Are There More Traumatic Brain Injuries from Motorcycle Accidents?

Spinal Cord Team | September 27, 2016

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A traumatic brain injury (TBI) occurs when a blow, bump, jolt, or some other injury to the head leads to damage of the brain. Each year, millions of people in the United States suffer from traumatic brain injuries according to the National Institutes of Neurological Disorders.

Of those, more than half of the cases are a result of motor vehicle accidents. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said, “Per vehicle mile traveled, motorcyclist fatalities occurred 26 times more frequently than passenger car occupant fatalities in traffic crashes.” Based on this statistic alone, it would stand to reason that there are more traumatic brain injuries from motorcycle accidents compared with motor vehicle accidents not involving a motorcycle. However, let’s explore the subject further to get to the heart of the matter.

The Silent Epidemic

Traumatic brain injuries are often referred to as the "silent epidemic" because TBI cases can be so challenging to prove. Many traumatically brain injured accident victims appear normal; most speak well, and don't display obvious signs of a brain injury. Even medical classifications for TBI are misleading. Most people are diagnosed with "mild" traumatic brain injury, but this is a medical classification only. It doesn't mean the disabilities and impairments that may be attributed to a TBI are also mild.

The only protection a motorcyclist has from the outside elements is their helmet. A report from the NHTSA found that helmeted motorcyclists were significantly less likely to experience facial and head injuries, as well as traumatic brain injury, when compared with non-helmeted ones in the event of an accident. The human brain is incredibly susceptible to damage from the forces generated by a typical motor vehicle accident. Since not wearing a helmet effectively leaves the head completely unprotected, the head has no barrier to those forces generated, leaving the brain vulnerable to traumatic injury.

Motorcycle owners are warned repeatedly about the importance of wearing a helmet to prevent injuries in the event of a collision. In some states it is even illegal to go without one. On the other hand, in the states where the motorcycle owner has the option to not wear a helmet, some choose not to.

Common complaints amongst bikers for lack of a helmet include, but aren't limited to:

  •       Helmets are annoying
  •       They don't look cool
  •       Vision or hearing is impaired

Regardless of the reasoning, not wearing one is asking for trouble. The primary cause of death from motorcycle accidents is traumatic brain injury, caused by the head's direct impact with the pavement after being ejected from the motorcycle. Although motorcycle accidents can cause internal bleeding and damage to other parts of the body, it is head injuries that cause the majority of fatalities. In other words, wearing a helmet is a motorcyclist's best chance of avoiding death, or at the very least permanent disability, during an accident.

Aside from the insinuation that most motorcycle accident injuries are caused by the motorcycle rider's lack of protective headgear, motorcycle accident analysts are also attributing the rise of traumatic brain injury cases to the more prevalent congestion on freeways and streets. This coupled with the fact that more than 40 percent of motorcyclists killed in motor vehicle traffic crashes were not helmeted as of 2013, makes it that much more important, perhaps now more than ever, for motorcyclists to wear their helmets.

Treating TBIs

Traumatic brain injuries are among the most difficult medical emergencies to treat. The human brain is a complex and delicate organ, consuming a large portion of the body's blood supply. Ruptured blood vessels in the skull can be difficult to safely isolate and repair during emergency surgery. If the blood supply is reduced, brain death occurs very quickly in the regions affected, leading to permanent loss of function if the patient survives.

Many people who die from traumatic brain injuries are killed not by blood loss, but by pressure. Serious head injuries can result in brain swelling and a dramatic increase in pressure inside the skull, which is enough in itself to cause extensive brain damage. Doctors treating head injuries can reduce the risk of death by relieving the pressure, but with brain injuries, there are no guarantees. A patient's chances of surviving, let alone recovering without disability, are small.

Bottom line, traumatic brain injury from motorcycle accidents is more likely without a helmet. While an accident with a helmet may still result in minor head injuries, such as a concussion, helmets are far sturdier than the human skull alone. By absorbing the impact, helmets may greatly reduce the chances of a fatal head injury.

Learn More About Traumatic Brain Injuries

Topics: Accidents, Traumatic Brain Injury

Spinal Cord Team

Written by Spinal Cord Team

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