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Bicycle and Motorcycle Helmets (cont.)

Effectiveness of Helmets

Although the idea that helmets would help reduce injuries and deaths may seem obvious, proof was necessary and it needed to be demonstrated. In addition, the question of whether helmets themselves did not increase the risk of other unforeseen injury needed evaluation.

Researchers into motorcycle safety took advantage of changes in some state laws requiring helmets for all riders, regardless of age. There are no similar laws in the United States applying to all bicycle riders, although many states have laws applying to children.

Studies examining the rates of brain injury and deaths before and after the passage of a mandatory helmet law showed a significant reduction in the number of both head injuries and deaths. The reduction held true even when controlling for age, sex, and severity of crash.

The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons state that "Wearing a bike helmet reduces the risk of serious head injury and brain injury by 85%."

Controversies Regarding Helmet Use

  • Opponents to mandatory helmet use have voiced some concerns. They point to restricted vision and a decreased awareness of the surrounding environment while wearing a helmet.
  • Conceivably, a helmet could make it difficult for a rider to see objects to either side or to hear a horn - thus increasing the possibility of a crash. However, no study has demonstrated these problems to be a factor in the experiences of real riders.
  • Some riders, most often those who staunchly oppose mandatory helmet use, voice concerns that motorcycle helmets may actually increase the risk of cervical spine injury. Injury to the cervical spine, the portion of the spine in your neck, may cause paralysis, often from the neck down. However, controlled studies have failed to demonstrate an increased risk of cervical spine injury for a helmeted motorcycle rider.
  • Congress stopped tying federal highway construction funds to the individual state mandatory helmet use laws in 1975. Many states have since repealed their universal helmet laws partially or completely. In 1991, the General Accounting Office of the US Congress concluded that motorcycle helmet use reduced rates of death and serious injuries. Universal helmet laws doubled the use of helmets while lowering the fatality rates by 20%-40%. However, more states continue to repeal universal helmet laws.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/18/2016
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