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Home > Safer roads for motorcycles > Chapter 2. Motorcycle safety in figures

The use of motorcycles has increased in all parts of the world, representing a huge and varied user population. The highest proportion of registered motorcycles can be found in the South-East Asia Region followed by the Western Pacific and Eastern Mediterranean Regions.

Regrettably, the proportion of deaths among motorcyclists globally increased from 23% to 28% between 2013 and 2016. This increase is observed in all WHO regions, with the South-East Asia Region having the highest increase from 34% to 43% in 2016. Whilst the age distribution of motorcyclists killed does differ significantly between countries, the number of killed motorcyclists remained consistently high across the age group of 25-34 years. This represents more than a quarter of all road traffic-deaths in that year and motorcycle safety is a concern to all WHO regions (8).

Compared to research for car occupants, and other ‘vulnerable’ users, bicycles, and pedestrians it is difficult to find research on the extent to which specific infrastructure features contribute to FSI crashes for motorcycles. However, crash data points out common infrastructure factors that are often present at motorcycle crash sites internationally.

Europe: The Association of European Motorcycle Manufacturers (ACEM) conducted the Motorcycle Accident In-Depth Study MAIDS, during the period 1999-2000 in five sampling areas located in France, Germany, Netherlands, Spain, and Italy. A total of 921 crashes were investigated in detail, resulting in approximately 2000 variables being coded for each crash. The roads were dry at 84.7% of the time at the time of the crash, the road surfaces had defects in 30% of cases and roadside barriers accounted for 60 injured riders. Road related factors was noted as a significant secondary contributory factor on injuries (15).

Australia: The share of single-vehicle motorcycle collisions with fixed objects in Australia account for 39 % of the fatalities. Trees, utility poles, posts and barriers are the most common fixed hazards with 77 %of them (16). A 2013 study based on crash data from USA and Australia found that fixed hazards in the roadway environment present a substantial risk to motorcyclists and that a holistic system approach which included the four system cornerstone areas in the safe system (roadways, speed, vehicles and people) would reduce the risk of serious injury to motorcyclist collisions with fixed objects from as high as 82% down to 23% (17). Road surface hazards like potholes and loose gravel were found in 20% of single vehicle crashes 2006-2010 in New South Wales, resulting in nine fatal and 911 injured motorcyclists in urban and rural areas. New Zeeland Transport Agency, NZTA, identified that 8,5% of urban and 14,6% of rural motorcycle crashes were caused by road conditions (18).

USA: The Hurt Report, officially Motorcycle Accident Cause Factors and Identification of Countermeasures, was a motorcycle safety study conducted in the United States, initiated in 1976 and published in 1981. The report is described as “the most comprehensive motorcycle safety study of the 20th century”. It stated that one-fourth of the motorcycle crashes were single vehicle crashes involving the motorcycle colliding with the roadway or fixed object in the environment. Roadway defects (pavement ridges, potholes, etc.) were the crash cause in 2% of the crashes. Intersections are the most likely place for the motorcycle accident, with the other vehicle violating the motorcycle right-of-way, and often violating traffic controls. The typical motorcycle accident allows the motorcyclist less than 2 seconds to complete all collision avoidance action (19). In the USA the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, NHTSA reported about motorcycle accidents in the annual report Traffic Safety Facts 2020. Motorcycles were more frequently involved in fatal collisions with fixed objects than other vehicle types. Twenty-five percent of motorcycles involved in fatal crashes in 2020 collided with fixed objects, compared to 18 percent for passenger cars, 14 percent for light trucks, and 5 percent for large trucks (20). In 2018, motorcycle riders accounted for 40% of all fatalities resulting from a guardrail collision while motorcycles only comprise 3% of the registered vehicles (21).

United Kingdom: The Guide to designing for motorcyclists, Highways England 2021 references collision data for the Strategic Road Network, SRN between 2015 and 2019. It states that in 60% of all collisions involving a motorcycle with fata or serious injuries, the rider collided with a fixed object in the roadside, such as signs, lighting columns, telegraph or electricity poles and trees. The share for motorists during the same period was 30% fatal or serious injuries. Although motorcycle traffic only makes up 0.4 percent of traffic, they account for 13 % of all fatal barrier collisions. Between 2015 and 2019 there were 166 motorcycle collisions involving barriers, 71% of which resulted in fatal or serious injuries (22).

Norway: An analysis of fatal crashes with motorcycles in Norway in 2005-2014 concludes that road related factors have contributed to the fatal crash outcome in 36-40% of crashes. The most relevant factors were guardrails (17 %), light or sign poles (9%) and trees (6%) (23).

Sweden: Defects in the road contributed to about ten percent of the fatal motorcycle crashes in Sweden 2005-2013. The defects were poor friction, gravel, and track deformation (24). Gravel is a contributing factor in 25% of the crashes with seriously injured (25). The most common cause in single vehicle crashes with fatal outcome are barriers, followed by trees and poles which are involved in about 40% of the fatalities. An average of 10% of the fatalities among motorcyclists every year are killed after a crash with a barrier (26).

As mentioned in chapter 1.1 the socio-economic impacts of motorcycle crashes are probably higher for motorcyclists. Australian research shows that the social cost of crashes is twice as high for motorcyclists compared to that of car occupants on a vehicle kilometre travelled basis (135).
There have been several attempts to calculate the general costs of fatalities and injuries in traffic. One study compared 17 countries, of which eight Asian countries, six European countries, Australia, New Zealand, and the USA (27). The studies have used the following cost components:

  • Medical costs: costs resulting from the treatment of casualties, e.g., costs of hospital stay, rehabilitation, medicines and adaptations and appliances for the handicapped.
  • Production loss: loss of production and income resulting from the temporary or permanent disability of the injured, and the complete loss of production of fatalities.
  • Gross production loss includes consumption loss.
  • Human costs: immaterial costs through suffering, pain, sorrow, and loss of life or of quality of life.
  • Property damage: damage to vehicles, freights, roads, and fixed roadside objects.
  • Administrative costs: in this category the costs of police services, fire brigade services, law courts and administrative costs of insurers are considered.

The overview of the total costs of road crashes are found to be 2.7% of the gross domestic product GDP in the HICs and 2.2% of GDP in the LMICs. Half of the costs of road crashes is related to injuries, in both HICs and in LMICs. The share of fatalities in the costs is 23% in HICs whereas in LMICs 30% of the costs is related to fatalities. This may indicate that the efforts in HICs to prevent fatalities have been effective, resulting in a lower economic burden of fatalities.

Figure 2. Costs of road crashes as a % of GDP (27) (click to enlarge)

A European comparison (28) shows huge differences in official estimates of road crash costs. Total costs range from 0.4% to 4.1% of GDP. E.g., In Bangladesh, the costs of road crashes are estimated at “over” 1.5% of GDP. Still, for motorcyclists alone this means a cost of € 808,436,292 in 2022. The cost per fatality ranges from €0.7 million to €3.0 million, the cost per serious injury ranges from 2.5% to 34.0% of the costs per fatality, and the costs per slight injury from 0.03% to 4.2% of the costs per fatality.

The differences are largely explained by differences in methodologies, whether a willingness to pay method is applied to estimate human costs, differences in costs components that are included, different definitions of serious and slight injuries and differences in reporting rates of crashes and injuries. The fact that underreporting is not considered in cost estimates in most countries, implies a serious underestimation of total costs in these countries. Moreover, several countries do not include property damage, only crashes in total costs, implying a further underestimation of total costs. More than half the total costs of road crashes are attributable to serious road injuries.

Road crashes generate extensive direct and indirect costs. Direct costs are those born by the crash victims and families directly, or by public bodies. They typically include emergency service response (police, ambulance, fire services), medical care, long term care (such as rehabilitation), medication, insurance administration, road clean-up crew costs, cost of repairing street furniture, coronial and funeral costs, legal and correctional costs, vehicle repair and temporary replacement, and towing costs. Indirect costs are those born by victims, their families and communities, and society more broadly. Examples include loss of income, loss of productivity, costs related to grief, pain and suffering, time delays caused by road traffic crashes, rising insurance costs and so on (136).

The economic cost of road crashes is estimated to equate to between 2% and 7% of GDP of countries around the world, totally over $2 trillion per annum (137).

One example is an analysis of crashes in the Netherlands (29) which shows that the social costs of road crashes in 2020 are estimated at € 27 billion, equivalent to 3.3% of the GDP (29). In Australia, road crashes cost approximately AU$27 billion in 2020 (136), and in the United States, road crashes are estimated to cost USD $242 billion per year (138).

The costs for the Netherlands are about € 6.5 million per road death and € 0.7 million per serious road injury. Most of the road crash costs, 90% (€ 24 billion), are borne by private individuals. This is mainly caused by the human costs which account for a large share of the total costs. In addition, part of the vehicle damage and medical costs are borne by individuals in the road casualties. People who aren’t involved in a road crash also bear part of the costs, via for example congestion fees and insured costs. The latter are indirectly paid by means of insurance premiums by all insured individuals. A small share of the costs, an estimated 1% (€ 350 million), is borne by the government.

Private individuals also bear the brunt (58%) of the costs when the human costs are excluded, such as vehicle damage and insurance costs. The cost share for companies is 20% and only 5% is borne by the government (29). This relation of the shared costs is probably more or less the same for road crashes in Europe since the Motor Vehicle Insurance Directive (EU) 2021/2118, which demands that all motor vehicles are insured, is valid in all EU countries. The directive demands that the insurance covers the costs for everyone involved in the crash, except the driver/rider.

Fatalities and serious injuries among motorcyclists not only cause suffering and losses of loved ones. The costs for the society are huge but most of the costs are borne by the road users themselves which includes the motorcyclists. We also know that crashes with motorcycles tend to be more severe, with longer time spent in hospital, longer periods of rehabilitation and increased rates of fatalities which means that motorcycle crashes costs individuals and societies more than car crashes per crash.

The cost in low- and middle-income countries, is disproportionately born by those who cannot afford motor vehicles. A Dutch analysis shows that the share of road crashes that is paid by the government is only one percent. An important factor shows the importance to improve safety for riders is to include the socio-economic cost of human lives and serious injuries at all stages from planning to building and maintaining. Motorcyclists must be included in laws and regulations to create a safe road environment based on their needs of safety.

There are numerous safety measures described in this document which are known to reduce the likelihood and severity of motorcycle crashes. The cost for them is often less that the cost of one dead or seriously injured motorcyclists. The costs would become lower if the right measures were taken when a road is planned, built, and maintained. With an increased demand on accessories for motorcycle safety the costs would probably be even more reduced though an increased demand and development of new products.


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