August 7, 2003


Motorcycle injuries increasing

Rosemont, Illinois – With motorcycle season in full throttle, the need for motorcycle safety is critical, says the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

Since 1997, sales of motorcycles have increased more than 90%. Consequently, increased motorcycles on the road have resulted in an increase in injuries and fatalities, making it more important than ever for motorcycle enthusiasts to protect themselves.

“Our county hospital sees a lot of motorcycle accidents — at least one every few days,” says Maureen Finnegan, MD, associate professor at the University of Texas and orthopaedic surgeon at Parkland Hospital in Dallas. “In the Level One Trauma Unit, people are brought in with serious musculoskeletal injuries, open fractures and head trauma as a result of these accidents.”

In 2001, although motorcycles represented only 2.2 percent of all registered vehicles in the United States and accounted for 0.34 percent of vehicle miles traveled, crashes involving motorcycles accounted for 7.6 percent of total traffic fatalities on America’s roadways. The US Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently reported 42,815 fatalities in 2002 — the highest level since 1990.

Dr. Finnegan says that most motorcycle injuries involve the extremities and the spinal cord, while the majority of fatalities are a result of head injuries.

“The most important tip for motorcycle safety is to wear a helmet,” she says. “Good clothing is also important, as is learning how to ride a motorcycle — not just how you make it stop and go, but how you handle certain situations.”

Helmets are estimated to be 29 percent effective in preventing fatal injuries to motorcyclists and 67 percent effective in preventing brain injuries. Despite these findings, the NHTSA estimates helmet use for motorcycle operators fell from 71 percent in 2000 to 58 percent in 2002.

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons offers the following helpful tips to prevent motorcycle injuries:

  • Get trained. Research has shown that more than 90 percent of all riders
    involved in crashes were either self-taught or taught by friends.

  • Get licensed. Nearly one out of four motorcycle operators (27 percent)
    involved in fatal crashes in 2001 was not properly licensed.

  • Ride sober. Research has shown motorcyclists are most at risk for
    alcohol-related accidents.

  • Wear a helmet approved to meet DOT (Department of Transportation)
    standards.

  • Wear protective clothing, including eye protection, jacket, full-
    fingered gloves, long pants and over-the-ankle boots.

  • Make sure clothing is made of abrasion-resistant material, such as
    leather, and there is no loose, flailing clothing that could impair
    vision.

  • Wear brightly coloured garments to help other vehicles see you.
  • Keep your bike well maintained. Maintain proper lane positioning to
    further increase your visibility to drivers, and keep a “space cushion”
    between your bike and other traffic.

  • Never share a lane with a car. A driver may not expect you to be there
    and may not be aware of your presence. Remember most drivers are
    looking for other, bigger vehicles.

  • Know your skill level and ride with it.

Internet users can find injury prevention information on motorcycle safety and more, in the Prevent Injuries America! section of the Academy’s web site, orthoinfo.org . The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons is a not-for-profit organization that provides education programs for orthopaedic surgeons, allied health professionals and the public.

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