It’s well established that motorcycles helmets make a difference during a crash. EAST has developed an evidence based review that provides recommendations regarding helmet use. Click here to see them. Unfortunately, many states don’t have helmet laws, and several have been persuaded to repeal perfectly good ones.
Although there is strong literature support for helmet use, the specific type of helmet (full-face vs all others) has not been prospectively studied. Helmets that are not full-face (FF) do not cover areas that protect lower parts of the brain and the upper brainstem.
A group in Baltimore did a one year prospective study on the effect of helmet type on craniofacial injury. They treated 176 motorcycle crash victims during that time, and were able to identify the helmet type in 151. A total of 84 wore FF helmets, and 67 wore other types. Here are the interesting findings:
- Facial fractures occurred in 16% of patients. Only 7% of FF helmeted patients had these fractures vs 27% wearing other helmets.
- Skull fractures were found in 6%, with only 1% in FF helmet wearers vs 11% in other helmet types
- Mortality decreased from 7.5% to 4.8% (36% reduction) in the FF helmeted patients (not statistically significant)
- Cervical spine fractures decreased 20% from 11.9% to 8.5% in the helmeted group (also not significant)
Bottom line: Choosing a motorcycle helmet carefully is important. Remember, motorcyclists are far less protected than automobile drivers. Improving protection has definitively been shown to decrease injuries of nearly all types. Although it certainly is patient choice as to what they wear and if they ride, it can make a big difference to them (and society) if they ignore these recommendations.
- EAST evidence based review on helmet use
- Myth: motorcycle helmets and cervical spine injury
- Cost of “personal freedom” not to wear a helmet
Reference: Choice of motorcycle helmet makes a difference: a prospective observational study. J Trauma 75(1):88-91, 2013.