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Chicago Shines in Decade-Long Study of Motorcycle Fatalities Across Major Cities

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A thorough study spanning ten years has uncovered notable trends concerning motorcycle safety in major cities. Notably, Chicago has emerged with a remarkably low rate of motorcycle deaths, with the data indicating only 6.05 fatalities per 100,000 people. 

This record positions Chicago at the forefront of motorcycle safety. It is one of the 10 cities in The United States with the lowest record of fatalities. For the local motorcyclist community, this news may bring a sense of reassurance. 

Popular routes such as Lake Shore Drive, with its scenic views of Lake Michigan, and the legendary Route 66 that begins in the city, continue to attract riders who hopefully feel even more secure exploring the city.

Background on the Study

The study, looking into motorcycle safety across major US cities, was conducted by Forbes Advisor. It spanned a decade, from 2011 to 2021, and utilized data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). 

The primary metric for assessing motorcycle safety was the number of motorcycle fatalities per 100,000 residents. This approach ensures that the fatality rate is relative to the population size of each city.

The following 10 cities have a consistent track record for safety, with the lowest number of motorcycle accident fatalities per 100,000 residents over the past 10 years:

  • Frisco, TX: 3.95
  • Laredo, TX: 4.70
  • New York City: 4.74
  • Minneapolis, MN: 5.36
  • St. Paul, MN: 5.47
  • Chicago, IL: 6.05
  • Jersey City, NJ: 6.17
  • Madison, WI: 6.32
  • Boston, MA: 6.53
  • Washington, DC: 7.54

Forbes Advisor assessed the safety of motorcyclists in cities by analyzing data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), focusing on the top 100 most populous cities. The study included an examination of motorcycle fatality rates per 100,000 residents for the year 2021, as well as data spanning ten years, from 2011 to 2021. 

It also took into account fluctuations in motorcycle-related deaths between 2011 and 2021. In determining rankings for the safest and riskiest cities, greater emphasis was placed on recent statistics concerning motorcycle fatalities.

Chicago’s Motorcycle Safety Achievements

From the study conducted by Forbes Advisor, Chicago reported a motorcycle fatality rate of 6.05 per 100,000 residents over the past decade, placing it among the cities with relatively lower motorcycle accident fatalities.

However, examining the historical data on motorcycle safety in Chicago reveals several trends and changes over the past decade. Between 2017 and 2020, motorcycle crashes in Chicago increased by 8.7% compared to the previous four-year average. 

In 2021, fatalities resulting from motorcycle crashes represented 13% of all motor vehicle fatalities in the city – so even though motorcycle accident fatalities were relatively low in Chicago, they clearly still remain a significant issue. 

Factors Contributing to Chicago’s Success

The local government and community in Chicago have implemented several initiatives to enhance motorcycle safety. In 2013, the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) kicked off the “Gear Up-Ride Smart” motorcycle safety campaign. This initiative promotes safe motorcycle riding through continued training and the use of proper gear. 

It also highlights how dangerous it is to drive under the influence, hoping to cut down on alcohol and drug-related motorcycle crashes.

Geographic and Structural Factors in Chicago Contributing to Reduced Motorcycle Accident Rates

Chicago’s unique geographic location and progressive structural improvements may play a role in reducing motorcycle accident rates in the city as well. Consider the following: 

Predominantly Flat Terrain

Chicago’s relatively flat landscape may contribute to safer motorcycle riding conditions. Unlike hilly areas that present challenging roads with inclines and sharp curves, the city’s flat topography reduces the likelihood of accidents, making it easier for motorcyclists to navigate the streets.

Public Safety Initiatives

The city sometimes runs public safety campaigns focusing on motorcycle safety. The goal of these initiatives is to increase awareness among motorcyclists and automobile operators, foster a commitment to safe driving behaviors, and promote an atmosphere of shared respect on the roads.

Designated Motorcycle Parking Areas

Certain areas in Chicago offer designated motorcycle parking, which helps limit the risks associated with parking and merging into traffic. 

These geographical and infrastructural factors, in conjunction with stringent traffic law enforcement, create a relatively safe environment for motorcycle riders in Chicago. 

However, despite these measures, the inherent dangers of motorcycle riding in a bustling urban setting still require motorcyclists and motor vehicle drivers to exercise a high level of caution and adherence to safety norms.

Impact on the Local Community

In a continued effort to reduce motorcycle fatalities, Chicago has launched some safety initiatives:

Start Seeing Motorcycles Campaign and Motorcycle Awareness Month

The “Start Seeing Motorcycles” campaign, which was launched in May 2021 by Gov. JB Pritzker in Illinois, is a key effort designed to enhance motorcycle safety. 

This campaign is essential considering the disproportionate number of fatalities involving motorcyclists. In 2019, motorcyclists accounted for 14 percent of traffic deaths in Illinois despite representing only 3 percent of vehicle registrations. 

Pritzker also designated May as Motorcycle Awareness Month in Illinois. Acting Illinois Transportation Secretary Omer Osman said, “We want all riders and motorists, whether they’re traveling a short distance or long distance, to reach their destination safely.”

Challenges and Areas for Improvement

Motorcycle riding in urban areas such as Chicago offers a unique set of challenges. Despite education and training efforts like those provided by Ride Chicago, motorcyclists continue to navigate difficult conditions daily. 

Potholes and uneven pavement are significant hazards for motorcyclists in Chicago, where winter freezes and thaws can severely damage street surfaces. For motorcycles, compared to cars, potholes pose a very real risk of causing loss of control or accidents.

The prevalence of distracted driving is another major safety concern for motorcyclists in Chicago. When drivers are distracted—texting, using in-car technology, eating, or being overly involved with passengers—they may fail to maintain full awareness of their surroundings. 

This reduced level of attention can be particularly dangerous for motorcyclists because motorcycles have a smaller profile compared to cars and trucks, making them much less visible on the road and therefore prone to being hit by other vehicles.

Motorcycle Safety Enhancements

Motorcycle safety laws in Illinois are designed with the primary objective of protecting riders and ensuring safer roadways for everyone. These regulations cover a wide range of guidelines, including:

  • Motorcycle riders must obey traffic laws, signs, and signals the same way as other drivers.
  • Motorcycle riders are prohibited from passing between two other vehicles going in the same direction unless an unobstructed traffic lane is available to permit such passing safely.
  • Passing on the right is also prohibited unless there is unobstructed pavement at least 8 feet wide to the right of the vehicle being passed.
  • Operating a motorcycle on one wheel is considered reckless driving or aggravated operating of a motorcycle on one wheel.

Training and education on motorcycle laws play a crucial role in enhancing motorcycle safety.

The Bottom Line

The recent analysis emphasizes that Chicago has one of the lowest rates of motorcycle-related deaths, with 6.05 fatalities for every 100,000 residents.

Local residents should engage actively with local motorcycle safety programs and remain vigilant on the roads. Whether you’re a new rider or an experienced motorcyclist, enhancing your skills through safety courses is always a good idea.

Resources for Safety Courses

For motorcycle riders, safety courses are a great way to build defensive riding skills and road awareness. Some classes you can take in Chicago include:

Basic Motorcycle Licensing Class

The basic motorcycle licensing class is the most popular offering. It is ideal for new or unlicensed riders, and no prior experience or motorcycle is necessary. The program consists of an evening dedicated to classroom learning, which is then complemented by two days devoted to actual riding sessions. 

During these practical exercises, students gain real-world motorcycle handling experience on bikes with engine sizes up to 250cc. Helmets and gloves are also provided. All students must be proficient riders and possess an M-class Permit.

Intermediate Motorcycle Classes

For those who already have a motorcycle license and are looking to enhance their skills, the intermediate motorcycle classes are a great idea. These classes focus on reinforcing safety techniques and preparing riders for more advanced scenarios on the road. 

Scooter Training

Ride Chicago also offers a specialized scooter training class for those interested in riding scooters. This one-day course helps students get moving safely on scooters up to 150cc. Similar to the motorcycle classes, helmets and gloves are provided to ensure the safety of all participants.

On-Site Licensing

To make the process of obtaining a motorcycle license even more convenient, Ride Chicago has partnered with the Secretary of State to offer on-site licensing for graduates of their classes. This testing is available every Wednesday and select Thursdays, allowing students to seamlessly transition from training to licensing.

Private Lessons

For those preferring a more personalized approach to learning, Ride Chicago provides private lessons with a minimum of 2 hours. Additionally, experienced riders may qualify for on-site licensing after completing private lessons.



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– Michonne Proulx

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– Lisa

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