Harry Hurt, 81

Harry Hurt, 81; leading expert on motorcycle crashes

Harry Hurt was the principal investigator of the Hurt Report, which lead to national and international changes in motorcycle safety.
Harry Hurt was the principal investigator of the Hurt Report, which lead to national and international changes in motorcycle safety. (Don Kelsen/los Angeles Times)
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By Susan Carpenter
Thursday, December 3, 2009

Harry Hurt, 81, one of the world's foremost authorities on motorcycle crashes and their causes, died Nov. 29 at a hospital in Pomona, Calif. He had a heart attack after back surgery.

Mr. Hurt was the principal investigator of the Hurt Report, an investigation of 900 motorcycle accidents in Los Angeles in 1976 and 1977. His research, published in 1981, continues to form the basis of many U.S. motorcycle safety programs and is credited with saving countless lives.

Mr. Hurt was a professor of safety science at the University of Southern California in the school's Traffic Safety Center in the early 1970s, when about 10 percent of U.S. highway traffic fatalities were attributed to motorcycle accidents. In 1975, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration asked Mr. Hurt and the university to develop an accident investigation methodology and study that would determine the causes of motorcycle crashes and injuries.

Among the study's major findings were that speed was not a factor in most crashes; that helmets were effective in preventing brain injuries and deaths; and that two-thirds of motorcycle crashes involved cars and two-thirds of those accidents occurred when a car driver failed to see the motorcycle and violated the motorcyclist's right of way.

"Harry was the acknowledged giant in motorcycle accident research," said Jim Ouellet, one of the accident investigators for the Motorcycle Accident Cause Factors and Identification of Countermeasures study, better known as the Hurt Report.

"Similar studies since 1990 reflect his influence and have largely confirmed his findings," Ouellet added. "He was a bulldog at finding the facts and making them public even if some people were unhappy when the facts he reported didn't support their pet theories."

Mr. Hurt, a longtime motorcyclist, never had a crash, said his wife, Joan. Mr. Hurt rode "a garage full of things: Hondas, Triumphs, Nortons, dirt bikes, street bikes, all kinds of stuff," said his eldest son Harry Hurt III. He used a Suzuki trail bike to walk his pet, Gurl Dawg, as recently as a decade ago, when he was no longer able to ride.

Hugh Harrison Hurt, the only child of a banker, was born Dec. 13, 1927, in Big Spring, Tex. He grew up building and flying model airplanes. He joined the U.S. Navy toward the end of World War II, learned to fly and became a commissioned officer, but the war was over so he never flew in combat.

He met his future wife, Joan Beene, while serving in the Navy, and they married in 1950, the same year he graduated from the Agriculture and Mechanical College of Texas (now Texas A&M University), where he received a bachelor's degree in aeronautical engineering.

He received a master's degree in aeronautical engineering from the University of Southern California.

As a graduate student, Mr. Hurt was involved in a project to develop a crash helmet that provided the basis for helmets used today: a hard exterior shell lined with an energy-absorbing material and soft inner padding.

Mr. Hurt's expertise in vehicular safety began with aviation. He wrote "Aerodynamics for Naval Aviators," a flight-training textbook that, 44 years after its initial publication, remains in print and is still standard reading for aviators.

It was after joining the USC faculty and heading the engineering section of its safety division that he branched into motor vehicle safety research, developing and teaching courses in accident investigation and analysis and accident reconstruction.

In addition to his wife and eldest son, Mr. Hurt is survived by four other children and 10 grandchildren.

-- Los Angeles Times


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