The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Motorcycle Safety Program

January 2003










Printable Document in .PDF


In 1997, NHTSA partnered with the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF), a National, nonprofit organization promoting safer motorcycling, to provide the leadership and resources to create the National Agenda for Motorcycle Safety (National Agenda). The National Agenda is a strategic planning document intended to provide a shared National vision for future motorcycle safety efforts by incorporating input from a broad, multi-disciplinary spectrum of stakeholders. Developing this framework involved participation by experts in industry, research, training, and rider communities (law enforcement, health care, media, and insurance companies). The result was a collaborative document that examines components of motorcycle safety programs at the Federal, State and local levels. The document also offers strategies for broad-based support and action. It serves as a comprehensive, National blueprint, which all interested parties can use to promote and enhance safety.

Note:  The recommendations in the National Agenda are not recommendations directed to NHTSA or any Federal government agency. Those stakeholders in the motorcycle and traffic safety community may adopt and address any recommendation within their authority as appropriate.

Since the release of the National Agenda in December 2000, motorcycle fatalities have continued to increase. The National Agenda action items were based on data from 1998 and 1999. By 2000 it became clear that an upward trend in motorcycle crash-related fatalities continued from the increases noted in 1998. Data from 2000 and 2001 revealed new and recent emerging trends involving rises in rural versus urban fatalities and deaths among older riders on larger motorcycles. These trends were not known and, consequently not addressed in the National Agenda.  NHTSA’s Motorcycle Safety Program aligns with the National Agenda on some efforts, but also focuses its efforts on the more recent trends revealed by the 2000 and 2001 data. 

This document centers on crash prevention, which offers the greatest potential safety benefit for motorcyclists, while also addressing injury mitigation and emergency response.  The Motorcycle Safety Program encompasses major areas of concern, including the need for more behavioral and vehicle research, as well as the need to obtain more complete data on specific aspects of motorcycle crashes. It also addresses issues of roadway design that can enhance operator safety. The program builds on current and past efforts, and also addresses a number of concerns raised in the National Agenda. It presents the priorities and specific program initiatives that NHTSA intends to pursue in the near and long terms. The document is also consistent with NHTSA’s statutory responsibilities in promoting greater motorcycle safety.

As with other traffic safety programs, NHTSA’s Motorcycle Safety Program is based on a comprehensive approach, as shown in Table 2, that works to:  (1) prevent motorcycle crashes; (2) mitigate rider injury when crashes do occur; and (3) provide rapid and appropriate emergency medical services response and better treatment for crash victims. The problems and proposed initiatives are organized according to the Haddon Matrix, which is composed of three time phases of a crash event (Crash Prevention – Pre-Crash, Injury Mitigation – Crash, and Emergency Response – Post-Crash), along with the three areas influencing each of the crash time phases (Human Factors, Vehicle Role and Environmental Conditions). 

Table 2:  NHTSA’s Motorcycle Safety Program [5]

  Human Factors Vehicle Role Environmental Conditions
Crash Prevention
  • Rider Education/Licensing
  • Impaired Riding
  • Motorist Awareness
  • State Safety Programs
  • Brakes, Tires, and Controls
  • Lighting and Visibility
  • Compliance Testing and Investigations
  • Roadway Design, Construction, Operations and Preservation
  • Roadway Maintenance
Injury Mitigation (Crash)
  • Use of Protective Gear
  • Occupant Protection
  • Roadside Design, Construction, and Preservation
Emergency Response
  • Automatic Crash Notification
  • Education and Assistance to EMS
  • Bystander Care
  • Training for Law Enforcement
  • Data collection & analysis


While NHTSA is anxious to find effective solutions to this major public health problem – funding and greater activism are key. Our ultimate objective for all road users, including motorcyclists, is to reduce motorcycle-related fatalities and injuries. However, in working to improve motorcycle safety NHTSA faces major challenges – challenges in terms of limited financial resources and balancing the competing priorities of other critical traffic safety issues. Most of the planned activities are directly linked to financial resources available to combat this growing problem. NHTSA’s planned activities, to date, to improve motorcycle safety, are discussed in the next section of this program. The agency will continue to partner with FHWA and the motorcycle and traffic safety communities to improve, not just motorcycle safety, but highway safety overall. In doing so, a renewed National comprehensive effort needs to take place at all levels - Federal, State, local and individual – in order to reduce the number of fatalities and injuries attributable to motorcycle crashes.

Motorcycle safety is traditionally promoted by the agency through highway safety grants to States, technical assistance, specific safety initiatives, data collection and analysis, and safety standards designed to contribute to safe operation and rider protection. NHTSA has allocated resources to support these broad initiatives since the agency’s inception in the late 1960's. NHTSA’s aim has remained one of intensifying the focus it brings to safety problems inherent in operating motorcycles. Its approach entails safety leadership, nationally and internationally. NHTSA works to encourage safety efforts by all segments of the United States motorcycling community, and it collaborates with international organizations and governments as well, and will continue to do so. The agency values its partnerships with stakeholders in the motorcycle manufacturing and aftermarket industries, as well as the rider and education communities. However, efforts by interested parties in this community face difficult challenges in working to improve motorcycle safety. Although National data show that trends in crashes involving motorcycles shift over time, the big issues surrounding motorcycle safety - such as rider protection during crashes, the need for more and improved rider training, and the impairing effects of alcohol - are extant from year to year. NHTSA views interaction with stakeholders as a crucial means to allow it to collaborate on how to best improve these and other issue areas affecting motorcycle safety. Personal protective gear, rider education and training, and riding sober are the best defenses to prevent crashes and mitigate injuries when a crash does occur. Like other road users who are urged to protect themselves, and others, from injury or death by wearing safety belts, driving unimpaired, and observing traffic rules, motorcyclists must ensure that they have done everything possible to make the ride safe by taking training, wearing protective gear, and riding alcohol and drug free.

Motorcycle organizations, as well as NHTSA, are increasing their activities aimed at reducing motorcyclist fatalities. For instance, MSF has announced the establishment of a grassroots-oriented, small-award grant program to help support the implementation of the recommendations of the National Agenda. The program enables any person, organization, or business to submit an application with award amounts ranging from $1,000 to $10,000 to institute programs that will be recognizable, measurable and have immediate returns. In addition to supporting the implementation of the National Agenda, MSF has offered to provide free training and education materials to state motorcycle safety and highway safety offices, event planners, enthusiast organizations and others to promote Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month, which occurs each May.

In showing its commitment to carrying out its safety mandate, NHTSA published a draft Motorcycle Safety Improvement Plan in the Federal Register on June 25, 2001. The agency received 78 comments on the plan. Several comments expressed the need for in-depth research into the causes of motorcycle crashes. Other comments included the need for more rider education and other motorist awareness courses, while some dealt with the issue of mandatory helmet laws for all riders. The following describes NHTSA’s program.