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Do motorcycle helmets make neck injuries worse -- or not?

Conventional wisdom among a lot of motorcyclists is that helmets aren't necessarily great at protecting riders in a wreck. Some motorcyclists have even loudly fought against mandatory helmet laws for riders.

That opposition isn't just a desire to rebel and reckless indifference to the rules of a road. Motorcyclists are generally highly concerned with their own safety because they know that they don't have the same protection from injury that people in passenger cars get in an accident.

The anti-helmet sentiment comes in part from studies done in labs over several decades that suggested helmets could make riders more likely to be paralyzed. Lab tests done between 1986 and 2011 showed that a helmet's weight could end up damaging a motorcyclist's neck very easily.

Well, lab tests aren't everything. Real world results often give a much truer perspective and a better understanding of how things actually work. A new study by researchers in Wisconsin has upended the old conclusions.

Because that is one of the 28 states that don't have full mandatory helmet laws, except for riders age 17 and younger, researchers had access to injured riders who both did and did not have a helmet on at the time of their accident.

Among the motorcycle accident victims researchers examined, nearly 70 percent had skipped wearing a helmet the day of their injury. Over 15 percent of riders without their helmets endured neck trauma in their accidents -- and nearly 11 percent had fractures. When researchers examined the 30 percent of motorcyclists who had been wearing helmets, only about 7 percent had neck injuries. Just 5 percent included fractures in their spine.

The conclusion was fairly obvious: while helmets won't protect against all injuries, they do cut your risk of a serious neck injury and spinal fracture just about in half.

If you're riding this summer here in Georgia, do everything you can to protect yourself, including buying a new helmet. You need all the protection you can get if you're in a motorcycle accident.

Source: Twin Cities Pioneer Press, "Study suggests motorcycle helmets prevent, not worsen, neck injuries," May 18, 2018

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