Plucked from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), here are the states with the fewest annual motorcycle fatalities in 2015. These figures are fatalities only. There is no consideration given to geographic size, topography, population, population density, annual miles traveled by motorcycle, or any other pertinent information that would better determine the actual safety record of a given state. But maybe, just maybe, the knowledge that you’re riding in a state with very few motorcycle fatalities will provide a positive psychological edge.
For the macabre among us, Florida is the state with the most motorcycle fatalities at 577, while California (456) and Texas (440) rank second and third, respectively. No other state even breaks into the 200s. However, and I think I speak for most California motorcyclists, you won’t find us moving to another state regardless how safe it is, real or perceived, until lane-splitting is adopted. Obviously the practice isn’t that dangerous or we wouldn’t be losing to Florida.
10. South Dakota: 31
Home to one of the largest motorcycle rallies in America, attended by thousands of freedom-loving, helmet-optional bikers, it’s easy to think South Dakota would have a greater number of annual motorcycle fatalities, but that’s not exactly the case. In 2015 (the same year of the data sampling) the 75th Sturgis rally did account for 15 (48%) of South Dakota’s 31 motorcycle fatalities, but the 2016 rally tally was only three. If all stayed the same last year, that’d move South Dakota up to 6th on this list.
What’s the common denominator among these two disparate states that they share low motorcycle fatalities figures? Latitude. Both Boise, Idaho and Portland, Maine are only a hair shy of the 44th parallel north, and both states share a border with Canada. That means long, cold winters with minimal amounts of daylight hours. When motorcyclists do come out of hibernation the riding season is short, however, the Timbersled season is long and awesome!
Right below Maine (so, still cold) is New Hampshire, and not surprisingly with four less motorcycle fatalities per year. Like South Dakota, New Hampshire is home to a traditional biker event, “the world’s largest motorcycle rally,” Laconia Motorcycle Week. Apparently, it’s an awfully safe rally with only single-digit fatalities reported, leaving most motorcycle fatalities happening elsewhere in the state. Maybe Laconia’s safety record is due to all the safe road racing happening during The Loudon Classic at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
7. Montana/Nebraska/Wyoming: 23
Montana’s and Wyoming’s population density of 7 and 6 people per square mile, respectively, make Nebraska’s population density of 24 people per square mile seem crowded, but all three Great Plains states share the seventh lowest amount of annual motorcycle fatalities. As a once-upon-a-time resident of Nebraska I can attest to some of the most dangerous riding stemming from falling asleep of boredom and riding into a corn field. However, there is good riding if you look for it such as Beartooth Pass that wends through both Montana and Wyoming.
While peeking around the internet looking for information to enrich this list I came across an article in the The Legal Examiner in which the author, Wayne Parsons, says in relation to motorcycle safety measures, “Preventing these tragedies should be a major priority for Hawaii which has a higher than normal incidence of motorcycle crashes.” The statement made me chuckle considering Hawaii is #6 on this list with 19 motorcycle fatalities. He says crashes, and the list is about fatalities, but nothing I found denotes Hawaii as abnormally dangerous in terms of motorcycle safety. Anyway, the low fatality rate could stem from a lack of good roads to ride, as wall as itineraries that have nothing to do with motorcycling.
Totaling only 1,932 square miles, Delaware is geographically small, but it is ranked 6th in popularity density with 469 inhabitants per square mile (more than New York!). With all those folks being mobile in such a small area it’s a true wonder how Delaware makes it to 5th on this list. It could very well be that Delaware is next to last on the list of motorcycle registrations with only 28,179. California, the state with the most motorcycle registrations, boasts more than 828,000 motorcycle registrations. Delaware is home to the 4th chapter of the Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club whose “objective is to educate those that are unfamiliar with the racism, sacrifices and hardships that the Buffalo Soldiers of the 9th and 10th Cavalries.”
Vermont and Alaska are the last two states in double-digits on this list, each with 10 motorcycle fatalities. A pretty low number for Vermont, but maybe that’s because the majority of bikers are meandering around the countryside outlined in Ken Aiken’s book Touring Vermont’s Scenic Roads. For Alaska, it’s an embarrassingly high number considering its once deadly fishing industry (35 deaths per year in 1991, 1992) enjoyed its first fatality-free season from October 2014 – September 2015.
Rhode Island is smaller than Delaware by 718 square miles, has 3,572 more registered motorcycles than Delaware, and is second only to New Jersey in population density with a stifling 1,021 people per square mile. But the state is somehow, amazingly, in single-digits when it comes to motorcycle fatalities. Maybe it’s a matter of providence… a ha… a ha… a ha. Online powersports retailer Twisted Throttle calls Exeter, Rhode Island home.
North Dakota may be lacking the world famous rally of its twin to the south, but the state boasts a substantially lower motorcycle fatality rate, as well as “The Longest Running Women Only Motorcycle Gathering in North America,” The 30th Annual North Dakota Ladies Run taking place July 14-15. Confusingly, the rally is being held in Minnesota, which has a motorcycle fatality rate of 60. If I were a participating female, I think I’d be lobbying for a North Dakota location.
1. District of Columbia: 2
Yes, the District of Columbia is not an official state, so it’s kind of like cheating, but it was on the FARS list, and if it’s good enough for that list, it’s good enough for ours. Truth be told, the surrounding states of Maryland and Virginia with 69 and 72 motorcycle fatalities, respectively, don’t come close to making this list. So, if you’re a motorcyclist residing in that area of the country, whatever you do, stay in D.C. and you should be safe.