Racial prejudice motivated more than half the 7,755 hate crimes committed in 1998 that were reported to the FBI, the bureau said yesterday.

As in 1997 and 1996, racial prejudice was the most common motivation for hate crimes, accounting for 56 percent, or 4,321 incidents, in 1998. In order of magnitude, 18 percent, or 1,390 incidents, were attributed to religious prejudice; 16 percent, or 1,260, to sexual orientation; 754 incidents to ethnic or national origin, 25 to disabilities and five to multiple prejudices, the FBI said.

The 1998 data come from 10,730 law enforcement agencies in 46 states and the District of Columbia, representing 80 percent of the nation's population. There were nearly 300 fewer incidents in 1998 than 1997, but there were also nearly 500 fewer police agencies reporting in 1998. Because the number of agencies reporting varies under the voluntary system established by the Hate Crimes Statistics Act of 1990, officials caution against drawing conclusions about trends in hate crime volumes between years.

In 1998, crimes against people accounted for 68 percent of the offenses, with intimidation the most frequent hate crime at 38 percent of the total. Vandalism and destruction of property accounted for 28 percent of all reported offenses, simple assault for 18 percent and aggravated assault for 12 percent.

Thirteen people were murdered in 1998 hate crimes, with eight attributed to race bias and four to bias against sexual orientation. One murder was motivated by prejudice against ethnic or national origin.

A move to expand federal criminal civil rights law to protect homosexuals, women and the disabled died in Congress this week because of opposition by Republicans. The legislation would have added acts of hatred motivated by sexual orientation, gender and disability to the list of hate crimes already covered, acts sparked by prejudice based on race, religion, color or national origin.