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Research & Information:

Research in Motorcycle Crashes

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The Need For Research

Research in Motorcycle Crashes

Conveying Research Information to Users

There are varying levels of depth for motorcycle crash investigations. The least detailed crash investigation is the retrospective extraction of data from police reports. This process occurs after the fact and simply selects available data from police investigation reports that may be of interest in motorcycle safety: rider age, license qualification, motorcycle size, insurance coverage, etc. Police traffic collision reporting varies significantly between jurisdictions, which is a formidable obstacle to meaningful state-to-state comparison (Winn, 1997, 1999).

The most detailed level of investigation is the multidisciplinary, on-scene, in-depth investigation (OSIDI) such as the 1981 study of 900 motorcycle crashes entitled, Motorcycle Accident Cause Factors and Identification of Countermeasures (Hurt Report). This study was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (DOT-NHTSA), and conducted in Los Angeles by Harry Hurt of the University of Southern California (USC). The Hurt Report has been used both nationally and internationally as the best source of detailed motorcycle crash data in the development of training, countermeasures, and related questions. Such studies are rare, particularly for the broad spectrum of injury levels possible in motorcycle crashes. On-scene, in-depth investigation provides a level of detailed crash analysis far more valuable than less comprehensive investigations. The data variables that are collected are summarized in Appendix B.


Devising effective countermeasures requires comprehensive research into current causes of motorcycle crashes and defining the motorcycle population at risk.

Motorcycle crash investigations have been carried out not only in the United States (Hurt, 1981) but also in the United Kingdom (Pedder, 1979), Canada (Newman, 1974), Germany, and other countries in Europe (Otte, 1998). While these studies provided useful information, the lack of a common methodology prevents direct comparison between them. For example, Pedder studied fatal crashes exclusively while others looked at different injury levels as well. Injury coding systems differ greatly due to a lack of standardization and differing levels of detail, thus making direct comparisons difficult.

To continue to make progress in motorcycling safety, the motorcycling community must be in a position to know what has happened to affect motorcycle safety and why. The motorcycle safety community needs to know facts about the motorcycle crash situation in current time. What have we done right? Which safety countermeasures have been effective? Which countermeasures are cost-effective, and which have not been utilized that should have?

Defining the Population-at-Risk: Concurrent Exposure Data Collection

How do crash-involved motorcycles and riders compare with those not involved in crashes? The most effective way to know is through the collection of population-at-risk exposure data. Large-scale data sources, such as departments of motor vehicles, can be surveyed and compared with the population-at-risk identified through concurrent exposure data collection. However, exclusive reliance on registration or sales data sources will not define the on-road population-at-risk, due to variability between registrations and actual on-road use.

A comparison group should be motorcycles and riders exposed to the same risk but not involved in a crash. Population-at-risk exposure data were collected as part of the Hurt Report methodology. Those comparisons of crash population and population-at-risk allowed specific analysis of over- and under-representation, and provided the basis for development of countermeasures.

under-representation, and provided the basis for development of countermeasures.

Other studies that attempted to draw conclusions about representation in crashes without collecting exposure data (Kraus, 1988) have been strongly criticized. Others have surveyed the population-at-risk without detailed study of crashes (Kraus, 1994, 1995). It is the collection of both crash data and concurrent exposure data that provides the most meaningful method of analysis and development of countermeasures.

Common Methodology for In-Depth Motorcycle Crash Investigations

An important recent development is the creation of Motorcycles: Common International Methodology for In-Depth Motorcycle Accident Investigation (OECD Common Methodology). This methodology is based on that developed by Hurt and colleagues at USC for the 1981 DOT-NHTSA study. An international Technical Experts Group was organized in 1997 under the International Coordinating Committee of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The objectives of the OECD Common Methodology are to collect on-scene, in-depth data to provide detailed knowledge about all aspects of motorcycle crashes. A detailed listing of objectives is found in Appendix C.

The OECD Common Methodology requires observation of the population-at-risk to coincide with the investigation of the crash population.

The OECD Common Methodology allows flexibility in exposure data collection methods ranging from remote observation to personal interviews with at-risk motorcyclists (see Motorcyclist Attitudes, page 15).

The objectives for exposure data collection are to define:

  • Population-at-risk

  • Traffic characteristics

  • Land use characteristics

  • Vehicle characteristics

  • Historical perspectives

  • Data requirements

  • National representation

  • Application of countermeasures

  • International correlation

The OECD Common Methodology is used in Europe in the Motorcycle Accident In-Depth Study (MAIDS) project which covers five areas in five European countries: France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the Netherlands. The total number of collected crashes should be around 980, and the schedule completion date is the end of 2001. The OECD Common Methodology is also being used in Thailand.

Limited-Scope Studies

Although such large-scale research is the only way to determine many basic factors, there are opportunities to explore certain critical areas of motorcycle safety with smaller-scale studies.

Examples of topics that could be addressed with such studies are how motorcyclists form their attitudes, why other motorists fail to see motorcyclists, what motorcyclists can do to counter this, and which rider training regimens are most effective.

On a wider but less detailed level, development of a standardized police crash report would greatly facilitate data analysis and comparison between states.

Both government and industry have interests in the study of motorcycle safety. The appropriate state and federal government agencies, as well as the motorcycle industry, should share support and leadership for motorcycle safety.


• Immediate action should be taken by government and industry to address the critical questions in motorcycle safety through comprehensive, in-depth studies as well as studies focused on specific topics.

• To better utilize data collected by law enforcement personnel, a uniform traffic crash report for police officers should be developed and deployed. A similar format should also be developed for emergency medical services reports. This will permit meaningful comparisons among jurisdictions. All concerned parties should share the resulting information.

• Mechanisms for building academic and funding capacity for ongoing and future motorcycle safety research should be explored.

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