Older Motorcyclists’ Injuries

In the last decade, there has been a significant change in who rides motorcycles. Fewer young people are owning motorcycles, while the number of motorcyclists who are older than 40 years of age has increased substantially. While motorcyclists who are older tend to drive more safely and tend to have less reckless driving, they are still getting into accidents and are suffering more morbidity and mortality when compared to younger people.

Older people in motorcycle accidents have a greater degree of thoracic injuries when compared to the young. They suffer from an increase in multiple rib fractures, collapsed lung, lung contusions and cardiac contusions when compared to young people. They also suffer from more head injuries, such as skull fractures and traumatic brain injury. Pelvic fractures are more common in older people, who also suffer from femur fractures, tibia and fibula fractures and internal injuries to the abdomen.

Statistics have shown that in the last decade there has been a huge increase in mortality among motorcyclists of all ages but especially those who are older than 40 years. One study looked at the severity of injuries, comparing young riders and old riders. They wanted to know if there was a pattern of injuries that yielded greater mortality rates. They wanted to see what rider factors, environmental factors and vehicle factors played a role in the mortality rate among older riders.

They discovered what was noted above: a greater risk of thoracic injuries, multiple rib fractures, cardiac contusions and head injuries in older riders. Because older riders tend to ride larger motorcycles and because they had more collisions with fixed objects, like guardrails, they tend to die in greater numbers. Guardrail accidents are particularly fatal.

Large sized engines are associated with head injuries and thoracic injuries but not so much to abdominal injuries. This was especially true of engine sizes greater than 1000 cc. Older riders tend to ride these types of cycles the most. Older riders were more likely to dump their cycle on the roadway, yielding head injuries and leg or pelvis injuries.

Currently, there are more than 18.9 million licensed drivers of regular vehicles who are over 70 years of age. This will increase to 30 million drivers in just 7 years. The primary traffic problem leading to accidents committed by those drivers who are aged 50 and over involves failing to give another driver the right of way. Improper left turn is another common traffic error. Some of the problem is associated with poor hearing, which affects 20 percent of drivers aged 55 and older.

More than half of all older people are taking medications that could interact with alcohol. The operation of a motorcycle involves visual/perceptual functions along with normal cognitive function and a good attention span. Visual clarity goes down with age, especially starting at age 40. For this reason, motorcycle riders should have periodic ophthalmological examinations to test for visual acuity.

Night vision is particularly bad in the elderly. This makes riding a motorcycle at night especially difficult. The older driver needs four times the light of the young person in order to see. Even peripheral vision gets worse as a motorcyclist ages. All of these visual difficulties can lead to an increase in traffic errors and crashes.

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