As California personal injury attorneys, we know that head injuries are among the most tragic outcomes of motorcycle accidents. Half of all deaths in motorcycle accidents are caused by head injuries. When riders survive the crash, impacts to the head often produce traumatic brain injuries, leaving accident victims with permanent disabilities.
Motorcycle riders are particularly susceptible to brain injuries. Car drivers are protected by a caged environment, “crumple zones,” and airbags that minimize head injuries in most low-to-moderate speed collisions. Motorcycle riders have no such protection. An impact between the rider’s head and the ground or another vehicle is nearly inevitable when a motorcycle crashes.
The best protection that California motorcyclists have against a traumatic brain injury is a motorcycle helmet. Wearing a helmet is necessary to comply with California law, but helmets are also insurance against a serious head injury.
Crash protection and motorcycle helmets
Helmet laws are not always popular with motorcycle riders. It is understandable that many riders enjoy the sense of freedom they get when they ride without a helmet. As personal injury lawyers, however, we urge riders to put safety first. The simple fact is, helmets save lives.
Motorcycle helmets do not assure that riders will survive a crash. They do not protect against foot and leg injuries, which are the most common results of motorcycle crashes. Nor do they prevent every head injury. Nevertheless, the CDC reports that helmet use “consistently has been shown to reduce motorcycle crash–related injuries and deaths.” A 2016 study found that not wearing a helmet increased the risk of traumatic brain injuries, as well as head and facial injuries.
A comprehensive review of studies, published in 2010 in the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery, offers convincing data that head injuries and deaths in motorcycle crashes decline when states enact helmet laws and increase when states repeal those laws. Of course, different states have different accident rates. Since conditions other than helmet laws could account for differing rates of head injuries, two studies included in the 2010 review attempted to control for a variety of factors, including speed limits, weather conditions, population density, average incomes, average rates of alcohol consumption, age of riders, the nature of the state’s helmet law, and a number of other factors. Even after all those factors were taken into account, riders in states with helmet laws were less likely to suffer serious or fatal head injuries than those in states that had no mandatory helmet laws.
Another study found that motorcycle crash victims who were not wearing helmets were more than four times as likely to have head injuries and ten times as likely to have brain injuries when compared to crash victims who were wearing helmets. The study also confirmed the importance of wearing the helmet property. A loosely fastened helmet doubles the risk of a brain injury as compared to a tightly fastened helmet. In addition, helmets with full-face coverage reduce the risk not just of facial injuries, but of brain injuries, when compared to half-coverage helmets.
Motorcycle helmet design continues to improve. The best helmets on the market today offer significantly more crash protection than those that were sold ten or twenty years ago. If you are using an older helmet, it’s time to upgrade.
In addition to being more crashworthy, some of the newest helmets are incorporating impressive technology that may help riders avoid accidents. A recent innovation, integrated into helmets or available as an “add on,” is a 180-degree rearview camera that allows the rider to see approaching and passing vehicles on a faceplate display. The idea is to make blind spots — always a nemesis for motorcycle riders — a problem of the past.
In the near future, helmets are expected to feature heads-up displays that allow a driver to see important information (such as the bike’s speed and tire pressure) displayed on the faceplate, so the rider’s eyes can stay on the road. Hazard warnings and voice-controlled GPS should also be available as faceplate displays within the next few years.
Helmet technology will never replace safe and sober riding as the best strategy to avoid motorcycle crash head injuries. Still, we urge motorcycle riders to do everything they can to minimize their chance of needing a California personal injury lawyer.