There are nearly 110,000 motor vehicle crashes per year in Colorado, according to records from the state’s Department of Transportation, and about 2,000 of those crashes each year involve motorcycles.
Motorcycle crashes are disproportionately dangerous nationwide; nearly 6,000 motorcyclists were killed in U.S. crashes in 2021, per the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Many crashes occur because other drivers simply don’t see motorcycles on the road, and NHTSA data also shows that more than 1 in 3 motorcyclists are not wearing U.S. Department of Transportation-compliant helmets when they ride, while nearly 30% of motorcycle operators killed in 2021 were driving drunk.
So what else do you need to know about motorcycle safety in the Centennial State? To answer that question, we analyzed the most recent five years of motor vehicle crash data available from the Colorado Department of Transportation.
- The largest number of motorcycle crashes from 2017 through 2021 occurred in and around Denver, but crash rates were highest in smaller localities like Park and Teller counties.
- Motorcycle crashes are much more common in the spring and summer months, with two-thirds of crashes occurring from May to September.
- Crashes involving motorcycles were more than 12 times as likely to kill at least one person as crashes not involving motorcycles.
- The percentage of motorcycle crashes that killed at least one person was higher than the corresponding percentage of non-motorcycle crashes in every county where at least one person was killed in a motorcycle crash across the five-year period.
- The percentage of motorcyclists who get in accidents while impaired by alcohol or drugs (including prescriptions) is about 30% higher than the percentage of car drivers who are involved in crashes.
Analyzing the motorcycle crash data
The list of counties with the most motorcycle crashes looks an awful lot like a ranking of the largest populations in Colorado. Each of the top 10 counties in terms of total motorcycle crashes (which all average 85 or more crashes per year) has a population over 150,000, and only two of the top 25 come in below 50,000 residents.
The Denver area is, unsurprisingly, the place where the most crashes happen. More than 40% of the motorcycle crashes in the state from 2017 through 2021 took place in Denver and its immediate neighbors: Jefferson, Adams and Arapahoe counties:
- #1 Denver (population 711,973): 1,420 total motorcycle crashes
- #2 El Paso (population 738,532): 1,391 crashes
- #3 Jefferson (population 579,654): 1,219 crashes
- #4 Adams (population 522,515): 928 crashes
- #5 Larimer (population 362,771): 824 crashes
- #6 Arapahoe (population 655,581): 817 crashes
- #7 Boulder (population 329,793): 516 crashes
- #8 Weld (population 340,133): 480 crashes
- #9 Douglas (population 369,286): 461 crashes
- #10 Pueblo (population 169,504): 427 crashes
But when we look at the average yearly rate of motorcycle crashes per 100,000 residents (focusing on counties with populations of at least 10,000), most of the state’s largest counties disappear from the top 10, replaced by significantly smaller localities:
- #1 Park (population 17,718): 75.6 motorcycle crashes per 100,000 residents
- #2 Teller (population 24,922): 62.6 crashes per 100,000
- #3 Gunnison (population 17,298): 61.3 crashes per 100,000
- #4 Fremont (population 49,637): 53.2 crashes per 100,000
- #5 Pitkin (population 17,327): 53.1 crashes per 100,000
- #6 Grand (population 15,838): 50.5 crashes per 100,000
- #7 Pueblo (population 169,504): 50.4 crashes per 100,000
- #8 Chaffee (population 20,099): 48.8 crashes per 100,000
- #9 Larimer (population 362,771): 45.4 crashes per 100,000
- #10 Jefferson (population 579,654): 42.0 crashes per 100,000
In 16 Colorado counties (regardless of population size), the rate of motorcycle crashes increased from 2017 to 2021. Some of those are very small counties where an increase of just one crash can send the rate skyrocketing, but the list also features six of Colorado’s most populous localities — including El Paso, home to Colorado Springs and the largest county population in the state:
- Mineral (population 925): +400%
- Kit Carson (population 6,928): +291%
- Las Animas (population 14,634): +199%
- Alamosa (population 16,516): +150%
- Crowley (population 6,016): +100%
- Logan (population 21,443): +100%
- Chaffee (population 20,099): +100%
- Mesa (population 157,323): +48%
- Ouray (population 5,046): +43%
- Pueblo (population 169,504): +43%
- Morgan (population 28,980): +40%
- Delta (population 31,673): +40%
- La Plata (population 56,278): +29%
- Park (population 17,718): +22%
- Montezuma (population 26,229): +17%
- El Paso (population 738,532): +10%
One of the main reasons why a spike in motorcycle crashes is so concerning is that crashes in motorcycles are significantly more dangerous than other crashes. Over the five-year window we looked at, less than 2% of total crashes involved motorcycles, but nearly 20% of fatal crashes did.
In fact, more than 75% of crashes involving at least one motorcycle resulted in injury or death, while 77% of non-motorcycle crashes only incurred property damage.
And while the Department of Transportation data does not indicate whether the person killed in a crash involving a motorcycle was the motorcycle operator, 5.35% of motorcycle crashes killed at least one person. That may not seem like a large percentage, but it is more than 12 times the percentage of non-motorcycle crashes that turned fatal.
Motorcycle crashes being more deadly is a trend that holds when zooming in to the county level, too. There were 16 counties that did not report a single fatal motorcycle crash during the five-year reporting period, but in every one of the 48 counties with at least one motorcycle fatality, the percentage of motorcycle crashes that turned fatal was higher than that of non-motorcycle crashes.
The largest overall numbers of fatal motorcycle crashes was in major population centers — the five highest death tolls were in counties surrounding Colorado Springs, Denver and Fort Collins — but once again, the highest rates of fatal crashes occur mostly in smaller areas. These are the counties (with at least 10,000 residents) with the largest numbers of fatal motorcycle crashes per 100,000 residents from 2017 through 2021:
- #1 Gunnison (population 17,298): 34.7 fatal crashes per 100,000
- #2 Park (population 17,718): 33.9 fatal crashes per 100,000
- #3 Chaffee (population 20,099): 24.9 fatal crashes per 100,000
- #4 Pitkin (population 17,327): 23.1 fatal crashes per 100,000
- #5 Pueblo (population 169,504): 21.8 fatal crashes per 100,000
- #6 Fremont (population 49,637): 20.1 fatal crashes per 100,000
- #7 Garfield (population 62,150): 16.1 fatal crashes per 100,000
- #8 Mesa (population 157,323): 14 fatal crashes per 100,000
- #9 Las Animas (population 14,634): 13.7 fatal crashes per 100,000
- #10 Grand (population 15,838): 12.6 fatal crashes per 100,000
Motorcyclists involved in crashes were also 30% more likely to be impaired by alcohol or drugs (including prescription medication) than drivers in non-motorcycle crashes — a chilling reminder to never drink and drive.
And while non-motorcycle crashes are spread out fairly evenly throughout the year, two-thirds of motorcycle crashes (and fatal motorcycle crashes) happen during the warmer months, from May through September; motorcycle crashes are also significantly more likely to happen on the weekend. So be extra careful on the road on summer Saturdays.
One positive conclusion from the crash data is that both younger and older motorcyclists are less likely to get in crashes than their non-motorcycle counterparts. 27% of motorcycle crashes involved a biker under the age of 30, and just 7.3% involved a motorcyclist 65 years old or older — compared to 48% and 24% when looking at the ages of drivers involved in non-motorcycle crashes.
The best advice we can give for having a safe and enjoyable time on a motorcycle is to wear a helmet (which may not be required under Colorado law for drivers 18 and older or passengers, but has been proven to prevent nearly 40% of motorcycle operator deaths), avoid potentially dangerous driving behaviors like lane splitting (which is currently illegal in Colorado, though General Assembly legislation has required the Department of Transportation to conduct a study into whether it would be feasible to safely legalize some forms of lane splitting), and never operate a motorcycle — or any other vehicle — while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Data sources and methodology
This data comes from yearly crash reports collected by the Colorado Department of Transportation. We downloaded the most recent five years of reports available, covering 2017 through 2021.
Population counts are 2021 estimates from the State Demography Office at the Colorado Department of Local Affairs. Other road safety facts come from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Feel free to use this data; please link back to this page for attribution purposes if you do.