Bike Insurance

How Dangerous are Motorcycles?

Motorcycles have a reputation for being dangerous. Whilst we can all accept that riding a motorcycle does come with an increased level of vulnerability, how "dangerous", per se, are motorcycles? We've dug into Department of Transport figures to find out.

Motorcycle Accident Statistics UK

As soon as you utter something along the lines of "I think I might get a motorbike" you will likely be met immediately by a long list of horror stories. After all, we have all heard them—motorcyclists weaving in and out of traffic at breakneck speeds, being taken out by careless drivers, and even being robbed at knifepoint by motorcycle-riding criminals in and around London.

To learn more about the danger faced by motorcyclists, it is best to turn to statistics—these are objective and are not swayed by horror stories, popular opinion, or the media.

Likelihood of Getting in a Motorcycle Accident

In 2017, 349 motorcyclists were killed on Britain's roads, representing a 19% share of all road-based fatalities. The two biggest groups were other vehicle users and pedestrians, accounting for 787 (44%) and 470 (26%) deaths respectively.

What Percentage of Motorcyclists Have an Accident?

To understand the odds of getting in a serious motorcycle accident we can look at the rate of accidents per mile travelled. As you can see in the table below, motorcyclists are nearly 2x as likely to be killed or seriously injured in an accident than a pedal cyclist per mile driven; being a motorcyclist is 4.6x riskier than being a pedestrian and 82x riskier than being a car driver.

Casualty rate per billion vehicle miles
KilledKilled or seriously injured
Car driver225
Pedestrian35446
Pedal cyclist311,160
Motorcycle rider1192,061
chart showing ksi rates by mode of travel

Given the higher odds of a motorcycle crash, it's better to buy a full comprehensive motorcycle insurance policy for broader cover of damage to you and your bike. (Learn more about types of policies in our guide What Does Motorcycle Insurance Cover?) Motorcycle insurance is usually the largest annual cost of motorcycle ownership, with a cheap motorbike insurance policy costing around £340 to insure a 30-year-old driving a Honda PCX.

How Many Fatal Motorcycle Accidents Per Year?

According to the Department for Transport (table RAS30024) the number of people killed in motorcycle accidents in 2018 was 345. While this may sound high, figures show that motorcycling has become progressively safer over the years with the number of fatalities dropping significantly over the past few decades. For example, in 1977 there were 1,182 motorcycle fatalities—3.4x higher than the number in 2018.

chart showing number of motorcycle fatalities in UK over time
Dropping Number of Motorcycle FatalitiesMotorcycle Fatalities
19781,163
1988670
1998498
2008493
2018345

How Many Motorcycle Accidents Result in Death or Serious Injury?

As motorcycle accidents can lead to life-changing injuries as well as fatalities, it's important to consider the number of accidents resulting in both death and serious injury each year. In 2017, the Department for Transport reported 5,941 killed or seriously injured motorcyclists—of these, 395 were riding bikes 50cc while 2,911 were riding bikes between 51cc and 500cc and 2,524 were riding motorbikes over 500cc. Motorbikes with larger engines actually have the lowest casualty rates per registered bike, however.

Number of Motorcyclists Killed or Seriously Injured 2017
Bikes 50cc and under395
Motorbikes 51 - 500cc2,911
Motorbikes over 500cc2,524
Total5,941

What Causes Motorcycle Crashes?

According to RoSPA, collisions at junctions are by far the most common location for motorcycle accidents. Each day, around 30 motorcyclists are injured or killed at junctions, culminating in 64% of all motorcycle accidents. Coming in second and third are loss of control and overtaking-related collisions, accounting for 15% and 20% respectively.

The overriding theme here is that motorcycle accidents are caused by carelessness and a lack of attention either on the part of motorcyclists or other road users.

chart showing location of motorcycle crashes

Collisions are Major Cause of Motorcycle Deaths

Among fatal motorcycle accidents where a specific cause of death was identified, 34% of deaths occurred in collision with a car, pick-up truck or van, 39% in collision with fixed or stationary object, 16% in a non-collision transport accident and 9% in collision with heavy transport vehicle or bus.

Causes of Motorcycle Deaths
Collision with heavy transport vehicle or bus9%
Noncollision transport accident16%
Collision with car, pick-up truck or van34%
Collision with fixed or stationary object39%
chart showing causes of motorcycle death

How Risky is Motorcycling?

In comparison to other countries, UK roads are moderately dangerous for motorcyclists—depending on whether you're looking at deaths per inhabitant or death per vehicle. For example, while Great Britain (4.9 deaths per 10,000 vehicles) ranked worse than the Netherlands (only 1.4 deaths per 10,000 vehicles) motorcyclists are much safer there than in Slovenia (23 deaths per 10,000 vehicles).

chart comparing motorcycle deaths by European country

Whilst these figures sound daunting, it is important to balance all the doom and gloom with a dose of reality. Many motorcyclists will never have anything worse than a minor bump or scrape, and there are plenty of people willing to share anecdotal stories of them never having been involved in a motorcycle accident. As a motorcyclist, there are plenty of ways you can mitigate the risks that come with riding a motorcycle such as the wearing of helmets and specialist protective gear and heightened care and attention.

Erin Yurday

Erin Yurday is the CEO, Co-founder and Editor of NimbleFins. Prior to NimbleFins, she worked as an investment professional and as the finance expert in Stanford University's Graduate School of Business case writing team. Read more on LinkedIn.

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