Motorcyclists’ Risk of Death May Depend on Race, Not Helmets

By | January 25, 2017

In the last decade, the number of motorcycle-related fatalities has risen to a record high. Annually, almost 5,000 people die from motorcycle accidents, and this has sparked a widespread movement for motorcycle safety, mainly focusing on encouraging (and requiring) riders to wear helmets. However, a new study shows that a motorcyclist’s race may affect his chances of death more than whether he wears a helmet.
According to a recent study from Johns Hopkins University, African-Americans involved in motorcycle accidents are more likely to die from their injuries than whites in similar crashes. This is so even though more black motorcyclists regularly wear helmets.
Researchers, who analyzed the National Trauma Data Bank’s information on the almost 70,000 people involved in motorcycle accidents between 2002 and 2006, have not determined the reasons for the disparity. Earlier research theorized that factors such as reduced access to health insurance and care or a greater number of pre-existing injuries contributed to the increased likelihood of motorcycle-related death. However, the Johns Hopkins research found that, after controlling for these factors, black motorcyclists were 1.5 times more likely to suffer fatal injuries while also 30 percent more likely to be wearing helmets.
Although further research is needed and planned, researchers now believe that the racial disparity may be attributed to behavioral differences, such as more dangerous driving behaviors or the type of helmet or motorcycle used.
According to Dr. Adil Haider, a professor of surgery and co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Surgical Trials and Outcomes Research, the research indicates that more research needs to be done. “For reasons that we are still trying to figure out, one size of injury prevention does not fit all groups of people and just wearing a helmet is not enough,” Haider said. “Helmet for helmet, African-Americans have more lethal injuries.” Haider says that more focus should be placed on injury prevention programs that go beyond helmets to prevent future motorcycle deaths.