Effectiveness of Motorcycle Helmets

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), Concussion, Head   Facial Injury

According to the Center For Disease Control (CDC)

During 2008–2010, a total of 14,283 motorcyclists were killed in crashes, among whom 6,057 (42%) were not wearing a helmet. In the 20 states with a universal helmet law, 739 (12%) fatally injured motorcyclists were not wearing a helmet, compared with 4,814 motorcyclists (64%) in the 27 states with partial helmet laws and 504 (79%) motorcyclists in the three states without a helmet law. [1]

If you have suffered a blow to the head and had a period of unconsciousness from the head trauma, you have probably suffered some level of brain injury. It may be minor but you should be aware that you need to be examined by a trained physician, preferably a neurologist or neurosurgeon immediately. You may need a CAT Scan or MRI or some other type of test to make sure you do not have bleeding in your skull or brain.

You should take any head trauma very seriously and act accordingly. Your life may be at stake.

If you think you or someone you know has suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury, contact your doctor immediately. Your health care provider can refer you to a neurologist, neuropsychologist, or neurosurgeon. Getting help as soon as possible after the injury by trained specialists may speed recovery or save your life.

Symptoms of a concussion can include a period of unconsciousness, vomiting, confusion, and visual problems. Amnesia can be retrograde amnesia (loss of memories that were formed before the injury) or anterograde amnesia (loss of memories formed post-injury). Most concussion amnesias are much more likely to be anterograde (also called Post Traumatic Amnesia or PTA). This type of amnesia is the inability to create and save new memories. Amnesia may not become apparent until the next day or the next week.

People with a concussion may act confused, for example repeatedly asking the same questions, or forgetting where they are. They may have focal neurological deficits, signs that a specific part of the brain is not working correctly.

Since concussions may not always include damage to the brain's structure, patients with uncomplicated concussions often improve. But brain damage is a process, and not just based on a single event. A concussion may set into motion many different pathological processes which may worsen over time. Early treatment is important.

The concussions that result in permanent, long term, deficits, often do get worse over the first few days. A deteriorating level of consciousness may mean that the patient has another problem such as a worse type of head injury. Similarly, persistent vomiting, worsening headache, ringing in the ears, drowsiness, unequal pupil size, and increasing disorientation are all indicative of a rise in intracranial pressure. In the typical serious concussion, the process of the injury and damage is progressive.

The most critical mistake for those suffering from a concussion is that they do not return for further medical care and evaluation within 24 to 72 hours after the concussion. Athletes are usually followed closely by team trainers during such period but those injured in accidents may be sent home with no medical person monitoring them unless the situation gets worse. If the person had a concussion yesterday, and they don't have a clear recollection of the time period between the concussion and today, they are likely suffering from Post Traumatic Amnesia, and are more likely to have long term or permanent problems.

Signs and Symptoms of Brain Injuries

The signs and symptoms of a traumatic brain injury can be subtle. Symptoms of a traumatic brain injury may not appear until days or weeks following the injury or may even be missed as people may look fine even though they may act or feel differently. The following are some common signs and symptoms of a traumatic brain injury:

  • Continuing headaches or neck pain;
  • Memory difficulties, inability to concentrate;
  • Difficulty thinking, speaking or reading;
  • Confusion;
  • Lack of energy;
  • Mood changes;
  • Insomnia;
  • Sleeping a lot more;
  • Dizziness;
  • Nausea;
  • Light sensitivity;
  • Blurred vision or tired eyes;
  • Loss of sense of smell or taste; and
  • Ringing in the ears.

Effectiveness of Motorcycle Helmets

In a 2009 study, a small number of motorcycle accident injuries were compared. Even though the helmet wearing riders were more than half of the total looked at, the helmeted motorcycle riders came out much better than the non helmet wearing riders in terms of surviving the accident without traumatic brain injury, head injury, facial injury, or moderate to severe head and facial injury.

In the data set, 57 percent of motorcyclists were helmeted at the time of the crashes and 43 percent were non-helmeted. For both groups, about 40 percent of motorcyclists were treated at hospitals or died following the crashes. However, 6.6 percent of unhelmeted motorcyclists suffered a moderate to severe head or facial injury compared to 5.1 percent of helmeted motorcyclists. Fifteen percent of hospital-treated helmeted motorcyclists suffered traumatic brain injury (TBI) compared to 21 percent of hospital-treated unhelmeted motorcyclists. TBI severity varied by helmet use. Almost 9 percent of unhelmeted and 7 percent of helmeted hospital-treated motorcyclists received minor to moderate TBI. More than 7 percent of unhelmeted and 4.7 percent of hospital-treated helmeted motorcyclists sustained severe TBI. [2]

Further, the helmeted motorcycle riders in these accidents had much lower incidence of death from the accident, and lower medical costs as compared to the nonhelmeted riders; the difference in longer hospital stays and higher medical bills also extended to nonhelmeted riders having higher rates of needing prolonged rehabilitation after the accident. Helmets reduced the rate of TBI, head injury, face injury, and death.

Median charges for hospitalized motorcyclists who survived to discharge were 13 times higher for those incurring a TBI compared to those who did not sustain a TBI ($31,979 versus $2,461). Over 85 percent of hospital-treated motorcyclists without a TBI were discharged home, compared to 56 percent of motorcyclists with severe TBI. Motorcyclists admitted to the hospital with TBI were more likely to die, be discharged to rehab, or transferred to a long-term care facility. While 17 percent of all hospital-admitted motorcyclists had TBI, they account for 54 percent of all admitted riders who did not survive. […] While over 80 percent of motorcyclists with no, potential, mild, and moderate TBIs were discharged home, only 56 percent of motorcyclists with severe TBI were similarly discharged. Motorcyclists who received a TBI were also more likely to be discharged from the hospital dead or transferred to rehab or a long-term care facility. While over 85 percent of motorcyclists without TBI were discharged home, this percent drops to 56 percent for motorcyclists with severe TBI. [2]

Selecting The Best (Safest) Motorcycle Helmet

There's a lot of motorcycle helmets out on the market but they are not all the same. Some motorcycle riders worry that a very protective helmet with the facial guard may interfere with their vision and hearing. In fact, motorcycle helmets go through rigorous testing to get the certifications that are most respected. The NHTSA has also conducted research to find the facts about a motorcycle riders vision field and hearing wearing different motorcycle helmets. You can read the NHTSA report on the helmet vision and hearing and see what they studied.

Novelty motorcycle helmets, according to the NHTSA, are just unsafe. [4]

There's a few technical things to look for when shopping for a great motorcycle helmet. You should also know that the helmet won't last forever. For instance, if you ever drop it, or do take a spill with it, chances are good that your helmet won't protect you the same after that - bicycle helmets are the same. You should also be aware that some motorcycle helmets have been recalled. The NHTSA keeps a listing of recalls on important things like motorcycle helmets, car seats for kids and infants. But, the basics are really pretty simple for what to look pros/cons for in your motorcycle helmet and the NHTSA has distilled it down to a little brochure you can download and print here. [5]


1. Helmet Use Among Motorcyclists Who Died in Crashes and Economic Cost Savings Associated With State Motorcycle Helmet Laws — United States, 2008–2010
June 15, 2012 / 61(23);425-430 

2. Motorcycle Helmet Use and Head and Facial Injuries 
National Technical Information Service, 
Springfield, Virginia 22161 
DOT HS 811 208 
October 2009 



5.  How to Identify Unsafe Helmets