safetyby Dirk Koenig

Last month we looked at the first half of the Hurt Study findings, this month is a continuation of those findings with the Hurt Study in bold and my comments following. If you missed last month’s issue, check out July 2000 MC Safety.

Passenger-carrying motorcycles are not over-represented in the accident area.

Sadly, while passenger-carrying motorcycles are not over-represented in the crash studies, neither are they under-represented. An even more unfortunate finding is that, of the fatality reports I studied, crashes involving passengers often meant death or serious injury for the passenger regardless of the severity of injury to the rider.

The drivers of the other vehicles involved in collision with the motorcycle are not distinguished from other accident populations except that the ages of 20 to 29, and beyond 65 are over represented. Also, these drivers are generally unfamiliar with motorcycles.

Here again, we are faced with an unpleasant situation. While it’s evident that drivers of all ages can be involved in accidents with motorcyclists, it is also apparent that the older drivers are involved more often in these types of crashes. While it’s unfair and statistically invalid to say that old people kill motorcyclists, at this time existing crash data substantiates Harry Hurts numbers. Additionally, teenage drivers today represent only about seven percent of licensed drivers, but are involved in about fifteen percent of reported crashes, motorcycle or otherwise. It seems age and experience are factors in accident causation.

The large displacement motorcycles are under-represented in accidents but they are associated with higher injury severity when involved in accidents.

One way to decrease injury severity is to decrease speed. It would seem that larger bikes, because they’re heavier and are able go faster more easily, lend themselves to greater injury. The State of Minnesota found the same thing after the speed limits went up a few years ago-more fatalities and greater injury severity. This study was conducted when there were numerous smaller displacement motorcycles available. Today’s marketing experts from the major manufacturers have decided, it seems, that Americans won’t buy street motorcycles smaller than about 500cc. While there are a few bikes available in that range, the 750cc and larger market in sport bikes has exploded (up to the 1300cc Suzuki Hayabusa). Don’t even get me started on the cruiser segment, and it’s rumored that the next Honda Gold Wing is to be fitted with a 1.8-liter engine.

Any effect of motorcycle color on accident involvement is not determinable from these data, but is expected to be insignificant because the frontal surfaces are most often presented to the other vehicle involved in the collision.

Motorcycles equipped with fairings and windshields are under-represented in accidents, most likely because of the contribution to conspicuity and the association with more experienced and trained riders.

With the development of motorcycles with integrated fairings, larger frontal aspects and factory windscreens, this is becoming less significant. The fact remains that most crash hazards approach the rider from the front, the smallest visible aspect of the bike. Most new motorcycles come with, or have available as an option, some type of fairing or windscreen, so these features no longer necessarily reflect the presence of an experienced or trained rider.

Motorcycle riders in these accidents were significantly without motorcycle license, without any license, or with license revoked.

In Minnesota, it’s illegal to ride without an endorsement or instruction permit. The skills necessary to gain a license endorsement are exactly those skills critical to crash avoidance and motorcycle control. Now that the State of Minnesota allows our training program to conduct third party testing of class participants, we have seen an influx of riders who were either too busy to schedule a license exam or unable to pass it with their level of skill. Riders acquiring and renewing their motorcycle permits for years and years (I had a student who rode on a permit for more than 10 years!) or simply riding unlicensed over the years are far more common than I would have thought. These riders are at high risk of incident, not only from the lack of training, but also the attitude that probably accompanies the unendorsed rider.

Motorcycle modifications such as those associated with the semi-chopper or cafe racer are definitely over-represented in accidents.

Changing the basic geometry of your motorcycle will not necessarily make you crash. It will, however, change the handling and performance of your motorcycle. Be aware that even small changes in where your motorcycle’s triple-tree grabs the forks can significantly change handling characteristics. These characteristics may only exhibit themselves at highway speeds, and may result in anything from a low frequency steering wobble to the tankslapper to end all tankslappers.

The likelihood of injury is extremely high in motorcycle accidents; 98% of the multiple vehicle collisions and 96% of the single vehicle accidents resulted in some kind of injury to the motorcycle rider. Forty-five percent resulted in more than a minor injury.

Half of the injuries to the somatic regions were to the ankle-foot, lower leg, knee, and thigh-upper leg.

This makes sense, doesn’t it? Motorcycles, which, by their nature, leave your “cheese in the wind” are likely to result in higher rates of injury when crashed. If half of the injuries are to the legs, where are the other injuries likely to occur?

Crash bars are not an effective injury countermeasure; the reduction of injury to the ankle-foot is balanced by increase of injury to the thigh-upper leg, knee, and lower leg.

Crash bars or case guards are still in use on motorcycles today, and they still don’t help people prevent injury to themselves. They are designed primarily to prevent damage to the engine cases and can help prevent damage to other areas of the bike. As Dr. Hurt posits, the lever action that the bars create simply moves the damage away from the ankle.

The use of heavy boots, jacket, gloves, etc., is effective in preventing or reducing abrasions and lacerations, which are frequent, but rarely severe, injuries.

This is often called ‘road rash,’ and it’s very painful. My understanding is that the worst part is when nurses clean out the wound by scrubbing the ‘rash’ with a brush-like item. Wear the protective gear.

The motorcyclist in at least 13% of the accidents sustained groin injuries. These were typified by multiple vehicle collision in frontal impact at higher than average speed.

Here we see natural selection at work.

Injury severity increases with speed, alcohol involvement and motorcycle size.

This should be next year’s safety slogan. The faster you go, the worse you get hurt in an accident. The alcohol use is, of course, a no-brainer-impairment leads to reduced judgment and increased risk-taking.

Seventy-three percent of the accident-involved motorcycle riders used no eye protection, and it is likely that the wind on the unprotected eyes contributed to impairment of vision, which delayed hazard detection.

In Minnesota, you must now wear eye protection that moves with your head, i.e. glasses or a helmet visor. A windscreen is no longer sufficient to qualify as eye protection. This is a good thing.

Approximately 50% of the motorcycle riders in traffic were using safety helmets but only 40% of the accident-involved motorcycle riders were wearing helmets at the time of the accident.

This would seem to imply that not only do helmeted riders suffer less in accidents; they simply HAVE fewer accidents. This, again, exemplifies the attitude that accompanies the helmet use that’s probably a factor in crash avoidance-the rider that wears the helmet is conscious of his or her safety, and takes other measures to ensure it, as well. These stats were compiled by having a study member stand on a street corner and count the number of riders with and without helmets. I also believe that wearing a helmet can make you more comfortable, and that comfortable riders are better able to carry out hazard detection and avoidance techniques. (We teach those in class, too.)

Voluntary safety helmet use by those accident-involved motorcycle riders was lowest for untrained, uneducated, young motorcycle riders on hot days and short trips.

This seems to make some sense. Riders who are trained tend to be more serious about motorcycling. The young, being invincible AND good looking, don’t use helmets for obvious reasons. Hot weather and short trips, I think, are still the most common reasons why people who would normally wear protective gear choose not to wear it.

The most deadly injuries to the accident victims were injuries to the chest and head.

Hmm…heart and lungs are located in the chest. Brain is located in the head, for most riders. You don’t need a medical degree to figure out the repercussions.

The use of the safety helmet is the single critical factor in the prevention of reduction of head injury; the safety helmet, which complies with FMVSS 218, is a significantly effective injury countermeasure.

Oh, boy! Now we’re into it…helmets prevent injuries. FMVSS 218 is the DOT helmet standard. (You know, the little stickers they sell at the swap meets so you can turn that plastic salad bowl into a ‘legal’ helmet) I’m a big helmet use supporter and hate to see people riding without them, especially those who believe that they will be more seriously injured if they crash while wearing one. Some reasonable (and educated) people still honestly believe that helmets cause neck injuries; the grim reality is that CRASHING causes the neck injuries in question, and the helmet likely even reduces the severity of those. While I’m not a proponent of helmet laws, and hate to see federal mandates on safety issues, I’m certainly a strong believer in wearing helmets. While there are plenty of people who don’t wear helmets for whatever reason, there’s a web site that is against helmet laws and outlines a number of reasons why. It’s an interesting site with plenty of interesting (and annoying) viewpoints. For example, I just read an exchange between the editor of the web site and a Canadian helmet manufacturer in which the writer asks the question “How fast can I be going, roughly, and still survive an impact while wearing one of your helmets?” Needless to say, he wasn’t happy with the answer. There are scientific studies posted to this site that prove that helmet use is deadly. Check it all out and more at

Safety helmet use caused no attenuation of critical traffic sounds, no limitation of pre-crash visual field, and no fatigue or loss of attention; no element of accident causation was related to helmet use. FMVSS 218 provides a high level of protection in traffic accidents, and needs modification only to increase coverage at the back of the head and demonstrate impact protection of the front of full facial coverage helmets, and insure all adult sizes for traffic use are covered by the standard.

Hurt, in this statement, claims that neither visual field nor important traffic noises are diminished to a point where they contributed to a crash. The DOT standard requires a 210-degree field of peripheral vision, while humans, at best, have about 180 degrees of peripheral vision. Also, while sound is certainly attenuated by a half or full-face helmet, including wind and exhaust noise, it is important to note that ALL sounds are reduced by the same amount. That horn honking will be just as audible in relation to the wind noise inside the helmet as it would outside. It’s just that the wind noise won’t be damaging your eardrums in the meantime.

Helmeted riders and passengers showed significantly lower head and neck injury for all types of injury, at all levels of injury severity.

Well, what did you expect on this one? The website I just mentioned claims to have bona fide data which contradicts this. It’s an interesting read, but I’m not buying it.

The increased coverage of the full facial coverage helmet increases protection and significantly reduces face injuries.

For those people who are comfortable wearing a full-faced helmet, the reduction of injuries to the facial area is great. I had a spill while riding a demonstration in a class that I was teaching last year. In addition to the minor injuries I sustained, a large chip was taken out of the chin bar of my helmet. I shudder to think of what could have happened had I been wearing a half helmet or half shell. One of the comment cards I received after the class read as follows:

Q. “What was the most useful thing about this class?”

A. “The demo where I learned I needed a better helmet.”

There is not liability for neck injury by wearing a safety helmet; helmeted riders had fewer neck injuries than unhelmeted riders did. Only four minor injuries were attributable to helmet use, and in each case the helmet prevented possible critical or fatal head injury.

“Helmets cause injuries” is one of the many arguments from the anti-helmet crowd. In Hurt’s study, as indicated, there were only four injuries related to the helmet. Those injuries involved a person wearing the wrong sized helmet and the helmet either sliding forward and crunching his glasses onto his nose, or sliding backwards and scraping the skin of the neck. Either way, it’s worth checking the opposing view, but the truth is that you’re better off with a helmet on your head.

Sixty percent of the motorcyclists were not wearing safety helmets at the time of the accident. Of this group, 26% said they did not wear helmets because they were uncomfortable and inconvenient, and 53% simply had no expectation of accident involvement.

A good friend of mine and a fellow instructor once said to me, “I think most people who say helmets are uncomfortable have never worn one that fits.” He went on to tell about his time as a new rider, with a bike that came with a helmet when he bought it. The helmet was too large and was terribly uncomfortable for him, and thus became a sissy bar decoration. When he finally got around to buying a well fitting helmet and using it regularly, he became a believer.

Valid motorcycle exposure data can be obtained only from collection at the traffic site. Motor vehicle or driver license data presents information, which is completely unrelated to actual use.

This is quite possibly self-aggrandizing behavior by Professor Hurt-possibly laying the path for a future study. It’s basically saying that the only way to derive solid conclusions about motorcycle crashes is to be there when it happens, and that basic motor vehicle demographic data isn’t sufficient.

Less than 10% of the motorcycle riders involved in these accidents had insurance of any kind to provide medical care or replace property.

Again, this is most likely a throwback to the late ’70’s early ’80’s when motorcycle transport was a cheap way of getting to work or school (“cheap” being the operative word.) With motorcycles being more expensive and insurance coverage required by law in most areas, this is less of a concern, as people are protecting their investments with insurance.

It’s interesting to note, however, that many states are offering the choice of helmet use if the rider holds a minimum of $10,000 of medical insurance. I can afford $10,000 of medical insurance, but I still wear a helmet.

There they are, the final conclusions of the Hurt Report. Some of this information may seem obvious, and some of it may seem like it’s of little value. But taken together, I believe that the conclusions form a solid argument for what some people might find obvious: having motorcycle skills is a definite aid in avoiding motorcycle accidents, and when skills fail you, protective gear can reduce the severity of an accident. For an expanded view on this topic, check out Pat Hahn’s article in MMM from May 2000. He writes an interesting article that adds the concept of a good accident avoidance strategy to the mix.

I hope you’ve been able to take something away from this article. Studying the Hurt Report made a big difference in my understanding of motorcycle safety. If reading this article has encouraged you to seek out some quality motorcycle training, the Minnesota Motorcycle Safety Center can be reached at 763-784-1488 or 800-407-6677.

If you’d like to get a copy of the entire Hurt Report, the order information is as follows:

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)

This document is available through: The National Technical Information Service, Springfield, Virginia 22161


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