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Risk Hierarchy: Information - Rider Ed - Driver Ed - Conspicuity - Bike Defect - Ultra-Defensive Riding - Crash Avoidance - Injury Mitigation - Crash Scene
The 1981 Hurt Report on Motorcycle Crashes
We applaud the pioneering Hurt report published by the late Dr. Hugh H. Hurt, Jr. in 1981 using data from the 1970s. It is the best motorcycle crash study done in the US. It's only problem is that it is very old, and things have changed a lot since the 1970s, partly due to Hurt's own success. We want a new study.
- 75% of crashes were a between a cycle and a 4+wheel vehicle (cage).
- In most of these, the cage got in the bike's way. The cage turning left in front of the motorcycle was common.
- This is a visibility (conspicuity) issue, and might be to do with the ability of cage drivers to estimate the speed of an oncoming bike.
- 25% of accidents were single-bike accidents.
- Hurt says most of these were because the rider lost control.
- 3% of total crashes were due to a motorcycle mechanical issue, mostly a tire blow-out.
- We hear from bike safety experts that some of these 'single-bike' crashes happened when the biker was driven off the road by a cage. If the motorcycle does not touch the vehicle before going down, it is reported as a single bike crash.
- The European Maids study found even more crashes were single-bike crashes.
- about 50% of crashes involved booze, more likely the cage driver than the biker.
- Weather, road conditions and equipment failure were not a very important cause of accidents. (but see our weather page,). We don't believe that the study accounted for weather issues correctly.
- Conspicuity. Better visibility from the front reduces the 'right of way' accidents. Since Hurt, always-on bike lights has probably changed this issue. Better visibility from the back and brake lights reduces rear-ending when stopped in traffic.
- Training and Rider Skills. Hurt thought that most of the 25% of single-bike crashes were due to poor rider skills. He also said that better riding skills would have reduced the number and severity of many of the multi-vehicle crashes. There seems to be wide agreement that improved rider training reduces both the number of crashes and their severity.
- Motorcycle condition is the cause of only 3% of crashes. We think this is still important because it is a gimme. It is the 3% that we can control. Other studies suggest that bikers are killed more often when the motorcycle has a technical defect especially tires and brakes, even when the bike defect is not the actual cause of the crash.
- Hurt had a lot to say about helmets and riding gear. These reduce injury.
- Speed was not a major causative issue. Again, technical improvements in bikes had probably moved this issue along.
Our Take on Hurt
Since Hurt, motorcycle frontal conspicuity has been improved by always-on headlights, but still we have crashes with cages turning across bikes. This is still a major problem. There is also evidence (from Maids) that if cage drivers have learned to perceive motorcycles better, that they are less likely to be the cause of an accident. We think that cage right of way infractions now cause less than half the crashes in the US, probably more like a third.
Hurt found that speed was not a factor - the median speed of the motorcycle at impact was around 21 MPH. But we note that many bikes are much faster now than they were in 1981, and we think that speed is now a greater factor in bike crashes, especially with younger bikers under 30.
Some say that if Hurt was repeated we'd maybe get similar results, but we disagree. The rest of this section has information on other studies, mainly from abroad, and other information, which suggest that crash causation has changed dramatically since Hurt's day.