with a fixed object. Motorcycles striking a fixed object account for one-quarter of motorcyclist deaths, but only 18% of car accident fatalities.
  • Road hazards. Because motorcycles are smaller and less stable than a car, uneven lane heights, slick roads, potholes, and other hazards pose a greater threat.

Alcohol-Related Accidents

Man taking breathalyzer

Alcohol is more likely to be a factor in motorcycle accidents than car accidents. In fact, 1 out of every 3 motorcycle accidents involves alcohol compared to 25% of car accidents. In 2012, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that 29% of all fatally injured motorcyclists had a BAC level of at least 0.08.

Motorcyclists who are killed in a traffic accident at night are three times more likely to have a BAC of 0.08 or higher than motorcyclists killed during the day. Of the 2,030 motorcycle traffic deaths in 2012 involving a single vehicle, 43% had a BAC of 0.08 or higher.

About half of all intoxicated motorcyclists who are killed each year are over the age of 40.

Accident Rates

The NHTSA reports that 13 cars out of every 100,000 are involved in a fatal accident, but motorcycles have a fatality rate of 72 per 100,000. Motorcyclists are also at a greater risk of a fatal accident per mile traveled. For every mile traveled, motorcyclists have a risk of a fatal accident that is 35 times higher than a car driver. In 2004, there were 37,304 people in cars killed in traffic accidents in the United States. That same year, 4,008 motorcyclists were killed on U.S. roads.

Injuries and Fatalities

Motorcycle accidents are inherently more dangerous than car accidents for drivers and occupants because riders are not protected by steel and are typically thrown from the bike during a collision. There are several common injuries associated with motorcycle accidents:

  • Concussion and brain damage. This risk is especially great for riders who are not wearing an approved helmet.
  • Road rash or soft tissue damage as the body slides across the road.
  • Joint injuries and breaks in the pelvis and shoulders.
  • Biker’s arm in which nerves in the upper arm are damaged. This leads to permanent paralysis of the arm.
  • Facial disfigurement. 35% of motorcycle accidents result in impact on the chin.

Motorcycle accidents have a high likelihood of resulting in injury. According to the Hurt Report, 98% of multiple vehicle collisions and 96% of single vehicle accidents result in injury to a motorcyclist. Motorcyclists are 26 times more likely to die in a traffic accident than someone in a car and five times as likely to be hurt.

Sport and supersport motorcycles account for a disproportionate number of motorcycle accidents and fatalities. Supersport motorcycles have a death rate that is four times higher than that of conventional motorcycles while sport bikes have a fatality rate that is twice as high as conventional motorcycles.

The NHTSA finds that nearly 2.6 million people in personal vehicles are injured in traffic accidents every year which accounts for 95% of all injury-causing crashes. Of these accidents, 3% involve cars. 55% of people killed in car accidents were not wearing seat belts and 28% of the fatalities resulted from being ejected from the vehicle.