Motorcycle Helmets & Facial Injuries

Not every jurisdiction has a motorcycle helmet law. Those that have helmet laws are jurisdictions where the lawmakers believe that wearing a helmet should be mandatory because it saves lives and reduces the risk of injuries–particularly facial injuries, closed head traumas, and skull fractures.

Organizations have been studying the relationship between using a helmet and things like hospital charges, length of stay, types of injuries and other variables that can occur as part of a motorcycle accident.

Typical injuries in a motorcycle accident include extremity fractures, rib fractures, spine injuries, maxillofacial injuries and skull fracture or closed head injury without fracture. Many of these injuries can be severe and some can be prevented or reduced in severity by wearing a motorcycle helmet.

In one study, maxillofacial injuries, skull fractures and closed head trauma injuries were less likely to occur if the motorcyclist wore a protective helmet when compared to those who didn’t wear a helmet. Traumatic brain injuries were particularly reduced. In traumatic brain injuries, the brain can be bruised or there can be bleeding in one or more of the layers around the brain. The patient with a traumatic brain injury is likely to be in a coma for a period of time and can have permanent brain damage. Serious cases cause swelling of the brain which can cause brain herniation and death.

Traumatic brain injury patients sustain higher hospital costs, lose more work time and are more likely to become permanently disabled than those who don’t sustain this type of injury. If only to prevent this type of injury, helmets should be worn.

Maxillofacial injuries are prevented by helmets, particularly maxillofacial injuries that are high on the head. They make helmets that protect the mandible, too, but they tend to be worn only by professionals in racing. Maxillofacial injuries can involve the eyes with blow out fractures of the sphenoid bone, nasal bone fractures, fractures of the maxilla or upper jaw and fractures of the mandible or lower jaw. Many of these injuries involve surgery to repair the fractured portions of the bones and some people end up with permanent disfigurement or need to have their jaws wired shut for an extended period of time.

Another study indicated that motorcycle accidents are on the rise and that there needs to be more reliable information as to whether helmets make a difference in the level of injury. There are ongoing debates regarding the mandatory use of helmets and these legislators need information on the helpfulness of wearing a helmet when riding a motorcycle.

This study looked at a seven year window of time at all motorcycle accidents in the National Trauma Data Bank. The study looked primarily at the rate of maxillofacial injuries in people who wore or who didn’t wear a helmet. It was found that helmeted riders of motorcycles were 0.4 times as likely to sustain a facial injury when compared to those who didn’t wear a helmet. This means that these riders were more than half as likely to sustain a facial injury whenever they were helmeted when compared to non-helmeted drivers.