Helmets & Motorcycle Accidents

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October 17, 2012
Edward Smith

Helmets are required in some localities but not in others. In California, all motorcyclists must wear helmets. Motorcyclists account for only 2 percent of all registered drivers but account for 9 percent of all fatalities on the road, even though they drive 0.4 percent of all miles traveled. Fatalities are going up, partly because fewer drivers are wearing helmets. Over a ten year period from 1997 to 2006, the fatality rate for motorcyclists increased by 127 percent. During this same time, helmet laws have been repealed and helmet use has dropped from 71 percent to 58 percent across the nation.

Helmets primarily protect riders from closed head injuries. In one study, the rate of closed head injury and death was markedly diminished when riders wore helmets. On the other hand, wearing a helmet did not seem to influence the rate of neck and thoracic (chest) injuries. When it comes to fatalities, 65 percent of fatalities came from non-helmeted riders in states without rider helmet laws. In states with helmet rider laws, only 13 percent of fatalities were from those who didn’t ride with a helmet. When equaled mile per mile, motorcyclists were 21 times times as likely as passengers in automobiles to die in a traffic crash. They are four times as likely to be injured than are passenger car occupants.

Speeding was a factor in 36 percent of fatal motorcycle crashes, which is twice the rate of those driving passenger trucks. Alcohol was a factor 40 percent more of the time when compared to four-wheeled vehicles.

The major injuries seen in motorcycle fatalities include closed head trauma. This involves bleeding and contusions in and around the brain. These can require surgical decompression or can be treated conservatively, using medications to decrease brain swelling. Wearing a helmet is 67 percent effective in the prevention of brain injuries due to motorcycle accidents and deaths are reduced by 29 percent.

Other head and neck injuries that are less likely include facial trauma/fractures, cervical fractures and thoracic injuries. Cervical fractures are likely to lead to damage to the cervical spine and quadriplegia. Thoracic injuries include rib fractures, clavicle fractures (common) and scapular injuries (less common).

The use of helmets approaches 100 percent in those locales that ask that all motorcyclists and passengers wear a helmet. Those locales that do not have a helmet law have between a 34 percent and a 54 percent usage rate of helmets. It is estimated that approximately 1158 motorcyclist’s lives yearly are saved through the use of a helmet. The cost of the hospital stay for those who had serious head injuries from unprotected accident is about $43,000 as opposed to only $15,500 for those treated with mild head injury as would be seen in a helmeted individual.