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Study Suggests Helmets Reduce Risk of Brain, Spine Injuries

Opponents of motorcycle helmet laws might want to take a look at a new study suggesting that helmets will not only prevent death and serious injury to the head but can also prevent cervical spine injuries.

According to a study by Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine published in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons, motorcycle drivers who wore helmets were 22 percent less likely to suffer a cervical spine injury in a motorcycle accident than those who did not wear helmets.

The Johns Hopkins study debunks an earlier study popular among motorcycle enthusiasts that suggested that wearing helmets could increase the likelihood of a serious spinal cord injury in a crash. That 25-year-old study, though criticized by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and proven unfounded, propelled enthusiasts in some states to successfully seek the repeal of mandatory helmet laws.

Likelihood of Severe Injuries may be Reduced

The more recent study strongly suggests that those states should revisit their helmet safety laws. It revealed that motorcycle riders wearing helmets had a 65 percent reduction in risk of traumatic brain injury, and the odds of death were 37 percent less when compared to those riders who didn’t wear them.

Perhaps the most striking finding was that the study provided strong evidence that helmets lowered the odds of injuries to the cervical spine (c-spine injuries). These cervical or neck injuries can result in disk or nerve damage and some injuries can lead to paralysis, such as quadriplegia. Victims of c-spine injuries often face a long road to recovery, which will depend on the severity of the injury and the section of the vertebrae affected. Some common injuries to the cervical spine result in loss of shoulder, arm, or hand function, loss of diaphragm control (requiring a ventilator to breathe), and in some severe cases even death.

Since 1997, motorcycle deaths in the United States have more than doubled, to roughly 5,000 per year. The Johns Hopkins study has captured the attention of many, given the increasing popularity of motorcycles in the U.S., where 67 percent of all riders now wear helmets, the NHTSA says. Hopefully, the new study findings will help encourage more riders to don their helmets to increase safety and help reduce the number of traumatic injuries that often result from motorcycle accidents.