The “Hurt Study” is the most frequently cited reference point for motorcycle accidents. Harry Hurt published this epic tome in 1981 after closely examining almost every aspect of some 900 motorcycle crashes in the Los Angeles area as well as reviewing an additional 3600 traffic reports.
Hurt’s numerous findings can be found through an easy internet search for “Hurt Report” and the full report, several hundred pages, can be purchased from the federal government. A key finding was that 75% of crashes involving motorcycles involved one or more other vehicles. In two out of three of those crashes, the OTHER vehicle violated the motorcycle operator’s right of way and caused the crash. This means the non-motorcycle operator was at fault two-thirds of the time.
It is in these cases where law, medicine, insurance and insurance companies, lawyers and motorcycles often intersect.
If I took a phone call on a claim involving injuries caused by a 1981 motorcycle crash, the Hurt study suggests the odds are in favor of the motorcycle operator being without fault. Hurt tells me that weather, component failure and roadway defects are likely NOT involved as they each contribute to less than 1 or 2% of all crashes. Hurt also tells me that the motorcycle rider was likely close to home at the time of the crash and was likely involved in a short trip relating to shopping, errands and the like.
What if my injured motorcyclist/caller is from Ohio? How do the numbers shake out in Ohio? The 2004 Ohio CRASH FACTS, published by the Ohio Department of Transportation, show an interesting trend in motorcycle accidents which is being duplicated throughout the country. Crashes are increasing. In 2000, there were 3,520 motorcycle crashes noted. In 2004, ODOT noted 4,161 crashes. Motorcycle deaths and injuries have also increased. 120 riders died in 2000, and 133 died in 2004. There were 3,011 injuries in 2000 and 3,543 in 2004.
What else is the state of Ohio reporting about motorcycle crashes? Of the 4,161 crashes in 2004, ODOT reports that the motorcyclist was at fault for an incredible 54.4% of the injuries and death. Non-motorcycle operators were deemed “at fault” in only 32.6% of the crashes while pedestrians [0.2%], animals [5.5%] and “not determined/not stated” [7.3%] make up the rest. Now, we can argue all day over whether the determination of who was truly “at fault” was fairly and accurately assessed. Nonetheless, that number is out there and published and it only serves to tarnish the image of motorcycle operators.
Was Hurt wrong? Have things changed since 1981? Are motorcycle operators less careful today than they were in 1981? Well, in one regard riders are certainly more careful. In 1981 there were 4,963 crashes, compared to 4,161 in 2004. A long lens look at the numbers is revealing. Motorcycle crashes in Ohio peaked in 1980 with a total of 5,194 crashes. The numbers show a general downward trend through the 1980’s and 1990’s, with a low of 2,160 in 1997. Since 1997, the number of Ohio motorcycle crashes has increased dramatically each year.
Another troubling trend is the fact that the number of crashes “per 100,000 registered users” is also going up. If the increase in crashes could be blamed on the fact that more vehicles are out there, that might be understandable. In fact, in the 1980’s and 1990’s when the number of crashes was decreasing, this rate “per 100,000” actually went DOWN from a high of 91.22/100,000 bikes in 1980 to a low of 56.20/100,000 bikes in 1996. The fact that crashes are on the rise and number of crashes per 100,000 registered bikes is up means more and more riders are crashing, getting hurt and getting killed.
Hurt found that some 25% of all motorcycle accidents were single vehicle accidents – think of that – one out of four crashes did not involve another vehicle at all. This means the motorcycle operator lost control, for some reason, and crashed. The Ohio numbers are more staggering – Crash Facts indicates that 61 of the167 motorcyclists killed in 2004 died in single vehicle crashes.
So what “reasons” did Hurt find to be compelling? Well, his research revealed that two out of every three single vehicle crashes were caused by rider error! 2004 Crash Facts, as noted above, put that figure over 50%.
Some argue the failure of motorcycle riders to be appropriately trained is a key factor in this rise of motorcycle accidents, injuries and deaths. The MSF classes and other “driver’s ed” classes provide invaluable assistance to even the most experienced riders. As I watch my 16 year feel his way around the road in my little car, I am reminded of how many folks buy a big bike and THEN learn to ride. Is this a contributor to higher accident rates? Only time and more money and research will tell. However, another indicator of this factor may well be the fact that the average age of those injured or killed in motorcycle crashes is also climbing! Research in this area will be the basis of a future column here.
Another factor is the obvious fact that many of today’s riders, present company included, are starting [or resuming] their riding later in life – a time when they can afford to buy the big, fast cool bikes on the market today. Getting into dad’s Honda Accord at age 16 and driving around town is a LONG way away from a new motorcyclist hopping onto a BMW K1200S and realizing as he approaches a curve that a three digit speed number won’t cut it!
The NHSTA recently released their predicted figures for last year… their Headline? “Motorcycle Fatalities Are Projected To Increase for the EIGHTH Year in a
Row – More than a ONE HUNDRED PERCENT Increase Since 1997”
Let’s be careful out there!
GOOD LUCK & GOOD RIDING!