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Research & Information:

The Need For Research Table of ContentsHomenhtsa

The Need For Research

Research in Motorcycle Crashes

Conveying Research Information to Users


Research using a common methodology to define the crash-involved and at-risk population is the basis for safety countermeasures. The research that forms the foundation of current countermeasures is based on a study more than 25 years old.

The effectiveness of the concepts discussed in this document requires a foundation of viable and current research in most areas pertaining to motorcycle safety. While there is a substantial body of work relating to motorcycle safety in the United States and abroad, few of these studies, research projects, or statistical reports were done in coordination with one another. This renders an incomplete picture of motorcycle safety. However, budgetary constraints appear to make such smaller-scope studies the most likely source of information in the near future.

Beginning in 1976 and completed in 1981, Motorcycle Accident Cause Factors and Identification of Countermeasures (Hurt, 1981) is the benchmark of motorcycle crash research. The findings of this research provided a comprehensive research base for many aspects of motorcycle safety.

There was a continuous decline in motorcycle crash fatalities from the mid-1980s through 1997. The rates then turned up again in 1998 and 1999 (FARS, 1999). However, without research to investigate the causes of these trends, we are unable to identify which specific countermeasures are effective or meaningful and which ones are not.

From the first meeting of the Technical Working Group that prepared this document, it was apparent that our effectiveness would be limited by a consistent lack of viable, current research in most subjects related to motorcycling safety. Wide-ranging changes in motorcycling and related factors have altered the motorcycling landscape since the publication of Motorcycle Accident Cause Factors and Identification of Countermeasures (referred to as the Hurt Report) so thoroughly that it is mpossible to determine if the findings of past studies are still valid.

There are few contemporary or timely crash facts, and there are few validations for existing countermeasures that demonstrate what motorcyclists are and are not doing safely. Major events that have affected motorcycling safety since the Hurt Report (see Appendix A) include:

• Motorcycle design has evolved so that motorcycle types—sportbikes and cruisers—that did not exist in the ’70s are now the majority of those seen on the streets.

• Motorcycles have increased in cost, engine size, and power; suspension systems have changed drastically, fuel tank design has changed, there are new brake systems, and lights come on automatically when the engine is running.

• Motorcyclists have changed: Currently, the average motorcyclist is 38 years old. In 1980, the average age was 24. Also, more women are riding motorcycles than ever before.

• Mandatory helmet use laws, often with significantly different requirements, have been enacted, repealed—or both—in many states.

• State motorcycle-operator licensing requirements and operator training are generally more stringent and rigorous.

• The motor vehicle population has changed significantly. New vehicle types such as sport utility vehicles (SUVs) that are larger and higher than most automobiles are now commonplace.


The critical questions that need to be answered include:

• Among the many changes affecting motorcycle safety, what factors are responsible for the reduced injuries and fatalities during the late 1980s and early 1990s?

• Why have motorcycle fatalities increased during 1998 and 1999?

• Which problems identified by the Hurt Report still exist, and which are less significant?

• What are the commonalities of successful (i.e., non-crash involved) riders?

• What are the root causes for an automobile driver’s violation of a motorcyclist’s right-of-way?

• Why does alcohol continue to be a significant factor in fatal motorcycle crashes?

• What is the effect of motorcyclist education and training?

• How does highway infrastructure affect motorcycle safety?

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