8 Ball In The Wind

Monday, November 28, 2016

Same Old Song And Dance On Helmets

I've been going over research and studies from various academic and government sources about motorcycle helmet safety for quite a while now.  It amazes me how many of these reports are little more than preconceived packages followed by pages of charts and graphs that are obliquely concerned with the subject at hand.  

Some are blatantly biased towards helmet use as virtually the panacea of safety for motorcyclists, such as this quote from the "Motorcycle Safety Guide" published by the Centers for Disease Control; 

“Our role is to identify ways to prevent injury and death and rigorously check what works and what does not work. For motorcycle safety, the research shows that universal helmet laws are the most effective way to reduce the number of deaths and traumatic brain injuries that result from crashes.” 

Dr. Thomas Frieden, CDC Director

Can you see the contradictions in that statement?  Either one of the two sentences in that quote is wrong, or the other one is.  It does make for a good sound bite though, doesn't it?  Let's take a look a closer look at that two sentence statement by the CDC Director.

If the CDC actually 'rigorously' checked what worked and what didn't, it would seem much more likely that they wouldn't turn to universal helmet laws as the default position for a few reasons.  The prime being is that the data doesn't show it to be true.  If it was in fact true, then those states with universal helmet laws should all have a declining fatality rate.  Wouldn't they?  If universal helmet laws were 'the most effective way' then the states with universal helmet laws should have a significantly higher percentage of states with a lower fatality rate.  Shouldn't they?  Actually, they are almost identical.  With only a slight 1.5% difference between the two sets of states.  Oddly though, it is the states without universal helmet laws that have had the largest percentage of states with a decrease in fatalities.  Now I know this doesn't mean helmets don't have an effect, it would just seem to show a helmet law isn't the end all and be all of motorcycle safety.

The entire focus on motorcyclists as being the only ones needing protection from head injury seems off kilter as well.  When asked during a hearing on a helmet law amendment hearing in 2015, a Dr. from Harborview Hospital was asked if in her opinion helmets would help to reduce head injuries among automobile crash victims.  Her reply was shocked, and somewhat short; "There's no data to show that."  The problem is, if she cared to look she could easily find that data.  The CDC published a report in 2010 on head injuries during the period of 2002-2006.  I find two of the charts quite to the point, and showing the significantly greater risk of head injury ER visits, and hospitalizations of automobile occupants than of motorcyclists.  According to the CDC, fully 35.6% of automobile crash related ER visits are due to head injury.  While only 3.4% of motorcycle crash ER visits are due to head injury.  It goes even beyond that somewhat shocking statistic.  Of those admitted to hospitals with injuries related to automobile crashes, 13% are due to head injuries, while only 2.2% of motorcycle crash victims are admitted for head injuries.  Now remember, this data is from the same CDC which stated that; "universal helmet laws are the most effective way to reduce the number of deaths and traumatic brain injuries that result from crashes.”  Does this mean the CDC would support a national, universal helmet law for automobile occupants?  I rather doubt it is a case of "what is good for the goose is good for the gander."

In conjunction with all this is NHTSA's own "estimate" that motorcycle helmets are only 37% effective in protecting motorcyclists from death and serious injury.  Then you factor in the fact that on any given year, between 40-60% of motorcycle helmets tested do not meet the federal standard.  There is also the fact that helmet manufacturers own publications state a helmet should be replaced after 3 to 5 years due to degradation of its ability to be of effective protection.  So what percentage of helmets in use today are older than that, and therefore no longer effective protection?  Another factor to consider is the percentage of helmets in use that have been subject to a "shock" or "impact" that would have destroyed it's ability to be effective?  It only takes a fall off the back of the bike, or from about waist height to become ineffective.  Experience is telling me that NHTSA's "estimate" of 37% effectiveness may be a bit on the generous side.

Another point that seems to get lost in the shuffle of 'helmet safety' facts that the universal helmet law proponents love to publish, is one fact that NHTSA itself published in 2007, and devoted all of one sentence in an already short paragraph to.  The fact was that; in one of their studies, on average, 81% of helmeted fatalities in motorcycle crashes are due to other injures.   So in roughly four out of five helmeted motorcycle fatalities the helmet would not have saved the persons life.  As I have said, helmets do have a safety effect.  Because in that same report, NHTSA showed that 64% of helmet less motorcycle fatalities died from injuries other than to the head.

Before I finish this, I'd like to tell a fairly short story that sort of highlights this whole 'helmet safety' mentality.  If I decide to ride my motorcycle without wearing a helmet in the State of Washington; and I'm not on a closed parade route, I will get quickly pulled over and cited for it.  Yet I have a friend who wanted to go for a ride, but her bike was down, so she put her helmet on anyway got in her car and rolled the windows down.  She got pulled over because she was wearing a helmet, and the cop just wanted to know what she thought she was doing since he thought it was odd behavior.  But if you really look at it in the light of all the head injury data out there, wouldn't it make sense to mandate those who have a 35.6% chance of going to the ER with a head injury in a crash than someone who only has a 3.4% chance?

Going back to that CDC study of 2010, it showed  an average of 104,366 automobile crash related head injuries per year compared to only 9,938 motorcycle crash related head injuries nationwide.  Now tell me again, why am I being forced to wear this helmet on MY head and someone with a higher risk of head injury isn't?

Think about it.

Catch ya on the road sometime...

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