Motorcycle riders commonly cite three reasons for not wearing a helmet: their freedom, their vision and saving their neck.
New research challenges a popular conception that motorcycle helmets increase the risk of neck injuries. In addition to preventing brain injury and death, helmets may actually reduce spinal injuries, especially cervical fractures.
Motorcycle helmets can protect against neck injury, too
People have different reasons for not wearing a motorcycle helmet. It’s a biker thing. It ruins the experience. It impairs my field of vision. It’s a free country.
Some riders also believe that a motorcycle helmet, which weighs about 3 to 4 pounds, creates a “bobblehead” effect — increasing the likelihood of cervical injury in a crash. The logic is dubious — worrying about neck injury but not brain injury — but does the science support the theory?
Some previous studies have concluded helmets offer no spinal protection. A few studies associated helmets with increased risk of cervical injury.
Researchers at the University of Wisconsin believe the data shows the opposite. They reviewed the medical records of more than 1,000 motorcycle crash victims in Wisconsin (which does not have a mandatory helmet law). Those who didn’t wear helmets were twice as likely to suffer a cervical spinal injury as those who were helmeted.
Your neck, your brain, your life. Those are all good reasons.
Nationwide, there are about 5,000 motorcycle deaths each year and approximately 90,000 injuries. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration calculates that wearing a helmet saved the lives of 1,859 motorcyclists in 2016, and that 802 of those annual motorcycle fatalities could have been prevented if all riders wore helmets.
New Jersey had 50 motorcycle deaths in 2015. Despite our universal helmet law, seven of those riders who died were not wearing a helmet. In addition to the annual fatalities, about 900 riders and passengers suffer serious injury in motorcycle crashes each year in New Jersey.
No one can say exactly how many people were spared from brain injury or spinal injury by wearing their helmets, but we do know that motorcycle crashes would be much worse without them.
Source: National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA)