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Continuing to Enjoy the Ride: Reducing disparities in motorcycle deaths and injuries

Categories: Health Equity

coulple buying a motorcycle

This summer, my nephew was killed while riding his motorcycle. He was just 2 months shy of his 41st birthday. I can still hear my daughter saying “I have some really bad news…Junior died.” The crash happened at night. He was hit by a car turning left into the entrance of an apartment complex, and although my nephew had the right of way, the driver said she “didn’t see him.” He was wearing a helmet and driving within the speed limit. According to a recent CDC study, between 2001 and 2008, more than 34,000 motorcyclists were killed, and there was a 55% increase in motorcyclist death rates during this period. More people in the U.S. are riding motorcycles today than ever before, making motorcyclist deaths and injuries an important public health concern.


Interestingly, I didn’t know that Junior (as we called him) rode a motorcycle or was in a motorcycle club.  At the funeral, I would get a glimpse into the culture and perspectives of his community of motorcyclists and the camaraderie they shared. 

Bikes lined up together

There were easily 200 bikers in a motorcade to the center where the service was held.  Young men and women gathered to pay their respects.  Two men arrived in wheelchairs proudly wearing their leather vests designating them as members of the club, while another young man wore a tee-shirt with the word “Probie” written across it (identifying him as being in the training or initiation phase for membership in the motorcycle club).

The leaders of the club had names like Matrix, Scarr, Iceman, and Heavy. My nephew was known as “Prince Z.” [1] 

cool bike

The service was at once sad and celebratory. People spoke of his love of the “rides,” the cool way he walked, his love of New York City, and the way he referred to the men as “son.”  We were told that he wanted to join the motorcycle club because it was a place where “men act like men.”

During the week preceding my nephew’s funeral, 6 motorcyclists in his social network had been killed.  Even without knowing how many motorcyclists there were in his social network, 6 lives lost in one week due to motorcycle crashes seems like a lot to me. 

Motorcycle Crash

According to a study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University, despite the fact that black Americans are more likely to wear a helmet when they get into a motorcycle crash, they are 1.5 times more likely to die from their injuries than white Americans.

The reasons for this disparity are unclear, but the researchers suggest that contributing factors include lack of health
Biker riding into the sunset

insurance, less access to care, poorer quality of care, and having a greater number of pre-existing illnesses or injuries.  

They also note differences in the types of helmets and/or motorcycles that black riders prefer. [2]

What might we learn from motorcycle clubs like this one about how to better protect bikers?  What injury prevention strategies could we share with them?

[1] These are pseudonyms to protect the identities of the motorcycle club members.

[2] Racial disparities in motorcycle-related mortality: an analysis of the National Trauma Data Bank  The American Journal of Surgery, Volume 200, Issue 2, Pages 191-196.  Joseph G. Crompton, Keshia M. Pollack, Tolulope Oyetunji, David C. Chang, David T. Efron, Elliott R. Haut, Edward E. Cornwell, Adil H. Haider”.

Public Comments

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this blog is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

  1. October 3, 2012 at 7:13 am ET  -   Anonymous

    The Motorcycle accident rate increase is higher compared to other motor vehicles. In the situation of injuries, first aid training for paramedics matters most.

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  2. October 25, 2012 at 11:00 am ET  -   Pete Silva

    “Speed thrills but kills”, as one adage says. Stricter implementation of the law when it comes to the wearing of proper helmets and other body protection should be placed…but however “protected” the rider may be, prudence is still a much better alternative, which means opting the “safer” mode of transportation instead of the motorcycle.

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  3. December 22, 2012 at 1:11 am ET  -   Anonymous

    It’s hard to get knowledgeable men and women on this topic, but you sound like you know what you are talking about! Thanks

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  4. June 13, 2013 at 6:50 pm ET  -   Al Camarero

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  5. June 21, 2013 at 9:54 am ET  -   Anonymous

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  8. January 24, 2015 at 5:24 am ET  -   Anonymous

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