Motorcycle Accident Causation Research

helpful information for motorcyclists and car drivers alike

While the last significant comprehensive motorcycle crash study is over twenty-five years old, it is still informative and often referred to. This report is the "Hurt Report" named after lead USC researcher Harry Hurt, himself a motorcyclist.

Historically, approximately 2/3 of motorcycle crashes have been caused by the car driver.

The Hurt Report found that the most common scenario of a motorcycle accident was a vehicle turning in front of the motorcycle right of way at an intersection, usually with the motorcycle going straight and the oncoming car not yielding even when going against traffic signals. Because the motorist didn't see the motorcycle, very often no accident avoidance or breaking occurred before the accident, often resulting in serious injury.

It is at least somewhat surprising that the motorcycle is most difficult to be seen by car drivers when approaching head on with the car turning in front of the motorcycle's right of way. Surprisingly, the more difficult maneuver of the car driver changing lanes on a freeway, even with the driver having to cope with blind spots, is not as common of an accident scenario as the head on approach of car and motorcycle.

As drivers, this is an important fact to be aware of. Vehicle operators must make sure to look for motorcycles. If you are in a residential area, trees, bushes, parked cars all may impede a motorcycle from easy detection.

or motorcyclists, the fact extends as well to the importance of being visible.

Rather than motorcyclists being risk takers and fast riding dare devils, the Hurt Study found that the median crash speeds were quite low at 21.5 mph.

Per vehicle mile traveled in 2004, motorcyclists were about 34 times more likely to die, and 8 times more likely to be injured in a motor vehicle crash than were passenger car occupants. Per 100 million miles traveled, in 2004, motorcyclist fatalities were 77 percent higher than they were in 1994. This compares with a decrease of 22 percent in fatality rates for occupants in passenger vehicles over the same period. These data show that the motorcycle crash problem is becoming more severe.

Congress has recognized this problem and directed the DOT to conduct research that will provide a better understanding of the causes of motorcycle crashes. Specifically, in Section 5511 of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA–LU) Pub. L. 109–59, Congress directed the Secretary of Transportation to provide grants to the Oklahoma Transportation Center (OTC) for the purpose of conducting a comprehensive, in-depth motorcycle crash causation study

In 2005, Congress budgeted $2.8 million for a new motorcycle crash study, providing that motorcyclists, manufacturers, and other motorcycle related organizations would match that amount. The American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) has created a fueling the fund to help raise these matching funds.

[update] - This study has been underway. We look forward to some reporting in 2015.

The Motorcycle Crash Causation Study (MCCS) is the most comprehensive investigation into the causes, rider demographics, and opportunities for countermeasure development to be conducted in the United States in more than 30 years. When completed, a large and unique data set will be developed that is derived from both actual motorcycle crashes and riders with similar risk characteristics and will focus on the unique circumstances that produce motorcycle crashes. This will offer unmatched perspective into the role of crash-causation factors that are specific to motorcycles and will be used to develop effective countermeasures, craft future safety standards, and reduce the risk of fatalities and injuries for motorcycle riders across the United States.

Motorcyclists and transportation designers need this research more than ever as motorcycle accidents continue to rise. In the summer of 2014 many states across the USA reported this troubling trend if increasing motorcycle accidents and fatalities.

In 2009, there were 4,462 motorcycle crash-related fatalities in the United States—more than twice the number of motorcycle rider fatalities that occurred in 1997. This increase contrasts with a 27-percent reduction in the number of fatalities in passenger cars and light trucks. In response to this growing concern, the U.S. Congress passed legislation to fund a Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) research effort into the causes of motorcycle crashes in the United States.

The Hurt Report is still available to order from:

National Technical Information Service 
5285 Port Royal Road 
Springfield, Virginia 22161 

Motorcycle Accident Cause Factors and Identification of Countermeasures, Volume 1: Technical Report, Hurt, H.H., Ouellet, J.V. and Thom, D.R., Traffic Safety Center, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California 90007, Contract No. DOT HS-5-01160, January 1981 (Final Report) 

Vol.I (The Main Report and Summary) is PB81206443 (~400 pages)
Vol.II (Appendix: Supplementary Data) is PB81206450 (~400 pages) 
Vol. I and Vol. II are each $42.95 plus $3.00 shipping. (circa 1990)