Do Motorcycle Helmets Impair Hearing and Vision of the Rider?

As we experience a “heatwave” in the St. Louis area, I notice people jogging down the sidewalk in shorts and more motorcycles out on the highways. As much of St. Louis is antsy to get outdoors after the last couple of months of ice and snow, everyone should remember that when the weather warms, there are more bicyclists and motorcyclists on the roadways. During the winter months, we become accustomed to not looking for these bicycles and motorcycles as they are few and far between on the ice and snow. But, when temperatures climb into the 50’s and 60’s, people dust off their motorcycles and bicycles and hit the roadways seeking sunshine and fresh air! As a motorcyclist, you probably have definite opinions about whether or not you should wear a helmet. Some agree that motorcycle helmets are a safety Must, while others feel that state mandates that they wear a helmet is an infringement on their rights. Unfortunately, motorcycle accidents tend to increase in the first weeks and months of nicer weather in Missouri and Illinois while other motorists are not looking for motorcycles.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the number of motorcycle fatalities increased from 2,295 nationally to 5,290 which more than doubled between 1998 to 2008. Of course, the number registered motorcycles also increased from 3,879,450 to 7,138,476 which is a proportionately double amount. Motorcycles are a cheaper form of transportation because they use less gas. The number of people injured also doubled between 1998 and 2008 from 49,000 to 96,000 injuries. Motorcycle accident injuries tend to be very serious in nature, or catastrophic including broken bones, head injuries, serious internal injuries, spine injuries and road burns. However, on the issue of motorcycle helmet use, opinions vary among motorcycle riders.

Do Motorcycle Helmets Interfere with the Vision and Hearing of Riders?

Opponents of mandatory state motorcycle helmets suggest that although effective in reducing injuries, helmets may increase the rider’s risk of crashing by interfering with the ability to see and hear surround traffic. So, in 1996, the NHTSA sponsored a study to assess the effect of wearing a helmet upon the ability of motorcycle riders 1) to visually detect the presence of vehicles in adjacent lanes before changing lanes, and 2) to detect traffic sounds when operating at normal highway speeds. The study was conducted by the National Public Research Institute.

The Study

Fifty motorcyclists of varying ages and riding experience participated in the study. The riders drove their own motorcycles along a prescribed test route. The route was five and a half miles on a four lane divided highway. In the vision portion of the test, the riders were asked to change lanes periodically, whenever they heard a signal from a following vehicle. When they heard the signal, riders were instructed to turn their heads to check traffic in the adjacent lane and then make the lane change in a normal manner. Each rider drove the test route three times; once each while wearing a full coverage helmet, a partial coverage helmet and no helmet. The degree of the head rotation riders made during the lane changes was measured.

To assess the effect of different helmets on hearing, the volume of the sound of the signal used to prompt the lane change was varied. The minimum sound (auditory threshold) was recorded for each rider. Half of the riders were in the vision test and half were in the hearing test.

Results- Vision

The vision test showed that most riders recover the lateral field of view that is lost by wearing a helmet by turning their heads a little farther. Before changing lanes, 19 of the 23 riders compensated for the loss by turned their heads more when they were wearing a helmet than when they were not wearing a helmet. These riders did not require significantly more time to turn their heads to check for traffic. Only four riders did not compensate.

Helmet use did not hamper the ability of see traffic or increase the time needed to visually check for nearby traffic. Overall, the negative interference of helmets on riders appeared to be minimal regarding vision in comparison to the protection offered by helmets should a crash occur.

Results – Hearing

The hearing test showed that there was no significant differences in the riders’ ability to hear the auditory signals regardless of whether they were wearing a helmet or not. There was a difference in the hearing threshold between travel speeds of 30 and 50 mph. At the greatest speed, all readers needed a louder auditory signal because of increased wind noise. For any given speed, helmets neither diminished nor enhanced hearing.

The results indicate that helmet use does not restrict the ability to hear auditory signals or the likelihood of seeing a vehicle in an adjacent lane prior to lane changes. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends that all motorcycle riders wear an approved helmet as any small interferences they contribute are far outweighed by the benefits of wearing a motorcycle helmet. In Missouri, according to the law, all Missouri motorcyclist must wear a helmet. The “NHTSA estimates that helmets saved 1,829 motorcyclists” lives in 2008, and that 823 more could have been saved if all motorcyclists had worn helmets”.

If You are in Missouri or Illinois Motorcycle Accident………

In Missouri, helmets are a state law. In Illinois, helmets are not required. However, from a legal standpoint, if you are in a motorcycle accident and you DO NOT have on a helmet in Illinois, a potential jury member may view you as “reckless” and not safety conscious. Maybe that is not fair….unfortunately, it is a perception of the general public. If you do not wear a helmet in Illinois while riding a motorcycle, you may not be breaking a law, but if you are injured, many will wonder why you were not taking safety measures to wear a helmet. In Missouri, if you are in a motorcycle accident and are not wearing a helmet, then the amount of your compensation if hit by a negligent driver may be impacted because you were not wearing a helmet.

Long and short of it, many think motorcycle riders should wear helmets as matter of safety. While I am the first to oppose a law that imposes on individual freedoms, I think helmet use for motorcycle riders has been proven to reduce motorcycle injuries and fatalities. If you have been injured in a motorcycle accident due to the negligence of another, or due to road conditions, you will need legal representation to maximize the compensation you can claim. Motorcycle riders have a right to share the road with all motorists and the attorneys at our firm do not believe that motorcycle riders are any less safe drivers/riders than any other operator of a motor vehicle. If you have been injured in Missouri or Illinois, your case will be slightly different. If injured or if you have lost a loved one in a motorcycle accident, you should gather information at the very least– by calling an experienced motorcycle accident lawyer at The Cagle Law Firm. We have handled many motorcycle accident cases from personal injury claims to wrongful deaths, and we are experienced in the rules and circumstances unique to motorcycle accidents. Call (314) 276-1681 for your free consultation today.

Contact Us Today

The Cagle Law Firm serves accident and injury clients throughout St. Louis and the greater St. Louis metropolitan area, including the eastern Missouri and southern Illinois communities. If you or a loved one needs legal assistance with your personal injury case, call The Cagle Law Firm at (314) 276-1681 or use our online contact form to schedule a free consultation.

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