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Accidents and injuries - part 2

Saturday, November 21, 2015 @ 07:16

Accidents and injuries – the salt of riding

Part 2

Continuing from the first part of this article series, I shall discuss head injuries, bone fractions and relevant methods for minimizing the risks of such traumas.

Head injuries

According to the Oklahoma State Department of Health, head injuries, especially traumatic brain injury, are the leading cause of fatalities and permanent disability in motorcycle accidents. Research claims that just by wearing certified helmets, we can reduce motorcycle accident deaths by 29 to 35 percent. I was bewildered to learn that, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the use of helmets is not mandatory in many states in USA.
Earlier, in Chicago, I saw several riders protecting their heads with flaming skull bandannas and sports caps. Clear advantages aside, let's not gamble with our life unnecessary and give helmets a try, shall we?

What to do?

Numbness (arms, torso, hands, etc.), nausea, severe headache and dis-coordination (inability to grasp objects, difficulties to move) are some symptoms of what could be a concussion. If you crashed and your head had gotten into contact with any hard object, doctors urge paying the hospital a visit. Some symptoms might not be easy to identify immediately or they could even come later, when the damage could have already taken a toll on your health. We must protect our little biological computers!

The helmet - leave it be or take off?

A scientific paper published by T. Branfoot back in 1994 claims that cervical spine (the upper part of the spine that goes from the skull down to the top of the shoulder blades) injuries do not occur often in surviving motorbike riders – just around 1% are victims of this serious condition. On the other hand, the risks for not ensuring an adequate airway are considerable in patients wearing tight full-face helmets.
Due to the low probability of cervical injuries, the study recommends to remove the helmet of a crashed rider promptly and safely. Medics add that supervised helmet removal by the conscious patient is the best option. But what if the rider is unconscious? C-spine stabilization is highly advised – hence two people should take on the task of helmet removal. Even though statistical data does not provide a unanimous answer, in most cases, insufficient access to fresh air poses a much bigger threat to the rider as the clothing and helmet may obstruct breathing, disturb vomiting or make it difficult to assess head injuries and the overall well-being of the injured.

Bone Fractures

Unless you are riding a three-wheeled bike, you are most likely going to end up dropping your bike and sliding/flying/rolling somewhere far away during a crash. Motorcycling accidents happen so quickly that the rider’s leg often remains underneath the motorcycle, resulting in a broken or fractured leg. Snapped ankles are likely candidates too..
To support this, the Center for Neuro Skills reports broken legs as the most common injury for hospitalized motorcycle accident victims. Wrist and arm fractures are common injuries as well, as riders naturally react by trying to break their fall and catch themselves. Other common fractures resulting from motorbike accidents include physical damage to shoulders and the pelvis. A rather mystical condition known as the biker's arm may be caused by hard fall. The nerves of the upper arm get damaged during the crash, leading to permanent damage to the arm.



What to do?

Should you crash while riding and end-up potentially having suffered one of the above injuries, the first thing you should do is to get off the road. Everything else is of secondary importance. Crawl or roll should it be necessary, but make sure to be off the path of other motorists ASAP! If you are pinned down by your bike, try to make yourself as visible as possible – hand waving and using the bike’s horn have been described as highly efficient means of attracting attention to oneself in similar situations.

Evaluating the injuries is the next important step: if you have difficulties in moving any of your limbs, feel strong pain or notice bleeding, call for an ambulance – you need immediate help. Keeping your phone close-by (e.g. in some pocket) while riding helps a lot in such situations. In case of pain, avoid moving that body part too much until the ambulance arrives. Whereas if you are bleeding, attempt to carefully remove some of your clothing and use it to stop the blood flow.

If you managed to attract attention of some people around you, defeat your pride and ask for assistance: whether it is with removing your helmet, clothes or with moving around, or with dragging the bike off the road.

Your bike or its debris can cause further injuries for incoming riders who are unaware of your fall. Maybe after reading this you are thinking: “Hm, I don’t really know what I’d do if…” – no worries, we humans are forgetful creatures. My advice would be to refresh your first aid knowledge to possibly help yourself or a fellow rider in the future.


ATGATT attitude

I realize how dangerous motorcycling can be myself, yet I cannot resist the temptation to get on my bike and ride – it is simply too good. However, the understanding that I will not be able to ride for a long time or never again after crashing makes me think while on the road. What can I do to keep riding?

My approach to it is wearing all the gear all the time (ATGATT). I never leave my hi-viz jacket at home – even though once, while wearing it, I had to slide and drift to avoid collision with an oblivious car driver. Daytime, lights, high visibility clothes and still nothing – the old lady did not see me coming from 50 meters away… My helmet is also always on – I did not have the chance to really test it yet, but that is quite alright. But it does save my eyes and face against sharp insects on a daily basis, that's for sure! I recommend keeping your full-face helmets closed too – several times I saw red-hot cigarette butts flying right beside my face.


Try to pay attention to these – they might get caught up by your clothing and things might get warm rather quickly. Besides that, I have read that 35% of all crashes show major impact on the chin-bar area – one more reason to wear full helmets.

Motorcycling gear protective benefits in a nutshell:

  • Helmet – protects the head from concussions and the eyes/face from object impact at 100+ km/h.

  • Protective jacket – covers the neck, guards our shoulders, elbows and back. Reduces risk of skin abrasion and bruises to the minimum.

  • Padded gloves – prevents road rash on the hands and keeps them warm and active!

  • Reinforced pants – protects the knees and limits the likelihood of skin lacerations. Some even have soft pads in certain places for those ultra long tours!

  • Motorcycle boots – allows us to forget about skin and, potentially, toe loss during an accident.

We are lucky to live in these times when protective motorcycle clothing is widely available, affordable and effective! While motorcycle airbags are still under development, it is us who have to take care of ourselves while on the road - our bikes are safety-free excitement machines, after all.. Yet Eleanor Everet has once delicately defined it: “For safety is not a gadget but a state of mind”.

Lukas J.


Effective strategies for motorcycle stops” by NHTSA, 2014
Motorcyclists, full-face helmets and neck injuries: can you take the helmet off safely, and if so, how?” by T.Branfoot, 1994


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