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Causes of Motorcycle Accidents (2010 data)

Discussion in 'Motorcycle Talk' started by cletus, May 22, 2012.

  1. After hearing yet another WSP press release claiming that rider error is the cause of the vast majority of motorcycle crashes, I took it upon myself to check the stats.

    Most of us are familiar with the Hurt Report. To the best of my knowledge, this report is the most comprehensive study of motorcycle accidents and their root causes. NHTSA initiated the study which ultimately found that two-thirds of motorcycle-car crashes occurred when the car driver failed to see the approaching motorcycle and violated the rider's right-of-way. The report also provided data showing clearly that helmets significantly reduce the risk of brain injury and death but with no increased risk of crash involvement or neck injury. Unfortunately, the study was initiated in 1976 and published in 1981. A great deal has changed since the study and unfortunately, no similarly comprehensive study has been performed since.

    I had hoped to find motorcycle accident data, but it quickly became apparent that there is no clearinghouse for this information. The National Center for Statistics does keep records of fatal accidents which can be found within the Fatality Reporting System (FARS). [] The most recent information I could find was from 2010. The FARS website is very user friendly and I was able to find a map showing the exact location of 65 of 69 total 2010 motorcycle fatalities in Washington. Using the information I got off from the FARS site, I did a Google search for each accident. To get additional background information, I checked news reports and where available, on line police records. I found that the information in the FARS database – which the NHTSA relies upon – was “mostly” correct. The location was wrong on one incident and some of the details reported for several others was incorrect. Unfortunately, I was not able to find any information about evasive maneuvers attempted by rides.

    Essentially, I found that the WSP is correct that most fatal motorcycle accidents in Washington (at least in 2010) do involve a single rider. We all too commonly hear reports of speed being a factor and thus, most people infer that these single rider fatalities involve speeding riders and sport bikes in particular. It is also not a huge logical leap to infer that most of these incidents involve younger riders. As always proves to be the case, the statistics don’t tell the whole story and the inferences raised by the WSP are not entirely correct.


    As stated, I was able to find data on 65 of 69 total motorcycle fatalities in 2010. Of this number 35 involved a single bike and 30 involved more than one vehicle.


    2 riders were killed when they hit deer.

    1 rider had unrelated medical condition which caused him to collapse while riding.

    1 rider was blown off the road (he was reportedly doing 10 over the limit when he crashed)

    7 riders were killed when they failed to negotiate a turn.

    15 riders killed were legally drunk - several were extremely drunk.

    I was unable to find any information to piece together what happened for the other 9 incidents.

    Of the 22 incidents were speed was reported to be a factor, 9 involved drunk riders.

    There were 2 riders killed who were older than 65 and 1 younger than 21. It was very hard to figure out what type of bike was ridden, but I did find 6 incidents involving cruisers, 4 involving sport bikes, and 1 involving a sport touring bike. 1 fatality involved a rider that was fleeing the police….he was on a sport bike and was also reportedly DWI.

    MULTIPLE VEHICLE ACCIDENTS (WA total in 2010 = 30)

    Rider at fault (5):

    5 fatal accidents involved a rider who was at fault (3 riders rear-ended another vehicle; 1 was fleeing police when hit by a truck – which in turn fled; and one crossed the centerline and hit another vehicle head-on).

    Motorist at fault (15)

    9 fatal collisions involved another motorist failing to yield the right-of-way. The most common scenario was an oncoming driver turning left in front of the rider. A good number also involved drivers pulling out into the path of a rider.

    1 fatal collision involved a motorist rear-ending a stopped rider.

    5 fatal collisions involved motorists crossing the center line and striking riders head-on. One of these incidents involved a DWI motorist taking out two bikes and killing both riders.

    2 collisions involved young (under 20) drivers and 2 involved old (over 65) drivers.

    Other (10)

    There were 10 multiple vehicle incidents where I could find no information. From what I could gather from the FARS data, I suspect that most of these are fail to yield scenarios since they involve intersections, but because I didn’t find anything to support my theory, I didn’t count them.


    Too many of us drink and ride. 44% of all single bike accidents involve a drunk rider. While it is easy to stereotype these riders as the typical Harley riding weekend warrior, I found almost as many sport bikers ride drunk as cruiser riders.

    If you take out those that drink and ride, only 17% of single rider crashes involve riders who carry too much speed into a turn. Most of these crashes occurred in intersections or sweeping turns. I was unable to find any single bike crashes on our favorite twisty roads. Almost all accidents – whether single or multi vehicle occur in daylight. Motorcycle accidents occur with about the same frequency in rural vs. urban areas. Deer suck and running from the cops will get you killed.

    Don't blindly rely on stats to support an argument. Just because there is a single bike accident, doesn't necessarily mean that the rider was speeding or even that the accident was his/her fault (see 2 deer strikes and unrelated medical condition causes).

    I also found a creepy instance where two riders having the exact same name were killed within one month of each other on opposite sides of the country.

    Finally, I suspect some of you might know brothers or sisters who were killed in 2010 while riding. I did find several incidents that were discussed in PNW and have tried to be as vague as possible to avoid offense. I’ve got to make one exception though. I came across a newspaper article from Benton County about District Court Judge Terry Tanner who threw out a negligent driving charge against a guy who, while speeding, failed to yield the right-of-way in an intersection and killed a fellow rider. There were witnesses and WSP recommended vehicular homicide charges, but the Benton County prosecutor only brought a failure to yield and negligent driving infraction. To add insult to injury, the driver, after getting off on the negligent driving charge, blamed everything on the rider. For those of you in Benton County, keep in mind that both prosecutors and judges are elected….vote.
    Last edited: May 23, 2012
    Wrench, Whitefire, thomb and 13 others like this.
  2. you do a better job than the news, well done

  3. Nice write up. All too often in a driver at fault fatality, it seems salt is rubbed in by the lack of prosecution or serious charges being brought upon them. Many times the driver kills a rider & simply gets a slap on the hand.
  4. That was a great post. You put a lot of work into bringing us that information it seems. Thank you for that. You have definately made me curious. Especially when it comes to WSP, where I have had a horrible experience, where the trooper was deemed in the wrong and my ticket was thrown out. I can see them taking the easy way and blaming the rider.
  5. Good write up. I know there is other data available from the UK. Fast Bikes magazine had a brief article on the subject of single rider incidents some time ago.
  6. That and a recent press release blaming riders for our own accidents, prompted me to look at the data. Regardless of what FARS had as the cause, I cross checked it against what was reported. FARS tended to have fewer reports of "speed being a factor" than in the media.

    I found that while speed - or rather the rider's failure to control it - was a prime factor in some incidents, a huge percentage were alcohol related. Nearly half of all single bike accidents involve a drunk rider and most of the head-on collision involved drunk drivers.
  7. Love your work Cletus.

    Computer says I must be more slutty before you get some more from me :(
  8. I'm curious as to where you got your information that was "reported". Police reports? News reports? I don't trust anything I read in news reports for the most part. Those people are idiots and just make shit up as they go. Need to sell that newspaper or pull in ratings on tv after all.

    I'm in no way knocking your post. Just curious on the source.

    And yes Benton County is crooked. They make their own rules and change them as they see fit. I'd bet if you dug deep enough you'd find some kind of relationship between the prosecutor/judge and driver.

    They used to run a cash for DUI program here. You got to bribe the prosecutor with $1500 or so and get your DUI dismissed. This was going on in Judge Hollenbecks courtroom between one prosecutor and one lawyer. The Feds investigated and if I recall correctly the prosecutor and lawyer were barred. Hollenbeck claimed he had no clue what was going on in his own courtroom. Uh yeah, just dismiss DUI's for no reason. Right. Hes been investigated for other things as well. Not sure if he is still a judge here. Haven't been out there in a long time. Edit: looks like he retired at the end of '10.
    Chameleon likes this.
  9. Interesting. Nice job finding all of that!

    Did you by chance record your cited sources? That would just be the icing on the cake.
  10. Very well written and this should be published.

    As to drinking and riding. In my HOG group we have a 0 tolerance for alcohol on rides.

    But I still see the Wednesday night taco's at the corners saloon....watching fellow rides down shots of Jack...knowing there riding home just makes me cringe.
  11. bikenut

    bikenut Crazy Bad Ass BITCH

    Holy crap..some one has done their homework. Prolly one of the best informational posts I've ever seen. Mad prop to op
  12. Thanks for working that up. Very interesting.

    Sadly, I've already repped you and apparently need to rep everyone else on PNW first before I can do so again.
  13. Towards the end, I did try to take note of the source. I cut and pasted all of what I found in my data so getting actual cites would not be hard.

    My first reference was FARS. Using this, I could pinpoint the month, time, and location of the accident and whether it was a single bike or multi-vehicle. FARS also kept track of whether or not the accident involved a DWI, but didn't specify if it was the rider or driver. I could also determine whether or not the incident happened in an intersection. They referenced whether or not speed was "a factor", but I gave little weight to this report. Once I got the location, I zoomed in to find the street and thus, could tell if it was on a curve, interstate, etc. With this information, I went to Google and searched: " 'month' 2010 fatal motorcycle accident 'location'". Usually, I got a short article from the local newspaper about the crash. In some cases, I found police records. I also would find some information on the fallen riders memorial website. I wasn't very interested in a subjective opinion on how the accident occured. My primary interest was cross referencing the FARS data and determining whether in two vehicle collisions, the driver was reported to be at fault or the rider. Filling in some details in single bike accidents was also helpful. For instance, I wouldn't have known about the 2 deer strikes or the health condition causing 3 of the single bike crashes and like many others, I could have assumed that these were the riders fault when they clearly were not. Unfortunately, there are a number of unknown causes where I could find nothing about the crash outside of FARS. I did not guess on these and simply left them as "unknown cause".

    There is obviously much room for interpretation, but by keeping it simple, I felt like I got the basic information that would help shed some light on the basic causes of our losses. Some of it was surprising to me. I frankly had no idea how many involved alcohol or how many of us are hit head-on. Some of it confirmed a suspicion. Just because there is a single rider accident, doesn't mean the rider is at fault and most two vehilce crashes involve a driver who fails to see us or yield. And of course, I was shocked and angered by some of the collisions - a husband and wife taken out by someone not paying attention, two riders on separate bikes killed by a DWI, and of course by what happened in Benton County.
    Last edited: May 23, 2012
  14. Question...whay are we all up this late/early posting on here write up....arg insomnia
  15. Can't sleep. One week to go before I get out of Rehab following 4/11 low speed crash (wet road + collision avoidance swerve and maybe white line = low speed lay down on left side. Pelvis, ribs and clavicle got the worst of it. Bike is repaired, I am still in progress Dennis
  16. Texasl

    Texasl Totally Charming Retired Moderator Staff Member

    Great work, cletus. It's a shame to see how many of our troubles are brought upon us by ourselves, especially by alcohol and outrunning our guardian angels.

    Kudos to your group for taking a stand. I hate to see the events centered around watering holes, whether it is a poker run or merely a bike night.

    The WSP is currently working on improving how the investigate motorcycle accidents. While there may be some anecdotal cases of trooper negligence, as an organization the patrol actually does care about getting the facts straight.

    And the world waits.....
  17. Bluuu

    Bluuu Señor verde

    Thanks for the report. I'm a little (perhaps naively) shocked at the number of cases that involve alcohol. Guess I was hoping riders were smarter than that.

    I had thought about the beer drinking involved with the running bike night I set up at Juanita pub, and remain a little worried about it. I haven't seen anybody getting trashed, and I can only hope as a community that we are all watching out for eachother. I might have to put the occasional reminder in that thread about watching out for eachother. It would be easy enough to get someone home if they have more than one or two, and I live so close anybody can always leave their bike at my place overnight.
  18. Damn nice writeup!

    Wonder what Oregon has for statistics, providing OSP or ODOT even bothers to release the statistics.

    Run into the same question setting up a bike night down here at a local saloon, and everyone has been pretty responsible to date. There was a lot of protest at first, but it boils down to the fact that we're all adults, we know the risks, and foremost just because it's at a bar doesn't mean you have to drink alcohol.
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