Motorcycle Safety Research: Reviewing the 1981 Hurt Report and Calling for Updated Research

The news was mixed — The Sacramento Bee reported that 2012 saw an increase in the number of motorcycle deaths nationwide, but a decline in the number of motorcycle fatalities in California. The Governors Highway Safety Association estimates that the country saw more than 5,000 motorcycle deaths last year, an increase of 9% from the prior year. Study authors suggest warmer weather led to a longer motorcycle season and rising gas prices led people to choose two wheels over four. California was one of only a handful of states that saw a drop in motorcycle deaths, perhaps due to an aggressive safety campaign focused on making drivers more aware of motorcycles. Our Northern California motorcycle accident law firm believes these statistics, both the overall rise in deaths and the difference between the trend in California and the trend nationwide, demand up-to-date research into the causes of motorcycle accidents.

The Hurt Report & Its Findings on the Causes and Characteristics of Motorcycle Accidents
motorcycle.jpg Surprisingly, the most comprehensive, detailed report analyzing motorcycle accidents and their causes is more than thirty years old. In 1981, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released the results of a study led by Harry Hurt, titled Motorcycle Accident Cause Factors and Identification of Countermeasures. The ground-breaking investigation into motorcycle accidents included an in-depth analysis of 900 accidents in the Los Angeles area plus the examination of 3,600 additional crash reports. The Hurt report is still cited as the most important study to date on motorcycle safety, although some say that changes in ridership and the way motorcycles are built leave the report showing its age.

More than 50 findings relating to the causes and characteristics of motorcycle accidents and injuries are detailed in the Hurt report. Key conclusions resulting from the authors’ analysis include:

  • Approximately 75% of accidents studied involved a collision between a motorcycle and another vehicle. The remaining 25% were single-motorcycle accidents.
  • The primary cause of motorcycle accidents was drivers failing to see motorcycles. Two-thirds of multi-vehicle accidents were caused by the other vehicle violating the motorcycle’s right-of-way.
  • The most common layout of multi-vehicle accidents involved a motorcycle traveling straight and another vehicle turning left in front of the rider.
  • Rider error was the primary cause in two-thirds of the single-vehicle accidents.
  • Almost half of fatal accidents involved alcohol.
  • “Collision avoidance problems” were common across the study, with over or under-braking contributing to the inability of riders to avoid an impending crash.
  • In a typical accident, the rider had only two seconds to complete all necessary collision avoidance measures.
  • Most riders involved in crashes had no formal training, with 92% learning on their own or from a friend or relative. Formal training reduced the likelihood of being involved in an accident and the severity of injuries when a crash did occur.
  • 98% of multi-vehicle collisions and 96% of single-vehicle accidents led to some degree of rider injury. In 45% of incidents, the injury was more than minor.
  • Helmet use was the “single critical factor” in preventing/reducing riders’ head injuries.

Calling for Updated Research to Aid in Accident Prevention
Many of these lessons remain important today. However, a lot has changed since 1981. Motorcycles travel faster than they did thirty years ago; the median speed at impact was only 21mph in the Hurt study. Ridership has grown and skews younger than it did in 1981. Motorcycles have also changed. While the bikes have more power, they are also more conspicuous and have added safety features. These changes have led many to question the continued validity of many of the Hurt study’s conclusions.

Our office serves as a law firm for motorcycle accident victims in Sacramento, San Francisco, Oakland, and all of Northern California. We believe in accident prevention. Investing in motorcycle safety research is essential to this goal. While the Hurt report contains useful guidance, we need up-to-date research that reflects current conditions and will help reduce the number of accidents in California and nationwide.

See Related Blog Posts:
Legal and Safety Considerations: Lane-Splitting by Motorcycle Riders

Northern California Injury Lawyer on the Serious Consequences of Motorcycle Crashes

(Photo by David Butler)