What is the best state for motorcycle riding? (By best, I don’t mean most beautiful as beauty is usually dangerous. I mean the safest!)
If you look at the facts and figures, it is Montana.
Alas, some of the best motorcycle rides like the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina or the Arizona State Route 89A are, plainly and simply, not very safe. Even so, there are plenty of rides that can be enjoyed while keeping your bones where they should be.
In truth, motorcycle safety depends on various factors, making the ranking process extremely difficult. For this, we mostly considered the available data on total fatalities per 100,000 registered motorcycles to assess the risk factor.
But remember this: there are many ways and methods to calculate the riding risks. For example, you could consider the number of deaths per 100 million motorcycle miles. The thing is, though, you’ll usually arrive at similar results.
One last thing – this interpretation is broadly based on the analysis of the NHTSA fatality data from 2017 to 2020. There can and will be some shifts in the rankings if the analysis is based on the death data between 2021-22. But a comprehensive, state-by-state analysis isn’t published yet! (We’ll make sure to update this article as soon as it’s live.)
8 of the Safest States to Ride a Motorbike in the US
A steady decline in the number of motorcycle accidents in the past decade means one thing: Wisconsin is one of the safest states to ride through. The fatalities per 100,000 registered motorcycles were marked at 23.7 in 2017, which is on the lower side.
But this is where things are becoming more complicated. As you can see in the chart above, in 2020, the fatality rate climbed to a whopping 41.98%, which gives us a pretty different picture! Still, even that puts Wisconsin under top 10, even top 8 least dangerous states for motorbikes in the US.
The state also has some of the highest numbers in terms of motorcycle ownership in the country. But rest assured, ye beauty seekers: you can enjoy your ride WITHOUT taking too many risks! Some areas like Door County have less-traveled roads and beautiful landscapes that are ideal for summer rides.
That being said, the number of deadly motorcycle crashes in Wisconsin has risen in the post-pandemic era. A larger number of these deaths was a result of riders not using helmets or other safety gear.
A recent report by Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety has put the state in the “caution” or “yellow” category. Experts suggest that the state needs to focus on some laws including the all-rider motorcycle helmet and the impaired driving laws to prevent fatalities.
In 2018, the total number of motorcycle fatalities in Massachusetts was 59. However, the number came down a notch to 52 in 2020. Interestingly, when compared with other states of similar population sizes, Massachusetts has had fewer road fatalities in the past years.
And guess what? The overall road safety laws in the state are NOT the best in the country.
However, the state has also passed a new road safety law this year to make the streets safer for vulnerable users. Before that, the state had banned hand-held cell phone use while driving to prevent distracted driving.
Summer is the best season as a rule, and Massachusetts is no different. When you want to soak up some sun on your motorbike, go for the beauty of the Cape Cod National Seashore or ride through the streets of Boston for a slice of cream pie. If you are planning to enjoy the fall colors, be cautious of the slippery leaves.
Moreover, fall is also the deer mating season which demands more caution from riders. Especially on mountainous roads!
There’s a good reason why Iowa has one of the lowest motorcycle fatality rates in the country: a relatively small number of motorcycles on the road.
Moreover, a large segment of the roads in the state are in rural areas where there’s not much traffic to begin with. So, motorcycle accidents constitute a small percentage of the total crashes in the state.
But frankly, it’s a stroke of luck when you consider that there are no laws in the state that would make helmets more appealing to riders and passengers. Also, the riding season is basically confined to the warm weather months only.
But the best part is, around 91% of the roads in Iowa are in acceptable condition.
Even so, there are plenty of isolated crashes on these low-volume rural roads that resulted in fatalities. Like many other states, the fatalities were on the lower side in 2018 and 2019, but shot up significantly between 2020-21.
Some of the main reasons behind these crashes were left-turning vehicles overlooking motorcycles and the arch-nemesis of safe driving – alcohol. Riders losing control of their motorcycle is another prime cause.
5. North Dakota
Take a prairie, the Missouri Plateau and a big river valley, and you’ll get a nice mix of farm land and wilderness. Pepper it with pretty harsh winters with several severe snowstorms each season. You’d be forgiven for expecting an exciting but dangerous state for motorcycles.
And yet, North Dakota made it pretty high up on our safest states list. How come?
For one thing, a low number of registered motorcycles always means an even lower number of motorcycle fatalities. But one thing is particularly interesting. Unlike most other states, even during the pandemic period, the number of crashes came down in North Dakota. In 2021, there were only 189 motorcycle crashes with 8 fatalities.
While some call this number an anomaly, there are plenty of reasons behind the lower number of motorcycle fatalities.
Firstly, many of the best motorcycle rides in the state have open roads, rolling prairies, and flat lands that make the rides safer. Still, Highway 85 and Interstate 94 are two of the most dangerous roads in the state.
Next, a few studies have pointed out that the state also has some of the best highway systems in the country. Around 94.1% of the total roadways in North Dakota are in pretty good condition too.
The fact is, it is hard to pinpoint a primary reason for the number of fatalities has been going up and down and up again over the years, and that goes for every state. But one thing remains as usual: most of the fatalities were a result of the riders not wearing helmets.
In 2021, the total number of deaths from motorcycle accidents in Minnesota was 69. That indicates one of the lowest fatality rates per 10,000 registered motorcycles.
In fact, the roads in the state are considered among the nation’s safest with 0.23 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles. And this is not at all surprising when you consider the excellent road conditions in the state.
Even though this is one of the lowest in the country, motorcycle fatalities in the state keep fluctuating. Generally, the months between May and September have the highest number of fatalities.
Besides, Minnesota does not have a strict helmet-use law for riders above 18. And more than 60% of the fatalities involved riders without helmets.
But you know what else?
One set of data indicated that 32% of bikers involved in fatal motorcycle crashes in 2020 lacked the right level of training.
While plenty of young drivers start riding each year, a large number of middle-aged people are also rediscovering motorcycling since the pandemic. This makes proper training an essential aspect of motorcycle safety.
All in all, experienced riders who follow the right safety protocols can always take a trip to enjoy the Waters of the Dancing Sky Scenic Byway in Minnesota.
Do you yearn for a ride across a far-off destination that generates that special exhilarating feeling?
If yes, Alaska is a safe bet.
A big con of planning a ride through the state is the fact that it is a long way from the continental US. Maybe that could partly explain such a low number of fatalities in the country? In 2020, there were only 4 motorcycle deaths in the state.
Now, if you think that’s due to their low numbers of inhabitants and fewer motorcyclists, you’re totally right. But scroll up to look at the percentage of fatalities per 100,000 registered motorbikes, and you’ll realize that it’s also low. What’s 14.94 when compared to, say, 10 times as much in Texas or 13 times as much in Mississippi?
According to some reports, around 25% of the rural Interstates in the state are in poor condition. But based on feedback from riders who have been through the state, most roads are in good condition.
However, the congestion metric is high on some roads like the Seward Highway. Chances are, you will also find some construction sections and gravel patches — but none of it is unpassable for experienced riders. And keep in mind, moose-vehicle crashes are a major issue in the state.
If you are looking to satisfy your urge for adventure, Alaska is one of the top three safest states to ride through. Late spring and summer are the ideal months for a safe trip.
One more thing — before heading for the state, check the state’s motorcycle manual for the latest rules on the use of a motorcycle.
2. South Dakota
You may have heard that the per capita motorcycle ownership number in South Dakota is the highest in the country.
With such a widespread love for motorbike thrill, it’s strange that they don’t have an all-rider helmet law in place! Out of the 27 fatalities that the NHTSA noted in 2020, 80% of the riders were without a helmet.
Still, there are other measures that obviously contribute to South Dakota’s good reputation when it comes to motorbike safety. For example, rider training and safety courses are available all across the state – a great move by the South Dakota Department of Highway Safety. Without a doubt, this has played an important role in reducing motorcycle accidents in the state.
No wonder most fatal motorcycle accidents in the state involve riders from other states!
The four-county area in western South Dakota is one of the most accident-prone. Besides, there are plenty of rural areas in the state where the roads are often crisscrossed by wild animals. It is best to avoid the period between dawn and dusk, to reduce the risk of crashing into a deer.
Being the winner of our list is not the only thing Montana is awesome for. The Big Sky Country also has some of the most scenic routes including Glacier National Park and Yellowstone!
That said, the number of motorcycle accidents is also high in Yellowstone. The NHTSA has it that the total number of motorcycle fatalities in the state rose from 23 in 2017 to 29 in 2020. It goes without saying that most of these deaths happened because of carelessness and ignoring safety.
Does the state have the best roads in the country?
Well, it is not in the same league as states like Iowa or North Dakota. But the acceptable road condition percentage of over 87% is not too bad either.
Since 2021, Montana has also made lane filtering, a form of lane splitting, legal for motorcyclists. This is a viable safety technique and helps to reduce the chances of rear-end accidents.
Whether you want to learn about the safest or the most perilous states for riding through the country, we’ve got you covered.
If you ask me, any interpretation of data is not absolute; especially when it comes to motorcycle safety. Even if you are riding the safest motorbike (if there is such a thing) through one of these states, a single moment of carelessness can lead to a crash.
Bottom line: when you are heading for unknown terrains, defensive driving is the key to safety. Stay vigilant and keep an eye out for changing road conditions. That way, you will be able to respond to hazards more effectively.