Role of Helmets in Protecting Riders during Motorcycle Accidents

HelmetThe National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, based on 2014 fatal crash information, states that a motorcyclist is 27 times more likely to die in a traffic accident than other motorists. If you have an accident while riding a motorcycle, wearing a helmet reduces the risk you'll die or suffer serious injuries.

Head Injuries

According to the Skilled Motorcyclist Association, helmets reduce the risk of death by 42 percent and head injury by 69 percent in accidents. There's a risk of a skull fracture in a motorcycle accident, but brain injuries can occur in the absence of skull fractures. Injury to the brain can result if a part of the brain is distorted, or the brain contacts the skull. This can be caused by an impact to the skull or violent movement of the head.

Helmet Protection

Four components of a helmet protect the motorcyclist in an accident:

  • The outer shell, made of fiber-reinforced composites, compresses when the helmet is hit by a hard object, such as the pavement. This softens the blow before it reaches your head.
  • The impact-absorbing liner, located inside the outer shell, cushions the blow.
  • The comfort padding, a layer of foam and cloth, keeps your head comfortable and the helmet tight on your head.
  • The chin strap keeps the helmet from coming off during an accident.

Motorcycle Helmet Myths

Studies have debunked common myths and misconceptions about helmets. You may have heard that helmets cause neck or spinal cord injuries. A 2011 study from John Hopkins University School of Medicine showed helmet use decreased the risk of cervical spine injuries.

Some people say that helmets reduce a motorcyclist's peripheral vision. Normal peripheral vision is about 180 degrees. Under federal safety regulations, helmets must provide 210 degrees of peripheral vision. Over 90 percent of motorcycle accidents occur within a range of 160 degrees.

You may have heard a helmet prevents the motorcyclist from hearing sirens or horns. A University of Southern California study (the Hurt Study) investigated 900 motorcycle crash scenes and uncovered none in which a motorcyclist could not detect a critical sound.

Choosing Your Helmet

When choosing a helmet, make sure it meets federal safety standards. Look for a DOT and/or Snell sticker on the inside or outside of the helmet. The sticker indicates the helmet meets the standards of the U.S. Department of Transportation and/or the Snell Memorial Foundation. Each organization tests helmets for shock absorbing capacity, the ability to withstand a blow from a sharp object, and the degree of peripheral vision.

A full-faced helmet gives the motorcyclist extra protection. In addition to covering most of the face, the full-face helmet has a moveable shield to protect the eyes. With a three-quarter, open face helmet, you don't get the face and chin protection of the full-face helmet. You should wear goggles for eye protection. A half-shell (shorty) helmet offers less protection for your head and is more likely to come off during a crash.

Wear your helmet even for short trips. Most states require the use of a helmet, and you're more likely to survive a motorcycle accident or escape with less severe injuries.

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