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NC Department of Health and Human Services
N.C. DPH: Chronic Disease and Injury Section
N.C. Public Health Home

Injury and Violence Prevention Branch

Motorcycle Safety

Motorcyclists are at greater risk for injury than bicycle riders or people in cars because they typically travel at higher speed and do not have the protection of a barrier between their bodies and other objects during a crash. Injuries are expensive, involving emergency personnel at the scene, hospital services, and in many cases, extensive physical rehabilitation. Some individuals are disabled by their injuries and are no longer able to work and support themselves. From a public health perspective, helmets and safe riding habits are essential to prevent costly injuries and death. 

Consider these facts from The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS):

  • 155 motorcycle riders were killed in North Carolina in 2009.
  • Per vehicle mile traveled, motorcyclists are 37 times more likely to die in a collision than an occupant of a passenger car.  
  • Helmets are estimated to prevent 37 percent of fatal motorcycle injuries for motorcycle riders (operators) and 41 percent of fatal injuries for motorcycle passengers.

Helmets: A Proven Safety Measure

Helmets save motorcycle riders' lives. According to the CDC, helmets reduce the risk of head injury by 69 percent. In a motorcycle crash, an unhelmeted rider is 40 percent more likely to die from a head injury than someone wearing a helmet.

In 2008, helmets saved over 1,800 riders' lives, but about 800 more lives could have been saved if all riders had worn helmets.

Laws That Save Lives

The most effective way to get people to wear helmets is a universal helmet law that requires motorcycle riders and passengers of all ages to wear helmets on their heads that meet the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) standard whenever they ride.

Each state decides its respective helmet law. As of 2010, 20 states and the District of Columbia had universal helmet laws, 27 states had a partial helmet law, and three states had no helmet law. North Carolina is a universal helmet law state. The CDC reports that North Carolina is number one in the nation when it comes to lives saved due to helmet use

Safety Tips for Riders

When you ride your motorcycle or are a passenger, follow these tips to stay safe:

  • Always wear a DOT-approved helmet.
  • Never drive your motorcycle after drinking. Alcohol greatly impairs your ability to safely operate a motorcycle. If you have been drinking, get a ride home or call a taxi.
  • Don't let friends ride impaired. Take their keys away.
  • Wear protective clothing that provides some level of injury protection. Upper body clothing should also include bright colors or reflective materials, so that other motorists can more easily see you.
  • Avoid tailgating and riding between lanes.
  • Maintain a safe speed and exercise caution when traveling over slippery surfaces or gravel.

More Information