Motorcycle accidents are a common cause of traumatic brain injuries. The number of riders suffering traumatic brain injuries has increased as states have repealed universal helmet laws requiring all riders to wear protective headgear. Of course, any motorcyclist can suffer a traumatic brain injury, whether or not they’re wearing a helmet. But riders not wearing helmets are at much greater risk of suffering traumatic brain injuries.
Unfortunately, many drivers of cars and trucks are not alert for oncoming motorcycles. All experienced bikers know this. This puts motorcyclists at a far greater risk of a collision and of suffering brain injury or death in an accident. When you are on a motorcycle, there are no airbags and no safety belts. There is nothing standing between you and the pavement passing beneath your wheels. A helmet is the best protection available.
How Common Are Motorcycle Accidents and Serious Injuries?
A report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) analyzed the connection between motorcycle helmet use and head injuries based on more than 100,000 motorcyclists involved in crashes in 18 states. Approximately 57 percent of the riders were wearing helmets and 43 percent were not wearing helmets at the time of the motorcycle accident. Unhelmeted riders suffered nearly twice the percentage of head and facial injuries as those wearing helmets, the researchers found.
The researchers noted that 21 percent of the riders not wearing helmets suffered traumatic brain injury compared to 15 percent of those wearing helmets. The severity of the brain injury also correlated with helmet use. Seven percent of bikers not wearing helmets suffered severe traumatic brain injury in a motorcycle accident, while 4.7 of the riders wearing helmets had a severe TBI.
While some motorcyclists are adamant about their right to choose whether to wear a helmet, there is compelling evidence that helmets improve a rider’s odds of surviving a collision with less severe injuries.
A traumatic brain injury has a profound effect on a cyclist’s ultimate recovery. Hospital charges for those with a TBI were 13 times higher than for those who didn’t suffer such an injury. Further, those with a TBI were far less likely to be discharged home from the hospital. Riders with brain injuries are much more likely to require ongoing medical care and to be transferred to a rehabilitation center or nursing home. Finally, those with such brain injuries are more likely to die. Only diagnosed in 17 percent of hospital-admitted motorcycle accident victims, TBI sufferers accounted for 54 percent of accident fatalities.
Many States Have Partial Helmet Laws, Reducing Compliance
In the 1960s, the federal government encouraged states to enact universal motorcycle helmet laws requiring all riders to wear helmets by making certain kinds of federal aid available only to states that had helmet laws in place. In states that institute universal helmet laws, the rate of motorcycle fatalities and brain injuries typically drops, according to Consumer Reports. When such laws are repealed, the rates climb again.
In 1976, Congress stopped the U.S. Department of Transportation from penalizing states that did not have universal helmet laws, and state lawmakers began weakening or repealing the helmet laws.
Only 19 states in the U.S. have universal helmet laws. Twenty-eight states have partial laws requiring some motorcyclists to wear helmets. Oklahoma, for example, has a partial helmet law, requiring riders age 17 and younger to wear helmets. The NHTSA has found that in states with partial helmet laws, there is a lower compliance rate with the helmet law because of the difficulty police have in determining who is underage. Less than 40 percent of minors involved in fatal accidents were wearing helmets, the NHTSA said.
As a motorcycle accident lawyer may tell you, if you’re not wearing a helmet, an insurance company will argue that you contributed in part to your own injury even if the accident wasn’t your fault. You may have more difficulty collecting compensation to pay your medical bills.
For some motorcyclists, helmets are uncomfortable or seem a distraction. But when faced with the alternative, it seems to be an easy decision to make.