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What Motorcyclists Need to Understand About Motorcycle Accidents and Helmet Use

Regardless of the caution and attentiveness exhibited by a motorcyclist, unsafe and distracted drivers pose a significant threat to the safety of those navigating the streets, highways, and interstates. The federal government estimates that motorcycle riders are 28 times more likely to die in a crash than passenger vehicle occupants based on a per mile […]

What motorcyclists need to understand about motorcycle accidents and helmet use

Motorcycle accidents and helmet use

Regardless of the caution and attentiveness exhibited by a motorcyclist, unsafe and distracted drivers pose a significant threat to the safety of those navigating the streets, highways, and interstates. The federal government estimates that motorcycle riders are 28 times more likely to die in a crash than passenger vehicle occupants based on a per mile traveled basis.  Bikers do not benefit from the protective features of a passenger car, such as reinforced, enclosed passenger compartments, safety restraint systems, airbags, and more.

Automobile drivers also have a harder time seeing motorcycles due to their relatively small size, which allows bikes to fit in spaces where a motorist might not anticipate a biker.  When these factors are taken together with the limited stability of a two-wheeled vehicle, use of a helmet becomes important because of the heightened risk of a rider being involved in a collision and the tendency to suffer more serious injury than occupants of passenger vehicles.

Do Motorcycle Helmets Offer Significant Safety Benefits?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that motorcycle helmets prevented the deaths of over 1,859 riders in 2016.  The agency also indicates that another 802 deaths could have been prevented if all riders wore helmets.  Motorcyclists face both a higher risk of being involved in an accident and more severe injuries when a collision occurs.  Properly approved helmets are 67 percent effective in preventing head injuries and 37 percent effective in preventing traumatic brain injuries.  The vital role of an approved motorcycle helmet that complies with DOT safety standards is reflected in the fact that head injuries constitute the leading cause of disabilities and fatalities in motorcycle accidents.

Survivors of brain injuries incurred in motorcycle accidents often incur permanent impairments.  Severe traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) can cause a motorcyclist slip into a coma that lasts for days, weeks, or even longer.  The physical limitations caused by a brain injury can mean permanent loss of basic functions.  Motorcycle accident victims who suffer severe long-term physical impairments often also experience depression and mental impairment. Failure to wear a motorcycle helmet also could result in the need for lifelong supportive care.

Debunking the Claim That Helmets Increase the Risk of a Motorcycle Accident by Obstructing the Vision and Hearing of Riders

While the notion that motorcycle helmets effectively protect the brain during a motorcycle collision is widely accepted, some people have contended that helmets increase the risk of an accident by limiting vision and hearing.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) conducted a study to evaluate the relationship between helmet use and rider perception of sight and sound.  With respect to vision, the researchers found that riders naturally compensate for any lost field of vision by turning their head slightly further when scanning the adjacent lane prior to a lane change.  This slight increase in the distance a rider turned his or her head did not lead to any significant increase in the time it took to check the adjacent lane prior to executing the lane change.  The study also revealed no appreciable difference in hearing.

Can Motorcycle Helmets Intensify a Neck or Back Injury?

Although some motorcycle enthusiasts worry that a motorcycle helmet can increase injury to the neck and spine, a recent study debunks this as a myth.  A recent 5-year study conducted by researchers at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health analyzed 1064 motorcycle accident victims at a Level 1 Trauma Center.  The study revealed that motorcycle helmets decrease the risk and/or severity of injury to the spine or neck.  Individuals who were wearing a helmet experienced a significantly lower number of cervical spine fractures (4.3 percent) compared to riders with no helmet (10.8 percent).

Why the Best Motorcycle Accident Lawyers Advise Clients to Wear a Helmet?

The most important reason to wear a helmet is to reduce the risk of a catastrophic brain injury or wrongful death, but Motorcycle Accident Attorneys also have another interest in promoting helmet use.  The decision not to wear a motorcycle helmet can negatively impact a motorcycle accident claim. However, helmet use usually will only be relevant if a motorcycle rider experiences injury to the head and/or face.

Novelty “Helmets” Do Not Provide Adequate Protection

Novelty motorcycle helmets do not meet the minimum safety standards established by the DOT.  These helmets tend to emphasize aesthetics over safety.  Along with the increased risk of suffering a debilitating brain injury, novelty helmets could compromise your recovery in a motorcycle accident settlement or lawsuit.  The failure to wear a helmet that meets minimum safety standards might lead to the at-fault party claiming you are partially to blame for your own injuries, which could lead to a reduction in your recovery.  However, this claim by the other party only becomes relevant if a helmet could have reduced the severity of your injuries. For example, your damage award might be reduced based on comparative negligence if you suffer a brain injury but not a broken leg.

If you have been injured in a motorcycle accident, our law firm investigates the facts of our clients’ accidents, negotiations with the other party’s insurance company, and works diligently to obtain the best possible recovery. Our personal injury lawyers serve the needs of injured bikers, so contact Parker Waichman LLP to learn how we can help.


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