Senior road warriors losing the safety battle


Motorcycle riders across the country are growing older, and the impact of this trend is evident in emergency rooms daily. Doctors are finding that senior citizens who ride motorcycles are more likely to be injured or die as a result of a motorcycle mishap compared to their younger counterparts due to factors associated with aging, including impaired vision, delayed reaction time, altered balance, decreases in bone strength, and brain size. Credit: iStockphoto

U. ROCHESTER (US)—Continuing to ride a motorcycle may keep some senior citizens young at heart, but they are more likely to be injured or die as a result of a mishap when compared to their younger counterparts.

Between 1996 and 2005, the average age of motorcyclists involved in crashes increased from approximately 34 to 39 years, and the proportion of injured riders above the age of 40 increased from around 28 percent to close to 50 percent. Of all injured riders, 50- to 59-year-olds represented the fastest growing group.

“We made the clinical observation that older patients—people in their 50s, 60s, and even 70s—were being injured on motorcycles with increasing frequency,” says Mark Gestring, associate professor of surgery, emergency medicine, and pediatrics at the University of Rochester Medical Center. “We wanted to see if this observation was true on a national level and we found that it was.”

For riders above the age of 40, injury severity, length of stay in the hospital or intensive care unit, and mortality were higher compared to riders below the age of 40.

The risk of dying was one-and-a-half to two times more likely in riders older than 40, based on the severity of the original injury.

The study also found that older riders are more likely to die from less severe injuries than younger riders, to spend at least 24 hours in the intensive care unit, and to have more pre-existing co-morbidities and complications, such as heart attack and infections, that contribute to longer hospital stays.

“Treating a 60-year-old who has been in a motorcycle accident is very different from treating a 21-year-old who has been in a similar accident,” says Gestring.

“60-year-olds bring a lot more medical baggage with them, and this can adversely impact outcomes following injury. As people start to dust off their motorcycles this spring, older riders should take an extra measure of caution; if an accident happens they’ll often pay a higher price than younger riders.”

The increase in injury severity for older riders may be related to the reduced capacity to withstand injury as the body ages.

Age-related changes, such as decreases in bone strength and brain size, may make older riders more susceptible to injury. Other factors associated with aging, such as impaired vision, delayed reaction time, and altered balance contribute to motorcycle crashes in this population.

In the study, which was published in the March issue of the American Surgeon, researchers using the National Trauma Databank reviewed the records of 61,689 motorcyclists aged 17 to 89 years involved in a motorcycle crash between 1996 and 2005.

The average age of motorcyclists involved in crashes steadily increased over the study period, which is consistent with published statistics from the Motorcycle Industry Council which report that the average age of motorcycle ownership rose from 33 years in 1998 to 40 years in 2003.

Injury patterns remained stable over the study period, with extremity fractures, such as broken arms and legs, being the most common injuries, occurring in approximately 25 to 40 percent of motorcyclists studied.

The majority of severe injuries were chest and head injuries—a significantly higher proportion of older riders sustained these types of injuries compared to younger riders.

The younger and older riders did have two things in common: helmet use and alcohol use. Overall helmet use was around 73 percent for both groups, and alcohol use was seen in approximately one third of injured motorcyclists, with no significant difference between the older and younger riders.

“We are looking at the development of prevention programs targeting motorcycle safety for older individuals, possibly in partnership with local motorcycle clubs and other interested groups,” says Gestring.

University of Rochester health news:

chat10 Comments


  1. madjack

    How about the fact that most folks are older when they start riding nowadays because of their financial status. A lot of younger people don’t have the money to afford an extra toy. That being said, People who start riding in later years don’t, and in many cases can’t, have the reflex actions and/or experience to do the right thing when trouble is upon you. I raced for years and find that my reflexes do the right thing even before I think about what I need to do. The time it takes to figure out what maneuver is needed means that you are probably already past doing something to save the day and you can’t get that experience without the experience. A catch 22 if there ever was one, but I’d bet that wasn’t part of the survey

  2. madjack

    If they were to take the same survey and insert older riders with at least 20 years of riding experience, the stats would come out a lot differently.

  3. steve9000

    @madjack: You hit the nail on the head. If this study were to incorporate rider experience – and not just age – this study would not have the same results. A rider with 30 years experience will have the skills and experience in accident avoidance. They will also be a lot less likely to be drinking and wearing barely a skull cap…. To each their own. Ride safely. ATGATT.

  4. James Kurtz

    I agree with madjack on his last point about riding experience relative to the probablility of an accident of a senior rider, but as to injuries and recovery, seniors will lose. I am 65, work out quite hard four days a week, and have a ride from Arizona to Panama and back planned for next February, with my wife on the back. And insurance, air evac, and general health safety is top of the list. We’ll be posting on adventure rider and face book when the time comes.

  5. Larry Guerin

    Just bought a new Harlry Super Glide. Age 63. Rode for years but got away from it. I am taking classes continously and find I am making mistakes but am focusing on these. Don’t drink, don’t speed, wear a helmet and work out. I just hope I live to pay off my Harley. Your statistics scare the hell out of me, but maybe that is good, I’ll pay that more attention

  6. Junior

    Good…I don’t care. I’ll ride till I die. If it means dying while I ride…so be it. I’m too damn old to worry about statistics. The candle is growing short. Be damned if I’m going to sit around on my rocking chair worrying about how I will die. I’ve been riding since I was 4. Can’t really think of another way I would rather go. I pay attention, I’m careful but I will put my long gray hair in the breeze and keep racking up those miles. In real life, we are all terminal…there is no f**cking rear view mirror.

  7. Cowboy

    Looks like a good excuse for the insurance companies to raise our rates.

  8. Bill Neil

    I am 82 and have ridden motorcycles all my life. I currently ride a 400 cc scooter and belong to a riding club. We obey the rules of the road and we look out for each other. I do have arthritis in some joints but I will ride for just 1 more year.

  9. Michael

    I’m 67 and have been riding for 40 years. The scariest thing I see on the roads is the advent of technology in the hands of already distracted, in a hurry drivers. I try to ride in the country away from the hustle and bustle and stay away from rush hour! I’ll ride till I die. Remember – Live to Ride, Ride to Live!

  10. Ade

    I try to survey the road ahead, expect the unexpected but a bloke reversing back out of an imanent collision of taking a right turn into the path of an oncoming skiding bike left me no time or room on my bike + he did not see me in the panic of the situation, I almost stopped but the back of the car blocked my escape route and hit my footpeg and I was off, the other rider came over to see if I was ok and I said he almost got us both!! He addmitted he did not see me + reversing backwards into a main road? Not sure the law on that?
    Anyway, I was ok and so was the bike, and I fixed my mirror and brake pedal, the car driver put £30 into save the children, all good, lucky!
    Sometimes there is no escape, but you just get back on…….
    Take care and watch out for more than the unexpected **it happens, u ride safe.

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