Editorial

Jul 13, 2017

Easy step toward safety

We've recently reported on two serious motorcycle crashes and in both cases, the riders were not wearing helmets and suffered serious head trauma.

Many studies have shown that wearing a helmet can decrease incidences of serious injury and death.

In Maine, motorcycle riders and operators are not required to wear helmets unless they are 17 or younger. Several attempts to pass laws requiring helmets have been defeated.

Yet a Johns Hopkins Medical Center study from 2011 cites the importance of donning a helmet. Johns Hopkins research suggests that motorcycle helmets, long known to dramatically reduce the number of brain injuries and deaths from crashes, appear to also be associated with a lower risk of cervical spine injury.

“We are debunking a popular myth that wearing a helmet while riding a motorcycle can be detrimental during a motorcycle crash,” says study leader Adil H. Haider, M.D., M.P.H., an assistant professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

“Using this new evidence, legislators should revisit the need for mandatory helmet laws. There is no doubt that helmets save lives and reduce head injury. And now we know they are also associated with a decreased risk of cervical spine injury.”

Even with what researchers say are mountains of evidence that helmets reduce mortality and traumatic brain injury after a collision, many states have repealed mandatory helmet use laws.

Anti-helmet lobbyists often cite a 25-year-old study that found more spine injuries in helmet wearers. That study has been criticized by many, including the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, because of flawed statistical reasoning.

Motorcycle use has risen sharply. Between 1997 and 2011, motorcycle injuries in the U.S. increased by roughly 5,000 per year and motorcycle fatalities nearly doubled, according to the Johns Hopkins study.

The study, like many others before, found a reduction in risk of traumatic brain injury (65 percent) and decreased odds of death (37 percent) in helmet wearers.

Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have universal helmet laws in place, according to Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. In the Northeast, there are no laws regarding motorcycle helmets in New Hampshire, but Vermont and Massachusetts both follow the universal laws. Connecticut and Rhode Island have laws similar to Maine's.

(For laws on the books for each state, go online to iihs.org/iihs/topics/laws/helmetuse/mapmotorcyclehelmets.)

So why don't all riders choose to wear helmets? The variety of reasons ranges from "helmet hair" to decreased hearing and vision to retaining the freedom to make one's own choice to wear or not to wear a helmet.

It's prime motorcycle season in Maine and roads are busy with vacationers and day-trippers. A portion of those will be distracted and not all will be looking out for motorcycles when they pull into traffic. While there are no guarantees, a helmet might save your life in circumstances like those.

We urge all drivers on the road to keep their eyes peeled for motorcyclists, who are more difficult to see than those operating a full-sized vehicle.

 

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