The Risks of Riding Your Motorcycle Without a Helmet

Driver holding a helmet for protection.

What are the risks of riding your motorcycle without a helmet? Unless you are under age 18, you do not need to wear a helmet when you ride your motorcycle in Indiana. However, just because the law allows you to go helmet-free, it does not necessarily mean that you should do so. The reality is that wearing a helmet could help you to avoid serious, life-changing injuries in a motorcycle accident. Ultimately, a helmet could save your life. As we explain below, that’s not an opinion. It’s a fact – backed by statistics and a great deal of research on this subject.

Statistics Show that Motorcycle Helmets Make You Safer

According to the latest statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), motorcycle accidents claimed 5,286 lives in our country in 2016, which marked a 5.1 percent rise from the previous year. In Indiana alone, 101 people died in motorcycle crashes.

A lack of helmet use contributed to that high number of fatalities, the agency indicates. Consider the following:

  • Helmets are 37 percent effective when it comes to saving the lives of motorcycle riders and 41 percent effective when it comes to protecting the lives of passengers, according to the NHTSA.
  • Despite those safety benefits, only 63.5 percent of motorcycle riders in our country wore U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT)-compliant helmets in 2016. The low rate could be attributed to the fact that only 19 states have “universal helmet laws” that require all riders and passengers of all ages to wear a helmet when they ride. (Indiana is among 28 states that require helmet use for only a subset of riders such as those under age 18.)
  • Among those who died in motorcycle crashes in the U.S. in 2016, 41 percent were not wearing a helmet. In Indiana, that figure was significantly higher. The NHTSA reports that 75 percent of the people who died in motorcycle accidents in our state were un-helmeted – basically, three out of every four.
  • The good news is that helmet use may have saved the lives of 1,859 motorcyclists over the course of the year, the NHTSA reports. According to the agency, if 100 percent of all riders and passengers had worn helmets, an additional 802 lives would have been saved.

Of course, it’s not just fatalities that helmets help to prevent. A helmet can also help motorcyclists to avoid serious, non-fatal injuries. For instance, a 2017 study by the Indiana University School of Medicine found that traumatic brain injuries are the most frequent injury among individuals who do not wear helmets at the time of a collision.

More recent research by the University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics in Madison indicates that using a helmet significantly reduces the likelihood of sustaining a cervical spine injury (CSI) during a motorcycle crash. Helmets are particularly effective when it comes to prevention of cervical vertebrae (neck) fractures, the researchers concluded.

Additionally, helmet use can prevent injuries such as:

  • Facial fractures
  • Dental injuries (loss of teeth)
  • Ear and eye damage
  • Disfigurement and scarring.

“Helmets work,” the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) bluntly states. “Helmet effectiveness has been confirmed by scientific studies, while helmet myths – ‘helmets break necks, block vision and impair hearing’ – have been consistently disproved.”

How Do Motorcycle Helmets Prevent Injuries?

In a brochure that also explains how to choose the proper helmet, the MSF explains how the four components of a motorcycle helmet work to protect a rider in a crash:

  • The outer shell is sturdy but designed to compress when it hits anything hard. This action disperses energy from the impact to lessen the force before it reaches the user’s head. The outer shell of a motorcycle helmet is usually made from some family of fiber-reinforced composites or thermoplastics, like polycarbonate.
  • The impact-absorbing liner serves to cushion and absorb shock when a rider hits an object. This dense layer is usually made of expanded polystyrene (commonly called “Styrofoam”).
  • A soft foam-and-cloth layer of comfort padding next to helmet wearer’s head makes the helmet snug and comfortable.
  • The retention system, or chin strap, keeps the helmet on the motorcyclist’s head in a crash. A strap is connected to each side of the shell.

When a motorcycle helmet is hit hard, the outer shell and the liner compress to spread the forces of impact throughout the helmet material. The more impact-energy deflected or absorbed, the less energy there is to injure the user’s head and brain. Some helmet shells further absorb shock by cracking and/or breaking apart as they take a severe hit.

What Type of Motorcycle Helmet Should You Buy?

Again, if you are an adult, Indiana law does not require you to wear helmet when you ride a motorcycle. You have every right to go helmet-free. However, if you want to ensure your safety on a motorcycle, you should always wear one. If you don’t have a helmet, several guides are available online to help you choose the right. Additionally, you should check out the NHTSA’s guide to finding a helmet that provides you with the best fit.

Hurt in a Crash? Our Fort Wayne Motorcycle Accident Lawyers Can Help You

At Truitt Law Offices, we respect the right of adult motorcyclists to ride without a helmet in Indiana. With that said, we urge you to always wear a motorcycle helmet every time you ride. It does not matter whether you are a rider or a passenger. The benefits of wearing a helmet simply exceed the risks of serious injury or death that you will face if you don’t wear one.

If you are involved in a motorcycle accident in Fort Wayne or elsewhere in Northeast Indiana, you can protect your legal rights by getting in touch with our law firm as early as possible. We can provide a free consultation and immediately get to work on investigating your case. Our goal will be to recover maximum compensation for you and to help you on the road to your recovery. To learn more, call or reach us online today.

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About the Author

As an attorney who has practiced law in Northeast Indiana for nearly four decades, Richard Truitt has seen many changes in the way personal injury and wrongful death cases are handled. However, at least one aspect of his work has remained the same. “You always have to listen to your clients, and you have…