FRIDAY, Nov. 19 (HealthDay News) -- As more young people ride
motorcycles without wearing helmets in the United States, more
serious head injuries and long-term disabilities from crashes are
creating huge medical costs, two new companion studies show.
In 2006, about 25 percent of all traumatic brain injuries
sustained in motorcycle crashes involving 12- to 20-year-olds
resulted in long-term disabilities, said study author Harold Weiss.
And patients with serious head injuries were at least 10 times more
likely to die in the hospital than patients without serious head
One study looked at the number of head injuries among young
motorcyclists and the medical costs; the other looked at the impact
of laws requiring helmet use for motorcycle riders, which vary from
state to state. Age-specific helmet use laws were instituted in
many states after mandatory laws for all ages were abandoned years
"We know from several previous studies that there is a substantial decrease in youth wearing helmets when universal helmet laws are changed to youth-only laws," said Weiss, director of the injury prevention research unit at the Dunedin School of Medicine, New Zealand. He was at the University of Pittsburgh when he conducted the research.
Using hospital discharge data from 38 states from 2005 to 2007,
the study found that motorcycle crashes were the reason for 3
percent of all injuries requiring hospitalization among 12- to
20-year-olds in the United States in 2006.
One-third of the 5,662 motorcycle crash victims under age 21 who
were hospitalized that year sustained traumatic head injuries, and
About half of those injured or killed were between the ages of
18 and 20 and 90 percent were boys, the study found.
The findings, published online Nov. 15 in
Pediatrics, also showed that head injuries led to longer hospital stays and higher medical costs than other types of motorcycle accident-related injuries.
For instance, motorcycle crash-related hospital charges were
estimated at almost $249 million dollars, with $58 million due to
head injuries in 2006, the study on injuries and costs found. More
than a third of the costs were not covered by insurance. Citing
other research, the study noted that motorcycle injuries, deaths
and medical costs are rising.
Previous research has shown that helmet use reduces head
injuries by 69 percent, and deaths from head injuries by 42
percent, according to the helmet laws' study.
Enforcement of helmet laws falls off when mandatory universal
laws are rolled back because it's difficult to determine a rider's
age prior to a traffic stop, and police begin to see it as less of
a priority, according to research cited in the study.
When enforcement declines, young people stop wearing helmets,
resulting in increasing numbers of head injuries, the study noted.
In fact, in states with a law requiring only youth under 21 to wear
helmets, the study found, the rate of serious motorcycle-related
traumatic brain injury among youth was 38 percent higher than in
states with universal helmet laws.
The hospital data did not distinguish among motorcycles, mopeds
and motorized scooters, the authors said.
Only 20 states and Washington, D.C., have mandatory universal
helmet use laws, and several of those are considering rolling them
back in favor of age-specific helmet laws, either for those under
21 or under 18. The study concluded, however, that helmet laws
limited to young people are ineffective at protecting them.
Thirty states repealed mandatory helmet use laws after 1976,
when Congress prevented the Department of Transportation from
withholding highway safety funds from states without universal
helmet use laws, the study found. Sanctions were reinstated and
again repealed in the 1990s after lobbying by groups opposed to
mandatory helmet use laws, said Weiss.
Arthur Goodwin, senior research associate at the Highway Safety
Research Center at the University of North Carolina, in Chapel
Hill, said a mandatory universal helmet law is the only measure
proven to help reduce motorcycle injuries and fatalities.
"Only one countermeasure is considered proven to be effective at reducing crashes and injuries: state motorcycle helmet use laws. A review of 46 studies suggested motorcycle rider fatality rates were 20 to 40 percent lower in states with universal helmet laws," said Goodwin. "A universal helmet law is without doubt the single most important thing any state can do to reduce injuries and fatalities among motorcycle riders."
For all ages, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
estimates that $13.2 billion was saved from 1984 through 1999
because of the use of motorcycle helmets. An additional $11.1
billion would have been saved if all motorcyclists had worn
Mandatory helmet use laws for all is the only way to protect
young people from serious head injury and death from motorcycle
crashes, the researchers concluded.
For more on motor vehicle safety, see
the U.S. National Library of Medicine.