For motorcycle riders, America’s roads have never been more deadly. That’s not an exaggeration. There were 5,458 motorcycle fatalities in 2020. Our analysts found that’s not just a 9% increase from 2019, it’s also the highest number of motorcycle fatalities ever recorded.
- Louisiana, South Carolina and Mississippi have the highest rates of motorcycle fatalities.
- Nearly 95% of fatalities involved alcohol.
- Motorcycle fatalities increased by 9% in the last year and 17% since 2010.
- Helmet usage for riders with a passenger dropped 15 percentage points over the last year.
To find the most dangerous states for motorcycle riders, our analysts looked at motorcycle fatalities from 2010 to 2020. We found that motorcycle fatalities were heavily influenced by three factors: alcohol, climate and helmet use.
Alcohol use and motorcycle fatalities
Alcohol was involved in 79% of motorcycle fatalities in 2019. In some cases, the person killed was below the legal limit, however, 28% of fatalities involved someone who was legally intoxicated, and in 17% of cases, the person killed had a blood alcohol content (BAC) level nearly twice the legal limit.
Our analysts found that alcohol use while riding was especially prevalent in certain states. Alcohol was involved in 100% of fatal crashes in eight northern states. Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Montana had the highest numbers of fatal crashes where someone was legally or severely intoxicated.
|State||Total fatalities involving alcohol||% of fatalities involving alcohol (0.01 or more)||% of fatalities where BAC was 0.08 (legally intoxicated)||% of fatalities where BAC was 0.15 or more (severely impaired)|
The most dangerous state for motorcycle riders
Climate plays an important role when looking at the most dangerous states for motorcycle riders. We found that warmer, southern states with weather conducive to riding have the highest rates of motorcycle fatalities. Louisiana is the most dangerous state for motorcycle riders. But South Carolina, Mississippi, Texas and North Carolina all have nearly double the fatality rates of northern states like Maryland, Delaware and West Virginia.
|State||# of fatalities in 2019 Fatality rate per 10k motorcycles||Fatality rate per 10k motorcycles|
Motorcycle helmet laws
Wearing helmets saves lives. Recent studies show that wearing a DOT-approved helmet reduces the risk of head injury by 69% and the risk of death by 42%. Despite these facts, many states don’t require helmets, and helmet use has declined by 2% nationwide.
What’s especially concerning is that helmet use has decreased the most in the South, an area that already has the highest rate of motorcycle fatalities. We also found that riders are significantly less likely to wear a helmet when they have a passenger.
|Category||Helmet use in 2019||Helmet use in 2020||Percentage points change 2019-2020|
|Rider with passenger||79.7%||65.0%||-14.7|
|Region||Helmet use in 2019||Helmet use in 2020||Percentage points change 2019-2020|
Motorcycle helmet laws vary from state to state. We found 18 states where all riders are required to wear a helmet, 29 that require them depending on age and three with no helmet laws at all.
|State||# of deaths where rider was wearing a helmet||# of deaths where rider was not wearing a helmet||Helmet law|
|Alaska||4||2||17 and younger|
|Arizona||77||84||17 and younger|
|Arkansas||27||32||20 and younger|
|Colorado||48||54||17 and younger|
|Connecticut||15||28||17 and younger|
|Delaware||10||8||18 and younger|
|Florida||280||303||20 and younger|
|Hawaii||5||14||17 and younger|
|Idaho||15||10||17 and younger|
|Indiana||32||89||17 and younger|
|Kansas||13||28||17 and younger|
|Kentucky||24||68||20 and younger|
|Maine||7||20||17 and younger|
|Michigan||62||61||20 and younger|
|Minnesota||13||33||17 and younger|
|Missouri||106||12||25 and younger|
|Montana||9||14||17 and younger|
|New Hampshire||15||14||No law|
|New Jersey||68||14||All riders|
|New Mexico||17||32||17 and younger|
|New York||122||11||All riders|
|North Carolina||186||19||All riders|
|North Dakota||4||7||17 and younger|
|Ohio||45||116||17 and younger|
|Oklahoma||23||42||17 and younger|
|Pennsylvania||85||87||20 and younger|
|Rhode Island||9||3||20 and younger|
|South Carolina||35||115||20 and younger|
|South Dakota||6||6||17 and younger|
|Texas||207||187||20 and younger|
|Utah||16||16||20 and younger|
|West Virginia||19||9||All riders|
|Wisconsin||31||54||17 and younger|
|Wyoming||6||8||17 and younger|
Riding a motorcycle is inherently more dangerous than other popular forms of transportation. But that doesn’t mean we have to make it more dangerous. Alcohol is involved in an alarming number of fatal crashes, and helmet use is declining in places where it should be increasing. There’s an old story about why you’ll never see a motorcycle parked outside of a psychiatrist's office that only motorcycle riders will understand. Riding is fun, freeing and relaxing. Let’s put on the helmet, put down the beer and ride safely.
Motorcycle fatalities were calculated using NHTSA traffic safety statistics from 2010 to 2020. The fatality rate was calculated using 2019 fatality numbers per 10,000 registered motorcycles because 2020 fatality statistics are not yet available on a state-by-state level.
The number of alcohol-related motorcycle fatalities was calculated using 2019 NHTSA data. Legally intoxicated is defined as having a BAC level of 0.08%. Severely impaired is defined as having a BAC level of .015% or more.
Additionally, the number of fatalities where the rider was not wearing a helmet was compared to the number of deaths without a helmet. This was paired with helmet laws per state from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
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