Motorcycle Helmet Safety - Prevent Brain Injury
Helmets. Many motorcyclists don’t like wearing them. They’re heavy. They may not fit right. They interfere with the sense of freedom many bikers enjoy as they zip down the road on a beautiful day. However, like it or not, all motorcyclists should wear helmets when they’re riding.
According to organizations as diverse as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), wearing a helmet is the single most effective way of reducing head injuries caused by motorcycle crashes.
This reality mirrors what lawyers at Allen and Allen have seen over decades of representing motorcyclists who have survived crashes. Wearing a helmet significantly reduces nonfatal brain injuries. It makes sense. In serious accidents, motorcyclists are often thrown from their bikes and land head first. A helmet can cushion the blow.
Helmet Use Facts and Statistics
How many motorcyclists wear helmets?
Recently, NHTSA published its Traffic Safety Facts regarding motorcycle helmet use in 2009. Overall, the news was good. From 2005 to 2009, helmet use increased from 48 percent to 67 percent.
In the 20 states, including Virginia, that mandate all motorcyclists wear helmets, the numbers improved from 78 percent in 2008 to 86 percent in 2009. Unfortunately, in states where helmet use is voluntary, riders wear their helmets only 55% of the time. This means the remaining 45% of cyclists are more likely to suffer severe brain injuries when they’re involved in a collision.
Are more state legislatures adopting mandatory helmet use laws?
The contrary is true. Fewer states require helmets today than did 35 years ago!
In 1975, 47 states had adopted laws mandating that all motorcycle operators and passengers wear helmets. In 2009, only 20 states plus the District of Columbia had such laws on the books. This steep decline in mandatory helmet use laws flies in the face of strong evidence that a motorcyclist without a helmet is 40 percent more likely to suffer a fatal injury than a rider who wears one.
State legislatures are yielding to the demands of motorcyclists who believe helmet laws are an infringement on their individual rights. Legislators ignore the fact that almost half of all motorcycle crash victims have no private health insurance coverage. As a result, it is the government, funded by the taxpayer, which pays most of the medical bills for these victims.
Federal Motorcycle Helmet Standards
All helmets are not the same. Some motorcycle helmets are safer than others. NHTSA, an agency of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has established minimum helmet safety standards. Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 218 ensures that riders who wear helmets meeting the standards are afforded some basic protection in a crash. Always wear a DOT or Snell approved helmet.
What to look for in a helmet?
- A DOT-compliant helmet carries an identifying sticker on the back. Make sure your helmet is DOT or Snell approved.
- Unfortunately, there are counterfeit stickers. Be on the alert for them.
- In general, if a helmet does not cover a motorcyclist’s ears or is not at least 1 inch thick, it may not meet federal standards.
- Check the condition of your helmet before you put it on. If it is damaged, inside or out, don’t use it. Remember, it is the shock absorbing foam placed inside, underneath the helmet’s hard shell, which helps prevent brain damage in the event of an accident.
Are helmets effective?
No one knows the exact numbers. However, it is estimated that helmets are about 37% effective in preventing fatal injuries to motorcycle riders and even more effective for passengers (41%). NHSTA reckons that helmets saved the lives of 1,829 motorcyclists in 2008. These statistics should be reason enough for every motorcyclist to put on his helmet before getting on his bike!
This Christmas – Don’t Forget The Helmet!
Author: Attorney Jason W. Konvicka
This Christmas, many boys and girls will wake up to a new bicycle, scooter or skateboard under the tree. Hopefully they will also unwrap a new helmet to go with it.
Did you know that nearly 50 percent of children age 14 and under who are hospitalized for bicycle, in-line skating, and skateboard-related injuries are diagnosed with a brain injury ? Many of those injuries could have been prevented through proper use of a helmet. For instance, wearing a helmet when riding a bike can reduce your risk of head injury by 85 percent, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Similar statistics exist for other sports as well.
Not all helmets, however, are created equal. Different sports require use of different types of helmets. Be sure to pick out the correct type of helmet for the activity your child will be engaged in. A knowledgeable salesperson at a sporting goods, bicycle, or skateboarding store can point you in the right direction. (1)
In addition, proper use and adjustment of a helmet is critically important. If the helmet doesn’t fit or is not worn properly, it will offer less protection. A helmet should be comfortable but snug. Also, make sure that the helmet sits level on your child’s head – not tilted too far back or forward. The chin strap should be securely fastened. (2) A properly fitted helmet should not move in any direction when adjusted and fastened properly.
Helmets need to be maintained and kept in good shape as well. Although helmets are designed to take a tough blow, they often need to be replaced if they have been involved in a serious accident. Many skateboard and bicycle shops will inspect helmets for free. When in doubt, replace a helmet that has sustained a serious impact. After all, your child’s head is at stake.
Finally, set a good example for your children. Be sure to wear a helmet when you ride a bike with your children. Let them see that wearing a helmet is “cool.” You will be leading by example and protecting yourself at the same time. Also, be firm when you set the ground rules. No helmet means no riding. And encourage helmet use at a young age. If young children learn to consistently wear a helmet any time that they are “on wheels,” they are more likely to continue the tradition as they get older.
Death and serious injury due to head injury isn’t something that can happen. It does happen. Don’t allow your children to take unnecessary risk with their lives. When they take that new bike, skateboard, or scooter out for its first ride, make sure that they do it in a properly fastened and well fitting helmet. Have a happy and healthy holiday season!