Indiana University Study: Motorcycle Passengers More Likely to Suffer Head Injuries Than Drivers

Motorcycle crashes in Indiana and beyond are associated with high levels of injuries and fatalities for both passengers and drivers. There are more than 8 million motorcycles on U.S. roads, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports the proportion of fatalities attributed to motorcycles, as opposed to other passenger vehicles, has increased (with motorcycle deaths occurring 28 times more frequently than passenger car occupant deaths).

Examining ways to prevent Indiana motorcycle accidents – especially the worst of them – is important not just to the public health, but also to the economy. Recently, physician researchers with Indiana University School of Medicine conducted a study revealing some troubling news with regard to a specific danger for which motorcycle passengers are at great risk:  traumatic brain injuries.

The analysis examined three years of data from the National Trauma Bank, with researchers identifying more than 85,000 motorcycle accident trauma patients and separating them into groups of operators and passengers. For both, traumatic brain injuries were the most frequent injury among those who were not wearing helmets at the time of the crash. However, motorcycle passengers had “significantly” higher rates of injury and also lower helmet use compliance. The study is reportedly the first of its kind to examine the benefits of helmet use for motorcycle drivers compared to passengers.

In Indiana, approximately 100 motorcyclists die annually, but those figures aren’t broken down in data by operators vs. passengers.

Indiana does have a motorcycle helmet law, but it is not universal, meaning it does not affect everyone on a motorcycle. IC 9-21-10-9 stipulates that only drivers and passengers under 18 are required to wear protective head gear that meets minimum federal standards and also protective goggles, glasses, or transparent face shields. It is in company with 19 other states that have this same type of “partial” helmet law for occupants 17 and under.

Regardless of arguments by traffic safety advocates that the state should have a motorcycle helmet law, the fact is currently that we don’t. That makes the so-called “motorcycle helmet defense” (i.e., the notion that motorcycle occupants are comparatively negligent for the exacerbation of injuries due to not donning a helmet) typically a moot point in Indiana.

The required motorcycle coverage in Indiana is a minimum of $25,000 per person and $50,000 per crash, the same as for other motorists. That means if you are an injured motorist, you can file a claim with either the motorcycle operator or the other driver (in some cases, both, since each may bear some portion of responsibility).

This is especially important in cases of traumatic brain injuries (TBI) because they are such severe injuries. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports the estimated economic cost of TBIs in a single year – including direct and indirect medical costs – is approximately $76.5 billion. In terms of the psycho-social effects of a TBI, one study published in the journal ClinicoEconomics and Outcomes Research indicated that 10 years post-injury, TBI patients had higher divorce rates and increases in social isolation, caregiver stress, and unemployment. Within 20 years post-injury, 25 percent lived in a nursing home.

So while helmets for motorcyclists in Indiana are not required (and aren’t likely to affect your personal injury lawsuit either way), it’s generally a smart idea to wear one anyway.

Indiana Injury Attorney Burton A. Padove handles personal injury claims throughout northern Indiana, including Highland, Gary and Hammond. Call Toll Free 877-446-5294.

Additional Resources:

Comparison of Neurologic Trauma and Motorcycle Helmet Use in Drivers vs Passengers, Feb. 2018, JAMA Surg.

More Blog Entries:

Indiana Motorcycle Accident Victim’s $9M Damages Award Affirmed on Appeal, Feb. 16, 2018, Hammond Motorcycle Injury Attorney Blog

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