Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Motorcycle Helmets Do Not Impair Vision or Hearing (unless it's our novelty skull helmet)

Motorcycle riders who do not support universal helmet laws often argue that full-face helmets hinder their ability to see traffic obstacles and hear on-coming traffic therefore contributing to accidents. However, a study conducted by The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) argues that motorcyclists that wear helmets are twenty-nine percent less likely to suffer fatal injuries.

In an effort to debunk the accusations that helmets hinder your ability to see and hear, the NHTSA sponsored a study that assessed a motorcyclist’s ability to hear and see different traffic conditions. The study involved a group of 50 motorcyclists with varying ages and riding experiences who were asked to perform certain maneuvers while driving in a two part study:

1. Vision Test: Driver’s were asked to change lanes whenever they heard a signal from a following vehicle. After hearing the signal, drivers were instructed to follow safe driving procedures by checking over their shoulder before changing lanes. Each driver was asked to repeat the vision test three times, once in a full-face helmet, then in a partial coverage helmet and finally with no helmet. NHTSA measured the degree of head rotation made by the drivers during these various exercises.

2. Hearing Test: During the same exam, the sound of the signal was adjusted to varying levels while signaling the drivers to change lanes. The minimum sound level that each driver could hear was recorded.

Although 50 drivers participated in the same test, half were studied for hearing while the other half was studied for vision.

Based on results published by NHTSA, 16 percent of drivers were able to compensate for lost of lateral vision by turning their heads farther – only four riders did not compensate. The drivers were not noted to require any additional time to turn their heads farther and check for traffic.

The hearing test did not show any differences between the driver’s ability to recognize auditory signals with or without a helmet. However, their ability to hear the signal clearly was affected by their speed of travel. The study showed that all riders needed a louder signal at a higher speed as a result of increased wind noise.

The release of this data has been a great benefit to those in support of helmet laws, and ultimately forced naysayers to switch their argument to a “freedom of choice” type logic; instead arguing that wearing a helmet should be at the discretion of every rider.

I’m not sure I buy it. Not just because I’m obviously a self-proclaimed advocate for motorcycle safety and the wearing of protective gear but for the simple fact that I’m a logical human being. There isn't much of a difference between a seat belt and a helmet. They both keep you from suffering a head injury by slamming into the ground or your own windshield.

Politics and obvious public health costs aside, I don’t understand why someone wouldn't want to protect their skull. Regardless of your skill or experience level as a rider, you cant guarantee that other drivers on the road are paying attention. If you love to ride your motorcycle, you should want to ride it for as long as you can which would be pretty difficult with your brains on the pavement.

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