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Bicycle and Motorcycle Helmets

Motorcycles, Bicycles, and Head Injury

The increase in bicycling and motorcycling has focused attention on injuries sustained during these activities. Most of these injuries are traumatic brain injuries (TBI), caused by the lack of rider head protection. This exposure of the rider accounts for the particular types of injuries seen during these activities.

  • Although the crash scenario often dictates the area of the body injured, fatal crashes are most often a result of traumatic brain injury. Often these are isolated head injuries with no other serious injuries.
  • Fatal traumatic brain injury occurs more often in adults than children, although children are more often injured in bicycle crashes. This simply reflects the greater proportion of children using bicycles, as well as the lack of experience of younger riders.
  • Many studies have documented the particular risk of brain injury when riding a motorcycle. The increased speed of a motorcycle and use in vehicle traffic adds risk of injury far beyond that of a bicycle.
  • Traumatic brain injury certainly can cause death, but it also can cause disabling injuries that are extensive and require costly rehabilitation. For many people, a brain injury triggers a significant change in lifestyle and function. Brain injury can vary from essentially minor disability to prolonged dependence on a ventilator to breathe, and permanent loss of normal function. These serious brain injuries take a tremendous toll on families and others caring for an injured loved one.

History of Helmets

The potential for injury and death - especially from head injuries - was recognized early in the use of bicycles and motorcycles.

  • Early bicycles with a large front wheel and small rear wheel were notorious for sending a rider over the handlebars from a dangerous height.
  • Early motorcycle racing, known as board racing around a wood board track, often resulted in spectacular crashes from loose boards and close racing.

Helmets evolved slowly, and initially without scientific basis.

  • Early helmets used various materials such as pith (spongy material from plants) or leather and served to cushion the rider's head from other objects during a crash. They weren't very effective, but they represented all that was available at the time.
  • Advances in technology and crash mechanical studies brought improved function and design for bicycle and motorcycle helmets.
  • Helmet improvements include the shape of helmets, the introduction of plastics, improvement in methods of securing the helmet to the head, and the layering of materials.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/18/2016
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