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Head Injuries Up After Helmet Law Repeal

In Pennsylvania, Head Injury Deaths From Motorcycle Crashes Rise by 66%
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

June 12, 2008 -- Head injuries from motorcycle crashes rose after the repeal of motorcycle helmet laws in Pennsylvania, a study shows.

The study's researchers found a 66% increase in motorcycle-related head injury deaths and a 78% increase in head injury hospitalizations from motorcycle crashes since the repeal of Pennsylvania’s motorcycle helmet law in 2003.

"Our study shows that since the repeal of Pennsylvania's motorcycle helmet law, helmet use has gone down, while head injuries from motorcycle crashes have gone up, even after increased motorcycle registration," researcher Kristen Mertz, MD, MPH, assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, says in a news release. "The relatively large increase in head injury deaths and hospitalizations after the repeal suggests that the law was protecting riders."

Researchers say the findings strengthen the argument for more comprehensive helmet laws to help protect motorcycle riders. Motorcycle helmet laws have weakened across the U.S. since 1975, when the federal government stopped withholding highway money from states without universal motorcycle helmet laws. Only 20 states have laws that require all riders to wear helmets.

Head Injury Risks Rise Without Helmets

In the study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, researchers compared motorcycle-related head injuries in Pennsylvania when motorcycle helmet laws were still in effect from 2001-2002 and after the repeal in 2004-2005.

They found helmet use decreased among motorcycle riders involved in reported crashes from 82% to 58% after the repeal of the motorcycle helmet laws. During the same time period, head injury deaths from motorcycle crashes increased 66%.

Motorcycle-related head injury hospitalizations also increased 78% after the law was repealed, and the number of motorcyclists with head injuries requiring further treatment at rehabilitation facilities and long-term care centers increased 87% after the repeal.

In comparison, non-head injury-related deaths and hospitalizations that were motorcycle-related rose by much smaller margins, 25% and 28% respectively.

Finally, researchers found total hospital charges arising from treating motorcycle crash-related head injuries increased 132% in the two years following the repeal of the motorcycle helmet law, compared with a rise of 69% for non-head injuries.

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