Motorcycle Mishaps Increase during COVID-19 Pandemic

By Walt Beckman, Directorate of Assessments and Prevention Ground Division, U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center Fort Rucker, AlabamaMarch 9, 2021

(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

While COVID-19 cases nationally have dropped recently, the country is still in a full-fledged pandemic. A few areas remain shut down, some have restricted hours or operation standards for businesses, and others have regulations against group sizes. This grasp to control the spread of COVID-19 via restrictions comes with a natural consequence: reduced road traffic. With fewer people on the road, there should be fewer accidents, right? At first glance, this logic is accurate, but there is more to the story. The restricted nature of life opened the door to increased popularity in the open-air freedom of motorcycle riding, an activity 27 times more likely to have a fatal mishap than its passenger-vehicle counterpart.

 Motorcycle riding up during COVID-19

In March 2020, Erik Pritchard, head of the Motorcycle Industry Council, indicated motorcycle sales were down from 2019, but not nearly as much as car sales. Although seemingly negative news, the overall feeling remained positive due to the increase in powersports sales. Within the first quarter of 2020, powersports, which is a group containing motorcycles, outperformed over the last three years. Pritchard explained the reason behind the increase in interest in powersports.

“For persons who might have thought before, ‘I don’t know about powersports. That could be dangerous.’ Well, does your thinking change when you could go outside and get sick and die from having been breathed on by the wrong person or touched the wrong surface? You start thinking about whether there are some things you’ve been really wanting to do. When you’ve been stuck inside for the past few months, you are probably willing to do some new things, especially if the risk is something [you] can control, or at least help control by wearing protective gear.”

Ducati Motorcycles of North America’s Jason Chinnock expanded on the notion.

“Riding a motorcycle is less expensive, more efficient, and often faster than commuting by car,” Chinnock said. “COVID-19 has caused consumers who may have waffled about getting on a motorbike to reassess the risk.”

By the end of May, Pritchard stated that sales had picked back up and surpassed 2019 numbers.

 Motorcycle classes selling out

With the increase in motorcycle sales during COVID-19, rider training classes should be skyrocketing. Unfortunately, this sudden increase, combined with the shutdown of many businesses, has created a situation where classes are difficult to book. For example, some Motorcycle Safety Foundation classes were sold out in many states through July.

Because each state is working through the pandemic individually, motorcycle education is bearing the brunt. While some classes were simply sold out, others canceled. In Chicago, Harper College released a statement last July that it canceled its Cycle Rider Safety Training Program through at least mid-August. Some dealerships are attempting to make up for the lack of classes by offering their own or upping the number of class listings. However, social distancing has been a hurdle in scheduling classroom time, causing what could have been a full class to be limited to only a handful of students. Online opportunities for a part of the course are an option, but some found Zoom accessibility was difficult with older riders. It is a non-option for those without computers or internet connectivity.

COVID-19 restrictions have had a similar impact on the motorcycle training classes provided by the Army. The training was shut down for several months at the start of the pandemic and is only minimally restored at the majority of training locations due to safety restrictions. The number of students per class was basically cut in half and the amount of classes offered was reduced. According to, 92% of all motorcycle accidents involve someone self-taught. Proper training must find a way around these roadblocks, especially with so many new riders amidst a pandemic.

 Motorcycle and car accident data give false hope

At first glance, the motorcycle and passenger car stats provide hope. Lockdown means less driving. The natural consequence of less people on the road is decreased accidents, right? Not exactly. While fewer motor vehicle mishaps are on paper, when taking into account the total miles driven, there are more accidents per mile. The National Safety Council compared data from 2020 to 2019. Fatality rates jumped 14% in March 2020 compared to March 2019. Miles driven dropped over 18% in the same time period.

By the end of May 2020, there was more than a 17% decrease in the total miles driven compared to 2019. May 2020 alone decreased over 25% in terms of miles driven. Following suit, deaths experienced an 8% drop from May 2019 to May 2020. However, when compared mile to mile, there was an increase of over 23%.

In Washington, April 2020 saw more motorcycle fatalities than it had in over a decade. Acting director of the Washington Traffic Safety Commission Pam Pannkuk said, “We are concerned about the death of so many motorcyclists in 2020 with the traditional riding season yet to come.” Washington was not alone. In Arizona, motorcycle fatalities jumped from 5 to 17 in a comparable period. Reports described nearly a dozen states showing this disturbing trend: lighter traffic and higher death rates per mile.

The Army was not immune to the increase in fatal motorcycle mishaps. There was a decrease in overall fatal PMV mishaps in fiscal 2020; but in the first four months of fiscal 2021, PMV-2 fatal mishaps increased by 100 percent.

 Factors impacting motorcycle fatalities       

During a pandemic, drivers are likely to be both distracted and stressed, causing decreased focus when operating a vehicle. Washington State Patrol released a statement in May 2020 regarding the concerning factors of motorcycle accidents. They observed that in almost all of their fatalities, speeding was a common determinant. They detailed motorcyclists and motorists driving above 100 mph.

Excessive speed is not limited to Washington. CNN reported that states across the nation were observing an increase in dangerous driving speeds, with most major cities reporting drivers exceeding 100 mph. Some cities like Chicago and Des Moines, Iowa, were showing speeds 75% higher than pre-COVID-19. The increase in accidents from excessive speed puts an unneeded strain on hospitals.

The Washington State press release detailed that aside from speeding, a lack of motorcycle training and driving while impaired were contributing factors in numerous accidents. While drinking and driving is a known cause of accidents in all types of vehicles, it is even more pronounced in motorcycles. Nationwide sales of alcohol are at significantly higher levels than pre-COVID-19. reported alcohol was present in half of all deadly motorcycle accidents. About 28% of fatally injured motorcyclists had a blood alcohol concentration of .08%, which is the limit of legal impairment.

At least nine of the 22 overall fatal PMV mishaps in the Army this fiscal year involved Soldier discipline issues: alcohol, speed, failure to wear a seat belt and running a red light. Speed was the leading causal factor, followed closely by driving/operating under the influence.

 Motorcycle vs. car mishap facts

Motorcyclists are, without question, at an increased risk for injury or fatality compared to their car-driving counterparts. While some of this is their own doing, such as driving while impaired, other times, it is due to a misjudgment on another’s part. This error is commonly observed when a car makes a left turn in front of a motorcyclist, misjudging both the distance between themselves and the rider as well as the speed of travel.

Here are some disturbing numbers related to riding:

·      27 — the number of times a motorcyclist is likely to have a fatal injury over a car passenger.

·      25 — the percentage of fatal accidents in 2016 that involved a motorcyclist under the influence of alcohol. This is larger than any vehicle group.

·      5.9 — the number of times greater that a fatality was a registered motorcyclist versus a registered passenger-car occupant in 2008.

·      28 — the number of times higher a motorcyclist has of a fatality per mile driven versus a passenger-car driver

Motorcycle accident facts

The more motorcyclists are aware of accident facts, the more prevention they can take to protect themselves from becoming a stat.

·       In 2018, 4,985 motorcycle accidents resulted in death to the rider.

·       Drunk driving made up one-third of life-threatening accidents.

·       Half of all motorcycle accidents take place on the weekend.

·       Over half of the motorcycle accidents are from May to September.

·       Just under 5% of all accidents are fatal.

·       Male fatalities are more common than female.

·       25% of motorcycle deaths are with a fixed object.

·       Helmets lower the risk of injury by 69%.

·       2% of accidents are attributed to weather.

·       Helmets, protective clothing and safety gear significantly reduces injuries sustained.

·       Nearly one-third of fatalities happen at intersections.

Motorcycle safety tips

With so many facts painting a bleak picture for motorcycle riders, safety is of utmost importance. Pandemic stress causes difficulty concentrating and sleeplessness, increasing the risk to motorcycle and automobile drivers. The byproduct of COVID-19 punctuates the importance of keeping additional safety tips at the forefront.

·       Obey speed limits despite the amount of traffic.

·       Watch out for pedestrians and bicycle traffic, which has increased with pandemic shutdowns.

·       Drive defensively, especially in anticipating cars making left turns and at intersections.

·       Do not drink alcohol prior to driving.

·       Avoid distractions such as a cellphone or radio.

·       Be mindful about road conditions, especially with gravel, grass, potholes and dirt.

·       Take a motorcycle safety class, even if you are a veteran rider.

·       Know your state’s motorcycle laws.

·       Avoid lane splitting, if possible, as it leads to more serious accidents.

·       Maintain insurance and consider additional coverage for personal injury protection or underinsured motorist coverage.

Remember, the U.S Army Combat Readiness Center has numerous tools, training and motorcycle mentoring information available on its website. This information is available to assist commanders and leaders in preventing PMV-2 mishaps and is easily accessible at the following link:

Sources: Washington State Department of Transportation,, Motorcycle Industry Council, Ducati Motorcycles of North America, CNN, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, National Safety Council, Harper College, Motorcycle Safety Foundation and USACRC Ground/RSA trend data.