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Motorcycle Crash Causation Study


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Key Facts

  • The ongoing Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Motorcycle Crash Causation Study (MCCS) is the most comprehensive research effort into the causes of motorcycle crashes in the United States in more than 30 years.
  • The dataset will include data from at least 280 crash investigations, and 560 control rider interviews.
  • Partners from Federal agencies, State departments of transportation (DOTs), local police jurisdictions, and the motorcycle industry are supporting the effort with high expectations for its value in improving motorcycle safety.
  • Data collection will continue through 2014, and a final report is expected in 2015.


The Motorcycle Crash Causation Study (MCCS) is the most comprehensive investigation into the causes, rider demographics, and opportunities for countermeasure development to be conducted in the United States in more than 30 years. When completed, a large and unique data set will be developed that is derived from both actual motorcycle crashes and riders with similar risk characteristics and will focus on the unique circumstances that produce motorcycle crashes. This will offer unmatched perspective into the role of crash-causation factors that are specific to motorcycles and will be used to develop effective countermeasures, craft future safety standards, and reduce the risk of fatalities and injuries for motorcycle riders across the United States.

The image shows a control stop investigator standing in a parking lot next to a parked motorcycle. He is holding a checklist and performing an inspection of a motorcycle belonging to a control participant.

Figure 1. An investigator examines a motorcycle


In 2009, there were 4,462 motorcycle crash-related fatalities in the United States—more than twice the number of motorcycle rider fatalities that occurred in 1997. This increase contrasts with a 27-percent reduction in the number of fatalities in passenger cars and light trucks. In response to this growing concern, the U.S. Congress passed legislation to fund a Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) research effort into the causes of motorcycle crashes in the United States.

The image shows a graph indicating the number of traffic and motorcycle fatalities in the United States from 1997 to 2011. The graph has a common x-axis titled Year. The years start at 1996 and increase by two years, ending at 2012. The y-axis on the left represents the number of motorcycle fatalities. The numbers start at zero and increase by 1,000, ending at 6,000. The number of motorcycle fatalities is represented by a thick, dashed red line. The dashed line is shown going up from 1997 to 2007, from about 2,100 to 5,300 respectively, then down from 2008 to 2009, from 5,300 to 4,400 respectively, then up slightly from 2009 to 2011 from about 4,400 to 4,500 respectively. The y-axis on the right represents all traffic fatalities. The numbers start at zero and increase by 10,000, ending at 60,000. The number of overall traffic fatalities is represented by a thin, solid gray line. This line is shown to be about steady at 41,000 fatalities from 1997 to 2005, then the number of overall traffic fatalities goes down from 2007 to 2009, from about 41,000 to 33,800, respectively. The line continues to go down from 2009 to 2011, but at a slower rate, from about 33,800 to 32,300, respectively. The graph illustrates that as overall traffic fatalities have decreased, motorcycle fatalities have increased.

Figure 2. The number of traffic fatalities and motorcycle fatalities in the United States from 1997 to 2011 (Fatal Accident Reporting System, 2011).


The MCCS team is comprised of some of the most experienced motorcycle and crash data collection experts in the world. The study is led by Oklahoma State University (OSU) through the Oklahoma Transportation Center. Oklahoma State University is working with Dynamic Science, Inc., Westat, Inc., Dynamic Research, Inc., Collision and Injury Dynamics, Inc., and consultant James Ouellet to develop effective data collection methods, provide investigator training, and ensure the quality of data collected. In addition, the MCCS is using an internationally recognized crash investigation method known as the OECD protocol (developed by Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development). The depth and completeness of the project has led to broad support from Federal Government agencies and other stakeholders.


Motorcycle Crash Causation Study Funding Partners


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Thor, Craig

Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center
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McLean, VA 22101-2296