Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Noted with Sadness

One of the primary missions of this blog is the treatment of motorcycling as an act worthy of serious consideration. I would be utterly remiss in that mission if I did not note with sadness the recent death of Professor Harry Hurt of USC at the age of 81.

Professor Hurt was the author of Motorcycle Accident Cause Factors and Identification of Countermeasures, which came to be known, with no little irony, as "The Hurt Report." This groundbreaking investigation and study of over nine-hundred motorcycle accident scenes, thirty-six-hundred police reports of motorcycle accident, and interviews with over five-hundred motorcyclists laid the foundation for modern motorcycle safety training and practices, and is still considered the bible of motorcycle safety research. Professor Hurt was still regularly holding interviews with motojournalists until shortly before his death, offering his wisdom on the current state of motorcycling—recently noting with concern the rising motorcycle fatality rate brought on by an influx of older novice riders riding bigger bikes—and drinking.

Among the Hurt Report's most significant findings—(blindingly obvious, in hindsight, and Billy Joel be damned)—was that the vast majority of motorcycle accidents occur in good weather, with good conditions and good visibility. Most were caused by the other vehicle failing to yield the right-of-way to a motorcycle because the driver "...just didn't see them," and most motorcyclists involved in accidents were self-taught or learned to ride from other self-taught riders. (This was the era when accident avoidance began and ended with 'laying it down' and hoping for the best).

To say the Hurt Report transformed motorcycling doesn't begin to describe its impact. Later in his career, Professor Hurt ran USC's Head Protection Research Laboratory, continuing his work improving the design and manufacturing of helmets for all types of activities. Recently, there had been discussion of revisiting the original report and performing another round of data collection to evaluate the progress made since 1981, and to identify new areas of concern.

All of us who ride are in the debt of Professor Hurt, who shaped our endeavor in ways we can hardly imagine. Thank you, sir.

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