Motorcycle drivers and passengers face high risk for TBI – helmet or no helmet

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Motorcycle riders and their passengers face a uniquely high risk for traumatic brain injuries, especially if they neglect to put on a helmet. This might seem like common sense, but a new U.S. study shows a large number of riders still go helmetless – especially when it comes to passengers.

The new study, published in the journal JAMA Surgery, found that motorcycle passengers are even less likely to wear helmets than drivers and are more likely to experience a TBI in a crash.

The study reviewed data from nearly 80,000 motorcycle drivers and 6,000 passengers who were involved in crashes between 2007 and 2010. The statistics showed that while approximately two-thirds of drivers were wearing helmets at the time of a crash, only 57.5% of the passengers were also wearing helmets.

The findings of the study also reinforce the idea that TBI is a serious issue for motorcycle riders, even when wearing helmets. Traumatic brain injuries were the most common injury in crashes for both drivers and passengers, however, passengers were slightly more at risk. Passengers experienced TBI in 40% of crashes, compared with 35% of drivers.

This increased risk for passengers held true, even when wearing helmets. Approximately 36% of helmet-wearing passengers experienced TBI in crashes, compared to 31% of helmeted drivers.

“We believe that in certain accidents, the passenger is more likely to be ejected from the motorcycle,” said Dr. Tyler Evans of the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis.

“This is likely to increase the risk for serious head injury despite helmet use, given that being ejected from the motorcycle at a high rate of speed may be too severe of an impact for the helmet to be as protective,” Evans told Reuters by email.

Evans also noted that those in motorcycle drivers may be more protected from injury because they sit behind a protective windshield and have a firm grip on the handlebars, while passengers are seated in a higher position with little to hold onto.

“Being directly above the back wheel, one can hypothesize that passengers are more prone to being ejected from the motorcycle, likely adding to the potential for serious head and neck injuries,” Evans said. “The drivers have the benefit of being more aware of what is in front of them and have a higher chance of bracing themselves and creating a tighter grip on the motorcycle, while the passenger often may not have the same reaction time given they are not controlling the motorcycle.”

The study also noted that alcohol had a notable effect on the chances of wearing a helmet, and thus, the chance of experiencing a TBI. Less than half of passengers and drivers wore helmets when under the influence of alcohol.

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