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Motorcycle helmet use prevents neck injuries

April 24, 2018 by Steven M. Gursten

Researchers show cervical spine injury and fractures double after motorcycle accidents involving unhelmeted riders; study debunks myth that motorcycle helmet use can cause neck injuries

Motorcycle helmet use results in fewer post-crash neck injuries and fractures

I never knew before I started doing my own focus groups in motorcycle accident injury cases that many people believe, erroneously, that helmet use can cause neck injuries. This urban legend has also been used by groups that lobby to repeal state motorcycle helmet laws.

But researchers have again provided more compelling proof of why helmet use makes motorcyclists safer when a motorcycle accident occurs. This latest study should finally debunk the persistent myth that “helmet use is associated with a higher likelihood of cervical spine injury (CSI).”

Significantly, the authors of the study, “Motorcycle helmets and cervical spine injuries: a 5-year experience at a Level 1 trauma center,” which was conducted by researchers at the University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics in Madison, concluded:

  • “The results of this study demonstrate a statistically significant lower likelihood of suffering a CSI among helmeted motorcyclists.”
  • “Unhelmeted riders sustained a statistically significant higher number of vertebral fractures and ligamentous injuries.”
  • “The study findings reported here confirm the authors’ hypothesis that helmet use does not increase the risk of developing a cervical spine fracture and may provide some protective advantage.”

Specifically, the March 2018 study’s findings – which were published in the Journal of Neurosurgery – included:

  • Cervical spine injuries occur more than twice as often with unhelmeted motorcyclists as they do with motorcyclists wearing helmets.
  • Cervical spine fractures are more than twice as common among riders without helmets as with helmeted motorcyclists.
  • Motorcyclists not wearing helmets suffered ligamentous injuries at more than twice the rate of riders wearing helmets.

As a motorcycle accident attorney who has long advocated for helmet use – and who opposed the reckless and irresponsible repeal of Michigan’s life-saving motorcycle helmet law – I gladly welcome the results of this new and important study.

Riding without a helmet is legal in Michigan, of course, but just because you can doesn’t mean that you should.

Hopefully, the study’s results will reinforce the wisdom of helmet use for those motorcyclists who continue to ride with a helmet; change the minds of those who have opted to ride unhelmeted; and open the eyes of lawmakers to the dangers they’ve created by getting rid of Michigan’s helmet law.

What were the findings of the helmet use study in a motorcycle injury accident?

Here are the specific findings about the likelihood of certain serious personal injuries as suffered by motorcyclists wearing and not wearing helmets when a crash occurs:

  • “Cervical spine injury occurred in [15.4% of] unhelmeted riders … compared with only [7.4% of] helmeted riders …”
  • “In the unhelmeted group, 10.8% of patients were found to have a cervical spine fracture compared with only 4.6% of patients in the helmeted group …”
  • “[L]igamentous injury occurred more frequently in unhelmeted riders (1.9% vs 0.3% [among motorcyclists wearing helmets].”

Does motorcycle helmet use save lives, prevent traumatic brain injury?

Yes, it does.

In its March 6, 2018, article, “Helmet use associated with reduced risk of cervical spine injury during motorcycle crashes,” Science Daily reports:

“According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates, wearing helmets saved the lives of 1859 motorcycle riders in 2016; an additional 802 lives could have been saved if every motorcyclist had worn them. Wearing a helmet decreases the incidence and severity of traumatic brain injury during crashes.”

What was the purpose of the helmet use study?

The abstract from the Journal of Neurosurgery explained the study’s purpose as follows:

“Motorcycle helmets have been shown to decrease the incidence and severity of traumatic brain injury due to motorcycle crashes. Despite this proven efficacy, some previous reports and speculation suggest that helmet use is associated with a higher likelihood of cervical spine injury (CSI). In this study, the authors examine 1061 cases of motorcycle crash victims who were treated during a 5-year period at a Level 1 trauma center to investigate the association of helmet use with the incidence and severity of CSI. The authors hypothesized that wearing a motorcycle helmet during a motorcycle crash is not associated with an increased risk of CSI and may provide some protective advantage to the wearer.”

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