Motorcycle crash data: Helmets help

ANCHORAGE — Alaska health officials say it’s a good idea to wear a helmet if you climb aboard a motorcycle on state roads.


A decade of motorcycle crash data indicates that people hospitalized after a crash were 70 percent more likely to suffer a traumatic brain injury and 2.3 times more likely to die if they were not wearing a helmet.

“It does provide protection to the head,” said Deborah Hull-Jilly, an injury epidemiologist for the Division of Public Health. “It can also help reduce some of the fatigue with the windshield.”

The review looked at injuries from 2001 through 2010. Data from the Alaska Trauma Registry recorded 745 hospital stays for people on motorcycles — 13 percent of all motor vehicle injuries. Motorcycles were involved in 14 percent of all traffic deaths nationally in 2010 and 16 percent in Alaska. The study did not include Alaska motorcycle crash victims who died at the scene or on their way to a hospital.

Alaska law permits drivers 18 and older to ride without helmets. Helmets are required for passengers and drivers under 18. The report, Hull-Jilly said, allows a person to make a helmet decision based on accurate data.

A host of factors figure into motorcycle injuries, she said, including age, skill level and motorcycle power. A helmet may not make a difference in a collision with a semi, Hull-Jilly said.

“Chances are with the events and the forces, you’re going to have other damage to other parts of your body, so you have the heighted lethality from the force in that event,” she said.

However, the statistics showed that simple loss of control accounted for 46 percent of the injuries in motorcycle crashes. Properly fitted helmets can help in those crashes, as can protective clothing, she said.

“They allow you to be seen very easily,” Hull-Jilly said. “They put in the high viz, reflector material. It’s synthetic. If you are going to drop your bike and slide, there’s less friction. Leathers are great, but they do tend to provide friction, and they catch, whereas the new synthetics allow you to slide across the surface.”

Alaska has road conditions that can make motorcycle transportation dangerous. Frost heaves make pavement uneven and melted permafrost can crack it. Low angles of the sun may blind drivers and long periods of twilight can create hours per day when motorcycles are obscured by shadow, the report said.

Long daylight also may tempt motorcycle drivers into prolonging rides, making them susceptible to fatigue.

Collision with another vehicle or striking a pedestrian was involved in 34 percent of the injuries.

Striking other objects accounted for 8 percent of the injuries. Moose were a particular hazard this year. Moose crashes killed drivers near Wasilla and Delta Junction and severely injured two other Wasilla motorcyclists.

Motorcycle drivers or passengers suffered a traumatic brain injury in 192 cases, about 26 percent.

Just 12 percent of the injuries were suspected or proven to have been associated with alcohol and 10 percent with illegal drug use.