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Helmet law change leads to increased head, facial injuries

In 2012, the state of Michigan repealed its universal motorcycle helmet law to allow riders to ride without helmets if they are over age 21, among other requirements.

By Amy Wallace
Helmet law change leads to increased head, facial injuries
A Michigan State University study has found the incidence of head and facial injuries have doubled since Michigan relaxed its motorcycle helmet laws. Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo

May 26 (UPI) -- A study from Michigan State University shows head and facial injuries have doubled since the state repealed and relaxed its motorcycle helmet law.

In 2012, the state of Michigan repealed its universal motorcycle helmet law to allow riders to ride without helmets if they are over age 21, and met other requirements such as proper training and insurance coverage.

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Researchers used data from a state trauma quality improvement database to determine changes in injury rates after the state changed its helmet laws.

The study found that under the new law, the proportion of motorcycle trauma patients who were riding without helmets more than doubled from 20 percent to 44 percent compared to injuries to patients who were wearing a helmet. People not wearing helmets were twice as likely to have a craniomaxillofacial, or CMF, injury which increases the risk of death.

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"Our study demonstrates the negative impact of weakened motorcycle helmet laws leading to decreased helmet use," Dr. Nicholas S. Adams, of Michigan State University College of Human Medicine and Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids, said in a press release.

Researchers analyzed trends in CMF injuries for three years before and three years after the state relaxed its helmet laws for a total of 4,643 motorcycle trauma patients treated at 29 Michigan trauma centers.

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The study revealed patients without helmets had higher injury severity scores. The rate of CMF injuries increased from 25.5 percent under the universal helmet law to 37.2 percent under the partial law.

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There was a 46 percent increase in overall CMF injuries, including a 28 percent increase in fractures and a 56 percent increase in soft tissue injuries, with fractures of the cheekbones increasing significantly in those not wearing helmets.

Researchers estimated that wearing a motorcycle helmet can decrease the risk of facial trauma by half.

"We urge state and national legislators to reestablish universal motorcycle helmet laws," Adams said.

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The study was published in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.

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