Users of Two-Wheeled Vehicles at Particularly High Risk of Being Involved in an Accident

Nov 2020


Although the number of car and truck drivers killed in road accidents has been on a constant decline for years in many parts of the world, the number of users of two-wheeled vehicles who are killed on the road has remained stable, and in some cases even increased. Given this situation, urgent action is required. Since there is virtually no scope for optimizing the intrinsic safety of a vehicle like a motorcycle – or especially a bicycle – itself, we need to focus on active safety systems.

Bycicle accident

Motorcycle, moped, bicycle, pedelec, or e-scooter – whenever any kind of two-wheeled vehicle is involved in an accident, the consequences for the users are often devastating. This is because, unlike cars, vans, and trucks, such vehicles do not have a crumple zone. Even if a car – the most common second party in accidents – is driving comparatively slowly, a collision will often result in very severe injury. After colliding against the hard shell of the vehicle, which is usually enough to cause injury on its own, a cyclist’s body is still at risk of further injury when it falls to the ground.

Likewise, in collisions that involve a car and a motorcyclist, the force of the impact acts directly upon the motorcyclist. Due to the significant difference in mass, users of two-wheeled vehicles are also subject to significant deceleration or acceleration. In addition to this, motorcycles generally reach the limits of their stability in terms of their driving dynamics much faster than a vehicle like a car.


This “mismatch” between riders of two-wheeled vehicles and other users of motorized vehicles is reflected markedly in the international accident statistics, alongside many other factors. According to data published by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington in Seattle, approximately 225,000 motorcyclists and around 69,000 cyclists worldwide lost their lives in road accidents in 2017. Combined, these figures account for around a quarter of all the 1.25 million road fatalities. In terms of both motorcyclists and cyclists, Asia recorded the highest number of deaths by far: around 166,000 and 51,500 respectively. These numbers have been on an upward trend for years, especially for cyclists – though thankfully the number of motorcyclist deaths has been dropping again since 2012. In terms of percentages, the biggest increase globally has been among cyclists aged between 50 and 69. The number of people in this demographic who were killed on the road rose from 9,400 to 23,900 between the years 1990 and 2017, increasing almost two and a half times. The figures for motorcyclists are similar.

The extent of the risk of being killed while riding a two-wheeled vehicle – motorized or otherwise – in Asia becomes even clearer when evaluated in terms of deaths per 100,000 inhabitants. Almost four motorcyclists and 1.14 cyclists per 100,000 inhabitants are killed on the roads in Asia – two figures thaare far above the global average (2.95 and 0.9 respectively).



In terms of fatalities among road users, a comparison between trends in the USA and the EU makes for interesting reading. Generally speaking, the number of cyclists killed on the road in the USA remains at the same level as 30 years ago while there has been a significant change in the number of people killed in road accidents as a whole. This applies especially to motorcyclists, for whom there was a dramatic rise in the number of fatal road accidents in the early 2000s. At first glance, the situation in the EU seems to be positive. A small rise in 2008 aside, the number of deaths among both road users in general and specifically for cyclists and users of two-wheeled motor vehicles have been decreasing constantly for years. Since 2013, however, the number of deaths in all three classes has stagnated.

Motorcycle crash
The number of motorcy-clists killed on the road in the USA has risen in recent years.


In terms of population, the 28 states that make up the EU were home to a total of around 511 million people in 2017; the USA’s population the same year was 326 million. Yet despite having the smaller population of the two, more people have died on the road in the USA than in the EU since 2010. This wasn’t always the case. As recently as the year 2000 there were around 56,000 road fatalities in the EU, compared to just under 42,000 in the USA. By 2017, the EU had managed to reduce this figure by almost 55 percent to 25,300. The USA only recorded a drop in road fatalities of just under twelve percent over the same period, to 37,100. As a result, the USA now suffers many more deaths in road accidents per 100,000 inhabitants than the EU. However, this number is still well below the global figure published by the WHO for 2016, which was 18.2 road fatalities per 100,000 inhabitants. Following an increase in 2016, the USA recorded a figure of 11.4 deaths in road traffic accidents per 100,000 inhabitants in 2017, while the EU registered a record low of 4.9.

In order to create a reference to vehicle usage, we need to compare these figures with the respective traffic volumes. The official figures for the main types of personal transport – car, bus, and motor-cycle – were published by Eurostat for the EU and the U.S. Department of Transportation for the USA. The traffic volume for these modes of transport was much higher in the USA than in EU countries, reaching a peak of almost 8.4 billion passenger kilometers in 2017. In the same year, the EU recorded over 5.5 billion passenger kilometers. As a result, the Figure shows a surprising trend: In terms of road fatalities in relation to actual number of kilometers traveled, the USA’s numbers for the last 17 years are better than those of the EU countries; however, they have been stagnating since 2009, remaining at an almost constant level and even rising occasionally during this period. On average, 4.4 people per billion passenger kilometers died on roads across the USA in 2017 while using one of the aforementioned modes of transport. Despite a slight increase in the number of kilometers traveled, the same figure has been on a constant decrease in the EU since the year 2000, reaching a record low of 4.6 road fatalities per bil-lion passenger kilometers in 2017. So the EU and the USA are on roughly equal footing in terms of this statistic.

Crash involving a vehicle and bycicle
Accidents involving a car and a cyclist often occur at junctions.


If we look at the figures for motorcyclists, we can see that there was a significant increase in fatal road accidents for this group in the USA between 2000 and 2007, followed by a slight upward trend since. Since 2007, this number has fluctuated between 4,500 and 5,500 per year. In terms of total road accidents in the USA, users of two-wheeled motor vehicles account for around 14 percent of all fatalities. While it is true that most of those who die in road accidents in the country are traveling by car, the increase in the number of deaths among users of two-wheeled motor vehicles is still extremely concerning.

If we compare the USA to the EU, we can see that the number of users of two-wheeled vehicles who died on the road in the EU fell at a relatively constant rate up until 2013; the figure almost halved between 2000 and 2017, dropping from around 8,000 to 4,500. Here too, however, the number of road accident fatalities among motorcyclists and moped users has stagnated since 2013. Around 18 percent of all traffic fatalities in 2017 were users of two-wheeled vehicles. Most of these were in Italy, France, and Germany. Southern European countries such as Spain and Greece where two-wheeled vehicles are traditionally more common on the roads should also be highlighted. When we take population size into account, the following pattern emerges: In the USA, the number of motorcyclists killed on the road per million inhab-itants rose from 10 to 17 between 2000 and 2008, and has fluctuated between 14 and 16 ever since. Over the same period, EU countries have recorded a relatively constant decline from more than 16 motorcyclists killed on the road per million inhabitants to 9 in 2013. Since this point, the number has stagnated at this level.

The high number of motorcyclists killed on the road in the USA is especially shocking if we take a closer look at mileage: Motorcycle usage is three times higher in the EU than the USA, yet the number of motorcyclists killed on the roads is currently higher in the USA. However, the USA also saw usage of two-wheeled motor vehicles on its roads almost double between 2000 and 2008, which explains the increase in fatalities over this period. The numbers of deaths differ accordingly based on the traffic volume. In the USA, around 137 people per billion kilometers traveled by motorcycle died in 2017, while the EU’s number for the same period was just 36. This makes the fatality rate for the USA three and a half times higher than that of the EU. Furthermore, the number of deaths in relation to traffic volume has declined continuously between 2000 and 2017 in the EU, while stagnating and even rising slightly in the USA over the same period.

One reason for this trend in the USA is undoubtedly the fact that many states have been relaxing legislation requiring riders to wear helmets ever since the late 1970s. There are currently only 19 states that require all riders to wear helmets by law. In 29 states, this requirement only applies to a certain demographic (18 to 21-year-olds), and in some cases also to newly licensed drivers. In Iowa and Illinois, riders of two-wheeled motor vehicles are not required to wear a helmet at all. According to data published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 5,172 motorcyclists lost their lives on the road in the USA in 2017. 39 percent of these people were not wearing a helmet at the time of the accident. Driving under the influence of alcohol is also a serious problem. 28 percent of the fatalities had a blood-alcohol level of at least 0.08 percent at the time of the accident. For single-vehicle accidents, this figure was even higher at 42 percent.

The increasing popularity of motorcycles, particularly among “older” road users, has undoubtedly also left its mark. Where motorcyclists aged 30 and under were at particularly high risk of suffering a fatal accident in the 1970s, accounting for 80 percent of all motorcycle fatalities, this pattern has changed dra-matically in recent years. Today, the over-50s are the most at-risk demographic, accounting for around 36 percent of all motorcycle fatalities. The under-30s are in second place, with 28 percent. Experts in the USA estimate that the reasons for this increase among older motorcyclists (whose fatalities – 91 percent of over-50s and 97 percent of over-70s – are overwhelmingly male) stem from overconfidence. A person who used to ride a motorcycle a lot in their youth before taking a long break, perhaps due to having a family, may enjoy the same sense of freedom when rediscovering the vehicle later in life, but will no longer possess the same experience, reaction speed, or general fitness level. The risk may also be compounded by the ability to afford a large, powerful motorcycle.



The number of road users killed while riding a bicycle has always been higher in the EU than in the USA. The main reason for this is that the use of bicycles as a means of transport has thus far been much less widespread in the USA. As with the overall figures, there has been a constant decrease in the number of cyclists who have suffered a fatal accident in the EU in terms of the long-term statistics. However, this figure has remained stagnant at almost 2,100 since as far back as 2010. Estimates also place the number of cyclists killed on the road in 2017 at 2,100. Germany accounts for the largest number of the EU’s bicycle fatalities by some distance, followed by Italy, Poland, Romania, France, and the Netherlands. The number of cyclists killed in road ac-cidents in the USA was around 800 in 2017, with the trend rising slightly. This figure has remained almost constant since 2000 . Accordingly, the cyclist fatality rate for 2000 was 2.4 per million inhabitants. This level will be reached again in 2017. In the EU, the rate fell from 7.5 in 2000 to 4.1 in 2017.

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