Obituary: Hugh H. "Harry" Hurt

Harry Hurt, author of the pioneering "Volume 1: Technical Report, Motorcycle Accident Cause Factors and Identification of Countermeasures, January 1981 – Final Report"—better known in motorcycle circles as the "Hurt Report"—died of a heart attack on November 29th, in Pomona, California.

Every motorcyclist riding today owes a debt of gratitude to Hurt, who has perhaps done more than anyone to make motorcycling a safer activity. Nearly every motorcycle safety program in the United States is based on Hurt’s groundbreaking findings, and the non-profit Head Protection Research Laboratory that Hurt founded (and that he continued to supervise until the time of his death) has had an immeasurable impact on improving motorcycle helmet safety.

Educated as an aeronautical engineer, Hurt first became interested in safety as a graduate student at the University of Southern California in the mid-1950s. There he was involved in a program to develop a hard-shell crash helmet with an energy-absorbing liner—one of the first of this type. After graduation, Hurt joined the USC faculty in the field vehicle safety research and accident analysis.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration contacted Hurt in 1975 to spearhead a study of motorcycle accidents, a project that culminated with the publication of the Hurt Report. At that time, roughly 10 percent of all US highway fatalities were motorcycle accidents. Hurt and his team collected data on more than 900 motorcycle accidents, interviewed 2,310 motorcyclists, and studied 3,600 police reports. Among the primary conclusions of his report were that speed was not a factor in most crashes, that cars were involved in two-thirds of all motorcycles and two-thirds of those accidents occurred when the car driver failed to see the motorcyclist, and that helmets were very effective in preventing brain injury and death.

Hurt, who started riding motorcycles as a youth in Big Spring, Texas, and continued to ride until ten years ago, when riding became physically impossible, is said to have never had an accident.

Widely recognized for his contributions to motorcycle safety, Hurt was elected to the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2007. He was also recognized with an Outstanding Presentation Award from the Society of Automotive Engineers, a Key Award from the Motorcycle Industry Council and the Chairperson’s Award from the National Association of State Motorcycle Safety Administrators. Hurt was named Motorcyclist of the Decade by Motorcyclist magazine in 1989.

Hurt is survived by his wife Joan; sons Harry and John; three daughters, Julie, Vivien and Vera; and 10 grandchildren. A remembrance will be held in January at the Head Protection Research Lab.

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