How to Avoid Motorcycle Accident Injuries
Posted on August 15th, 2019 by Zane Cagle
Motorcyclists are far more likely to suffer serious injuries or even death than occupants of other vehicles due in part to the lack of protective features such as seatbelts, airbags, or enclosed steel framing. In fact, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, more than 80,000 persons suffer from injuries sustained in motorcycle accidents each year in the United States. Here is a look at the most common injuries suffered in motorcycle accidents, how these accidents are generally caused, and how to avoid becoming a motorcycle accident statistic. If you know someone who has experienced an incident and could could benefit from speaking to a motorcycle accident lawyer, reach out to The Cagle Law Firm.
The Most Common Non-Fatal Motorcycle Injuries
As reported by Ride Apart, an extensive study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) between 2001 and 2008, revealed the most common injuries to motorcyclists based on hospital emergency room information from around the country. The results are as follows:
Legs and Feet
Although injuries to the legs and feet tend to be less severe than injuries to other parts of the body, such as the head and neck, leg and foot injuries are more common. In fact, 30 percent of all non-fatal motorcycle accident injuries occur in the lower extremities. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) notes that broken bones in this region are more common than soft tissue injuries. Consider the following:
- Broken tibia and fibula malleolar (prominent bony structures) make up around 90 percent of the ankle injuries sustained by motorcyclists.
- About 9 percent of all motorcycle accident ankle injuries involve the dislocation of an ankle.
- Tibia and fibula fractures constitute about 95 percent of the leg injuries from motorcycle accidents that are treated at hospital emergency rooms. About 3 percent of leg injuries from motorcycle accidents involve leg amputations and severe crush injuries to the leg.
- The most common knee injuries include fractures of the tibial plateau, accounting for 37 percent of motorcycle accident knee injuries, while fractured patellas (knee cap) account for about 18 percent.
- Ninety-four percent of thigh injuries from motorcycle accidents involve fractured femurs. Only 4 percent of motorcycle accident injuries to the thigh region involve soft tissues, such as injuries to the thigh arteries, veins, and nerves.
- More than 84 percent of foot injuries suffered by motorcyclists in accidents involved fractures to the bony structures, such as the metatarsal, tarsal, calcaneus, and talus.
- The most common lower extremity injury suffered in motorcycle accidents occurred to the legs, accounting for about 28 percent of all lower extremity injuries.
Head and Neck
While not as common as lower extremity injuries, head injuries are the leading cause of disability and fatalities among motorcyclists. Traumatic brain injuries occur when there is a sudden jolt or blow to the head, such as that often experienced by riders who are not helmeted at the time of an accident. Penetration into the brain by an object, or even a piece of the skull, can also result in a traumatic brain injury. Brain injuries are categorized as mild, moderate, or severe.
While the symptoms of a mild brain injury tend to last only a few days or weeks, more severe brain injuries can produce life-altering effects or even result in death. Some of the symptoms of a traumatic brain injury include:
- Loss of consciousness
- Feeling dazed or disoriented
- Nausea or vomiting
- Slurred speech
- Changes in sleep patterns, such as difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
- Ringing in the ears
- Sensitivity to light or sound
- Memory or concentration problems
- Mood swings
- Agitation or combativeness
- Anxiety or depression
- Persistent headache
- Convulsions or seizures
The term “mild” should not be confused with the term “insignificant”. A brain injury is always serious even if the medical classification is “mild”. The term “mild” pertains to the testing and does not mean that someone with a mild traumatic brain injury will not suffer permanent injuries. Any “traumatic brain injury” is considered serious and consequential.
Motorcycle injuries can cause damage to the bones, tendons, ligaments, nerves, or
muscles of the neck. Neck injuries can have severe, long-term consequences, including paralysis, chronic pain, and difficulty breathing. Like severe head injuries, neck injuries can result in the need for around the clock care and help with simple tasks. Ride Apart reports that 22 percent of motorcycle crash victims suffer head or neck injuries.
Upper Trunk (Chest, Shoulder, and Back)
Chest trauma injuries are the second-most leading cause of death in motorcycle accidents, coming behind only head injuries. Chest injuries are often caused when the motorcyclist gets pinned beneath his or her motorcycle, gets run over by an automobile, is pushed into the handlebars, or upon ejection strikes a stationary object with his or her body. Chest injuries may include crush injuries, as well as penetration through the chest wall that results in internal injuries to the lungs, heart, or other organs. Symptoms of chest injuries may include:
- Upper back or chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Trouble swallowing or speaking
The shoulder has the greatest range of motion of any joint in the body. Because of this, it is not uncommon for shoulder injuries to occur from motorcycle accidents. Some common shoulder injuries include dislocations, injuries to the muscles and tendons that hold the joint in place, or fractures to the upper arm bone, collar bone, or shoulder bone. The following symptoms may indicate a shoulder injury:
- Tenderness that may worsen at night
- Tingling, numbness, or weakness in the shoulder
- Shoulder pain that worsens with exertion
- Difficulty moving the arm without pain
- Paleness or discoloration in the shoulder area
Spinal injuries suffered from motorcycle accidents often present a grim prognosis due to the spine’s important role in relaying messages from the brain to the body and controlling motor function. Spinal injuries are categorized as complete—meaning that the body has lost all sensory and motor function below the injury, or incomplete—meaning that the body retains some sensory and motor function. The terms “complete” and “incomplete” refer to blunt force trauma to the spine. However, discs between the vertebra are easily subject to injury. Disc injuries are very serious and often require a great deal of medical treatment.
Depending on how high up on the spine the injury occurs, the loss of function may cause paraplegia, where the trunk and arms are affected, or tetraplegia (also known as quadriplegia), where the trunk, arms, pelvis, and legs suffer loss of function.
Arms and Hands
It is not unusual for victims of motorcycle accidents to suffer injuries to their arms and hands. One of the most common of these injuries is biker’s arm, which occurs when a motorcyclist attempts to brace himself or herself with an arm when colliding with the pavement or other stationary objects. This results in nerve damage in the arm and may even lead to paralysis of the limb. The nerves that are generally damaged in a biker’s arm injury include one or more of the following, all of which branch off of the brachial plexus, located at the base of the neck:
- Median nerve, which controls function to the front of the forearm, as well as the palm and base of the thumb.
- Radial nerve, which controls function in the upper arm, as well as the wrists and fingers.
- Ulnar nerve, which controls fine movements in the fingers.
Fractures in the arm bones, hands, and fingers also may occur in motorcycle accidents, with the long bones in the arms being likely candidates. Other injuries to the arms and hands include road rash on unprotected skin and serious abrasions to the elbows and palms.
Lower Trunk (Hips and Pelvis)
The NHTSA reports that hip fractures are the most common type of hip injury suffered by motorcyclists, accounting for 37 percent of injuries to the hip region. Fractures to various parts of the pelvis are the most common injury to the pelvic region, accounting for about 69 percent of all pelvic injuries caused by motorcycle accidents.
How to Protect Yourself From Injuries
Someone else’s carelessness may make avoiding an accident impossible. However, as explained by Ride Apart, you can lessen the severity of injuries and even save your life by following these tips:
- Wear a quality, full-face helmet every time you ride. Because the glue that bonds the layers of absorption material together within the helmet ages over time, you should replace your helmet with a new one after five years or sooner. You should also replace your helmet if it is involved in an accident or has fallen or been dropped onto a hard surface. Never wear a hand-me-down helmet from someone else, as you don’t know the age or the history of the helmet. Instead, select a new helmet that has been properly fitted to your head. Ride Apart adds that 45 percent of impacts to the helmet happen around the face area, which is why a full-face helmet is encouraged. To be legally worn on roadways throughout the U.S., the helmet should be DOT -approved.
- To protect the chest, arms, and shoulders, riders should wear a motorcycle-specific jacket when riding. Most of these jackets contain shoulder armor, with the option of adding protection for the chest and back as well. Armor should come with a CE rating. The jacket should fit snugly but still allow a full range of motion in your arms.
- Palm sliders are a form of protective gear that you should wear to protect both the palms of your hands from abrasions and the skin of your hands from “grabbing” the roadway during an accident and causing the energy of the impact to travel up the arm and cause bone fractures.
- Hip and pelvic injuries can be reduced or avoided by using a full riding suit that offers armor in the hip and pelvic region. Padded undershorts can provide additional protection, though these will usually not fit under jeans.
- Because jeans do not provide ample protection for the body, it is recommended that you purchase riding pants. Often, you can find riding pants that zip to your riding jacket and provide full coverage of the bulk of your body. Both the jacket and pants can be made of leather or tough textiles, and should carry a CE rating along with armor for the hips, shins, and knees. As with the jacket, your pants should fit snugly but allow full articulation of your limbs. This clothing can greatly reduce the amount of road rash a motorcyclist may experience in a crash.
- Due not only to the protection they provide for feet and ankles during an accident but also during the act of supporting the weight of a bike that can weigh 350 pounds or more, a quality pair of riding boots is essential. Riding boots often carry a metal plate within the soles to prevent twisting. The boot should feature armor over the ankle and shin, and should tie tightly just above the ankle to prevent the boot from flying off during the accident, and thus providing no protection at all.
- Gloves are an important addition to your riding attire, as they protect your hands, wrists, and fingers in an accident. Motorcycle gloves should fully cover fingers, palms, hands, and wrists, and there should be a significant overlap between your gloves and the sleeves of your jacket so that you have no exposed skin between the two. You should have a retention strap on the wrist to prevent your gloves from coming off during an accident, and the gloves should be made of abrasion-resistant material. While armor is as important in gloves as it is anywhere else, you should ensure that your gloves still allow you the ability to operate the controls on your bike.
Of all of the gear you can buy and use to reduce your risk of serious injury in a motorcycle crash, the most important is the helmet. According to a report from the Advocates for Highway & Auto Safety, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that, in 2017, helmets saved the lives of 1,870 motorcyclists.
The societal cost that is saved by the use of motorcycle helmets is about $17 billion per year. Motorcycle helmets reduce the risk of death in an accident by 42 percent and reduce the risk of a head injury by 69 percent. Head injuries from all causes, including motorcycle accidents, are currently one of the leading causes of disability and death in the nation.
If you were injured in a motorcycle accident caused by someone else’s negligence, you may be eligible to receive compensation for your injuries. Contacting an experienced motorcycle accident attorney can help you to understand your legal options.