Not wearing a helmet is dangerous if there’s no state helmet law where you ride; head injuries doubled after Michigan relaxed its helmet law.
One of the appeals of motorcycle riding is the feeling of freedom as you travel close to the elements. And when motorcycle helmet laws are eased, as the Michigan helmet law was relaxed in 2012, it’s tempting to leave your helmet at home while you whiz down the road with your hair blowing in the breeze.
In fact, that’s what a lot of motorcyclists do. Up to a third of motorcycle riders don’t wear their protective headgear, especially in states without laws requiring helmets – and that puts their health, and even their lives, at risk.
Wearing a motorcycle helmet reduces your chance of dying in a motorcycle accident by about 40 percent and slashes the risk of a head injury by about 70 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Of course, many motorcycle riders insist wearing or not wearing a helmet is an issue of personal freedom. This debate resulted in the state’s relaxed Michigan helmet law. Michigan repealed its universal motorcycle helmet law in 2012 in favor of a new law allowing people to ride without motorcycle helmets if they are over 21, have training and experience riding motorcycles, and have proof of insurance coverage.
Michigan State University researchers investigated motorcycle injuries for three year before the motorcycle law changed, and three years after the relaxed Michigan motorcycle helmet law went into effect. In all, the research team included a total of 4,643 motorcycle trauma patients treated at 29 Michigan trauma centers.
The results of the study, published in the American Society of Plastic Surgeon’s Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery journal, showed skull fractures and other head and facial injuries from motorcycle trauma in Michigan increased dramatically after the relaxed state helmet law was enacted.
The number of motorcycle trauma patients who were injured while riding without helmets more than doubled, soaring from 20 to 44 percent. Those not wearing helmets were almost twice as likely to sustain craniomaxillofacial injuries — damage to the soft tissue, skull, and other bones in the face, head, and neck. Fractured cheekbones and lacerated faces were especially common. People hurt in motorcycle accidents while not wearing helmets were also more likely to have far more severe injuries than motorcyclists who crashed but were wearing helmets.
"Our study demonstrates the negative impact of weakened motorcycle helmet laws leading to decreased helmet use," said plastic surgeon Nicholas S. Adams, MD, of Michigan State University’s College of Human Medicine and Spectrum Health.
According to their findings, Adams and colleagues estimate wearing a motorcycle helmet can decrease the risk of facial trauma by half. And if motorcycle helmet laws required all riders to wear helmets, facial injuries would decrease by more than 30 percent.
“The findings suggest that higher numbers of craniomaxillofacial injuries can be added to increased deaths, serious injuries, and healthcare costs when motorcyclists ride without helmets,” Adams said. "We urge state and national legislators to reestablish universal motorcycle helmet laws."
Motorcycle injuries resulting from not wearing helmets not only cause personal suffering but also have an economic impact due to healthcare costs and lost productivity. The U.S. could save more than a billion dollars annually if all motorcyclists wore helmets, according to CDC research.
“For motorcycle safety, the research shows that universal helmet laws are the most effective way to reduce the number of deaths and traumatic brain injuries that result from crashes.” said public health specialist Thomas Frieden, MD, former CDC director.
Only 19 states have a universal helmet law, plus the District of Columbia, requiring all motorcyclists to wear helmets. Twenty-eight states have helmet laws applying only to some motorcyclists (based on age and other factors), and three states have no helmet law at all (Illinois, New Hampshire, and Iowa), according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
August 23, 2017
Janet O’Dell, RN