The number of skull fractures and other head and facial injuries as the result of motorcycle accidents occurring in Michigan have apparently doubled since the state’s motorcycle helmet laws were relaxed, according to a recent study.

“Our study demonstrates the negative impact of weakened motorcycle helmet laws leading to decreased helmet use,” says Nicholas S. Adams, MD, of Michigan State University College of Human Medicine and Spectrum Health, Grand Rapids.

Adams is lead author of a study that appears in the June issue of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, the official medical journal of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

The findings suggest that higher numbers of craniomaxillofacial (CMF) injuries can be added to increased deaths, serious injuries, and health care costs when motorcyclists ride without helmets, according to a media release from Wolters Kluwer Health: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.

In the study, the researchers used a state trauma quality improvement database to analyze changes in the rate of CMF injuries to motorcycle riders since the change in Michigan helmet laws. In 2012, Michigan repealed its universal motorcycle helmet law in favor of a partial law. Under the new law, riders are eligible to ride without helmets if they meet criteria for age (over 21), training/experience and insurance coverage.

Trends in CMF injuries were analyzed for 3 years before and 3 years after the change in helmet laws. The study included a total of 4,643 motorcycle trauma patients seen at 29 Michigan trauma centers.

Under the new law, the proportion of motorcycle trauma patients who were riding without helmets more than doubled, from 20% to 44%. Compared to helmeted patients, those not wearing helmets were about twice as likely to sustain CMF injuries, the release explains.

The difference was significant for fractures and soft tissue injuries. Patients without helmets had higher injury severity scores. Before and after the change in helmet laws, unhelmeted patients had higher blood alcohol content.

The absolute rate of CMF injuries increased from 25.5% under the universal helmet law to 37.2% under the partial helmet law. This translated into a relative 46% increase in overall CMF injuries, including a 28% increase in fractures and a 56% increase in soft tissue injuries.

The researchers also noted an increase in certain patterns of facial injuries after the change in helmet laws. Fractures of the cheekbones (malar fractures) increased significantly, as did facial lacerations, contusions, and abrasions. All types of injuries were more common in unhelmeted patients, the release continues.

There is a long history of debate over motorcycle helmet laws. Previous studies have shown that helmets prevent nearly 40% of fatal injuries and 13% of nonfatal serious injuries. Yet, up to one-third of motorcycle riders do not wear helmets, even more in states without universal helmet laws.

In light of this, Adams says, “We urge state and national legislators to reestablish universal motorcycle helmet laws.”

Based on their findings, the researchers estimate that wearing a motorcycle helmet can decrease the risk of facial trauma by half, while requiring all riders to wear helmets could decrease facial injuries by more than 30%, the release concludes.

[Source(s): Wolters Kluwer Health: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins, Newswise]