Motorcycle Ownership and Risks
According to the Motorcycle Industry Council, more than 10.4 million motorcycles were on the road in 2008. Motorcycling is still dominated by males. However, the mode of transportation is becoming more popular among women. Roughly 12.3 percent of American females own a motorcycle.
Motorcycles are inherently more risky than automobiles for several reasons. A car weighs more, provides side and roof protection for occupants, and has other safety features (like seat belts and air bags). A car is more stable because it has four wheels versus a motorcycle’s two. By virtue of its size, a car is also more visible to other drivers than a motorcycle. The small size of a motorcycle also means the bike may fall into a driver’s blind spot. In addition, it is often difficult for drivers of other vehicles to judge the speed and distance of a motorcycle.
The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration estimates, in 2008, more than 96,000 motorcyclists were injured in a road accident and 5,290 were killed. The states with the highest fatalities among motorcycle riders are California (537 deaths in 2008), Florida (523 deaths) and Texas (480 deaths). Speed was a factor in 35 percent of the fatal crashes.
Since 1985, the average age of motorcycle owners has gradually increased. The Bureau of Transportation Statistics reports by 2003, the median age of all motorcyclists was 41. More than 25 percent of motorcyclists at that time were older than 50.
Paralleling the increase in older drivers is the rise of serious injuries among them. Researchers in California recently compared injury rates among motorcycle riders of different age groups. The investigators found more than 36 percent of motorcyclists with severe injuries were 56 and older, compared to 23.5 among those 18 and younger. Death rates among older riders were three times higher than that of younger riders. In fact, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimates riders 50 and older account for 28 percent of motorcycle deaths.
Paul Bankey, M.D., Trauma Surgeon with the University of Rochester Medical Center in Rochester, NY, says motorcycle riders have a high risk for injuries to the head and extremities because they don’t have much protection in a crash. The motorcycles can weigh several hundred pounds and a rider can experience crush injuries from a toppled bike. Older riders, for an unknown reason, have a higher rate of chest trauma, leading to rib fractures and collapsed lungs.
Bankey says many people believe older, mature riders are less likely to take risks and, thus should have lower rates of accidents and death. However, older people are more likely to have vision changes and slower reaction times and reflexes, conditions that may contribute to an increased risk for an accident. Older riders are also more likely to have cardiovascular disease and other health problems that compound the seriousness of motorcycle injuries.
To reduce the risk of accident-related injury, Bankey recommends all motorcycle riders wear a safety-approved helmet. Researchers estimate that in a motorcycle crash, a helmet can lower the risk of head injury by nearly 70 percent and risk for death by more than 40 percent. A leather jacket can reduce the risk of abrasions and burns caused by skidding on the pavement. Bankey also says all motorcyclists should take a motorcycle safety course and use good judgment when riding on the road.
For information on motorcycle ridership, safety and injuries:
Bureau of Transportation Statistics, http://www.bts.gov
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, http://www.iihs.org
Motorcycle Industry Council, http://www.mic.org
Motorcycle Safety Foundation, http://www.msf-usa.org
National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, http://www.nhtsa.gov
National Safety Council, http://www.nsc.org
Brown, J., et al., “The Aging Road Warrior,” American Surgeon, March 2010, Vol. 76, No. 3, pp. 279-286.
Dischinger, P., et al., “Injury Patterns and Severity among Hospitalized Motorcyclists,” Annual Proceedings. Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine, 2006, Vol. 50, pp. 237-249.
Homer, Jenny, and Michael French, Ph.D., “Motorcycle Helmet Laws in the U.S. From 1990 to 2005,” American Journal of Public Health, March 2009, Vol. 99, No. 3, pp. 415-423.
Mertz, Kristen, M.D., and Harold Weiss, Ph.D., “Changes in Motorcycle-Related Head Injury Deaths, Hospitalizations, and Hospital Charges Following Repeal of Pennsylvania’s Mandatory Helmet Law,” American Journal of Public Health, August 2008, Vol. 98, No. 8, pp. 1464-1467.
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