Regulation Works: As Motorcycle Helmet Laws Ease, Injuries Increase

New analysis of injuries in Michigan following an easing-back of helmet laws show the efficacy of such regulation in reducing injuries. Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

You know how people look so cool and carefree riding down the road on a motorcycle without a helmet on? And you kind of feel jealous they're doing that while you're stuck in a minivan listening to Kidz Bop. But you know what? You're so, so, so much safer, and so is that other motorcyclist looking maybe less carefree and actually wearing a helmet.

A new study published in the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery demonstrates that motorcycle helmet laws do a lot to prevent people's skulls and faces from getting crushed in motorcycle accidents. That might seem like a no-brainer, but thanks to the scientific method applied to the State of Michigan's recent decision to relax its motorcycle helmet laws, researchers now have a lot of hard evidence to back up what we might otherwise assume.

In 2012, Michigan eased up on its motorcycle helmet laws. Prior to that date the state had required every motorcyclist to wear a helmet. But after the 2012 changes signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder, some people can now let the wind ruffle their hair if they're over 21 and have adequate experience and insurance coverage. The study looked at the craniomaxillofacial (CMF) injuries seen in 29 Michigan hospitals over the course of six years — three years before the relaxed helmet laws, and three years after. A total of 4,643 motorcycle trauma patients were treated during this period.

The researchers found that under the new law, the proportion of motorcycle accident victims not wearing helmets more than doubled, from 20 percent to 44 percent. Unhelmeted patients were twice as likely to sustain CMF injuries, had higher injury severity scores, and sustained more of all types of facial injuries. Those not wearing helmets before and after the law was passed generally had higher blood alcohol levels.

Overall, the research team found that a motorcyclist's risk of CMF injuries were cut in half if they wore a helmet, and if everyone were to wear a helmet, the incidents of facial and head injuries would decrease by 30 percent.

"We urge state and national legislators to reestablish universal motorcycle helmet laws," said study author Nicholas S. Adams, MD, of Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, in a press release.

We know helmets protect people. And now we have even more proof that the absence of tight regulation increases injuries.
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