Professor Hurt was an award-winning author best known in the motorcycling community for conducting a benchmark motorcycle safety research study in 1981 entitled "Volume I: Technical Report, Motorcycle Accident Cause Factors and Identification of Countermeasures, January, 1981 - Final Report." Commonly referred to as the "Hurt Report," the study was widely viewed to be the most comprehensive motorcycle safety study of the 20th century.
In addition to that groundbreaking study, Hurt was the author of dozens of publications in the fields of motorcycle handling, safety, crash analysis, and helmet performance. It was on this basis that Hurt was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2007.
"Harry Hurt was an icon in the motorcycling community, and there's no doubt that his research prevented many motorcycle crashes and saved many lives," said Rob Dingman, AMA president and CEO. "On a personal level, he was such a good friend to so many people. He will be missed greatly, and yet his legacy will live on and inspire all of us to achieve excellence."
Hurt was a lifelong motorcyclist. Born in 1927, he grew up and began riding as a kid in west Texas. His first motorcycle was a worn-out Cushman scooter that he brought back to life. Hurt graduated from Texas A&M University in 1950, and became a Navy pilot during the Korean War. After the war, Hurt loaded up his 1947 Harley-Davidson 61 and headed west for California. He completed a master's degree in aeronautical engineering at the University of Southern California (USC), and soon after he joined the faculty at USC.
The 1970s motorcycle boom led to an increase in crashes, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued a contract to study motorcycle accidents. The USC Traffic Safety Center got the job, and Hurt was the professor responsible for carrying out the study. The study's objectives were to determine the causes of motorcycle crashes, analyze the effectiveness of protective gear, such as safety helmets, and then determine what countermeasures might help prevent crashes or reduce injuries.
Hurt's investigative team, all of whom were experienced motorcyclists, went to motorcycle accident scenes, day or night, for over two years. The team collected exhaustive data on more than 900 motorcycle accidents, and interviewed 2,310 passing motorcyclists and studied 3,600 police reports from the same area. Numerous recommendations flowed from the study regarding protective apparel, riding practices and rider training.
Hurt summed up his advice about motorcycle safety in one sentence: "There is no magic bullet other than getting smart." That perspective led the motorcycling community to focus on the creation of research-based rider training and licensing standards, and making them available in every state. As a result, hundreds of thousands of riders have since benefited directly from Hurt's pioneering work.
"The most satisfying experience for any research scientist is to see public acceptance and wide application of their research results," said Hurt in a 2007 interview with the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame. "We were thrilled that the public and industry so widely accepted and used the 1981 report."
In the same interview, Hurt looked forward to new research that would update the results of his own study.
"As the years passed by without further studies to update the 1981 findings, we were proud that our research was so durable, but it was apparent that current information was needed and the 1981 research was being stretched to the point of desperation," Hurt said. "What are the effects of many years' changes in motorcycle riders, motorcycle design, training and licensing, law enforcement, etc.?"
Hurt received numerous awards for his studies of motorcycle safety. In 1977, the Society of Automotive Engineers cited Hurt with the Outstanding Presentation Award for his "Human Factors in Motorcycle Accidents, 1977." In 1989, he was given the Key Award from the Motorcycle Industry Council. He was named Motorcyclist of the Decade by Motorcyclist magazine in 1989 and in 1997 he was presented with the Chairpersons Award from the National Association of State Motorcycle Safety Administrators.
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 in Hurt's honor at the Head Protection Research Laboratory that he created in Paramount, Calif.
About the American Motorcyclist Association
Since 1924, the AMA has protected the future of motorcycling and promoted the motorcycle lifestyle. AMA members come from all walks of life, and they navigate many different routes on their journey to the same destination: freedom on two wheels. As the world's largest motorcycling rights organization, the AMA advocates for motorcyclists' interests in the halls of local, state and federal government, the committees of international governing organizations, and the court of public opinion. Through member clubs, promoters and partners, the AMA sanctions more motorsports competition and motorcycle recreational events than any other organization in the world. AMA members receive money-saving discounts from dozens of well-known suppliers of motorcycle services, gear and apparel, bike rental, transport, hotel stays and more. Through its Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum, the AMA preserves the heritage of motorcycling for future generations.