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Motorcycle accidents and upper limb injuries. Study

Nowadays, the choice of motorcycle equipment is really great, and the systems of testing and certification of the protective properties of the elements of the crew ensure that, when used correctly, the motorcycle protection is able to completely prevent serious injuries or at least reduce the severity of injury.

Moreover, the equipment is tested in a variety of ways, from frontal impacts to abrasion tests and other cunning techniques. Crew manufacturers, in turn, are using more and more sophisticated methods of absorbing impact energy and materials and technologies of a cosmic level in the desire to make equipment not only more durable and reliable, but also more comfortable, because only the equipment that was worn on a motorcyclist in an accident protects …

The human factor in a motorcycle accident

And here the question arises: what is the degree of influence of the human factor on injuries in accidents? A group of seven international medical researchers based in the United States and Israel has published a new study on the topic.


It is called “Motorcycle accidents and upper limb injuries”, and was published in the peer-reviewed open access medical journal SICOT-J (official journal Société Internationale de Chirurgie Orthopédique et de Traumatologie, i.e. the International Society of Orthopedic Surgery and Traumatology).

Moto accidents and injuries of different levels

The study retrospectively analyzed data on patients at one level 1 trauma center who participated in motorcycle accidents from June 2002 to December 2013. For reference, level 1 trauma centers are equipped to treat patients with the most severe injuries. Trauma center levels range from Level 1 to Level 5, with Level 5 Centers referring severely injured patients to Level 1 to Level 3 centers.

The information collected includes:

  • Basic patient demographics
  • Helmet Information
  • Toxicology (blood test for alcohol level, while the concept of “permissible level” was not used)
  • Bone injury
  • Injury severity rating (a scale for calculating the severity of body injury based on the most severe injury to six body systems)
  • Glasgow Coma Scale (Brain Injury Severity Scale)
  • Length of hospital stay
  • The cost of medical services

The researchers noted the following difficulties in collecting data:

  • Sober patients and patients wearing a helmet at the time of the accident are underrepresented. The reason for this is that only patients with severe enough injuries are admitted to the first level trauma center. It was also noted that patients who were wearing a helmet at the time of the accident were less likely to need hospitalization after the accident compared to those without a helmet.
  • Drunk motorcyclists and motorcyclists without a helmet were more likely to die at the scene of an accident, and this study did not include those who died on the spot or in the emergency room.
  • Since this study was retrospective, it is not as complete as it could have been. The data used in it was collected by the trauma center itself, so the researchers had no way of influencing what data was collected.
  • Also, the research team emphasized that “other protective equipment such as motorcycle jackets is one potential source of difficulty.”

Researchers were particularly interested in recording upper limb trauma in a broad sense, from the shoulders to the toes. Hence the interesting question: How did the last item on the list of difficulties in data collection affect the overall statistics? It is reasonable that the jacket and gloves can significantly affect the injuries of the upper extremities in an accident, and in both directions: fit, the location of protective elements, their type, the degree of wear of the equipment (including whether it has been in an accident before) and a number of other factors. Of course, the trauma center will not collect this data, but for the study it would be useful to know if the patient was wearing any other protective equipment at the time of the accident.

In addition, it would be highly beneficial to extend the time frame over which statistics were collected and to broaden the scope of data collection. This study used data collected from 2002-2013 on trauma center patients, but additional questions would help to better see the big picture and plan new studies. For example, what is the percentage of those who were in an accident in the region where the trauma center was located, but did not get into it? Why didn’t they hit him – because of not too serious injuries? Is this related to protective equipment? If so, what kind of equipment was it? What elements did the riders not use in the trauma center? What are the statistics on wearable airbags, do they affect the location and severity of injuries? In a word, there is enough information in the study to begin with, but I would like to cover a larger array of data.

Motor accident investigation results

During the period studied, the number of motorcycle accidents was 40% of all road accidents, as a result of which injured participants were admitted to the specified trauma center. Of the 37,086 patients registered in the admission department of the trauma center between 2002 and 2013, 1,066 (or 2.9 percent) were injured in motorcycle accidents. 571 of them received at least one upper limb injury – bones or soft tissues. In 271 patients, one or more fractures of the upper extremities were found.

67.1 percent of patients with upper limb injuries were sober but did not wear helmets. Of the reported fractures, 42.6 percent were in the hand, 41.7 percent in the forearm, and 15.7 percent in the humerus. 15.4 percent of patients had dislocation of the joints of the upper extremities, with the most common dislocation of the acromioclavicular joint – in 22.7% of patients. Only 6.3 percent of patients were admitted with soft tissue injuries.

According to the statistics of wearing helmets, the following is obtained: patients who were not wearing a helmet at the time of the accident had more proximal (located closer to the body) fractures of the humerus than patients in helmets. However, no difference was found in the location of forearm fractures depending on the wearing of the helmet. What the correlation between wearing a helmet and the location of the humerus fracture may indicate is unclear.

Unsurprisingly, helmeted patients arrived at the hospital with much more serious injuries than helmeted patients at the time of the accident. Moreover, serious injuries occur both on the head and on the body. Patients who had an accident wearing a helmet were more likely to have injuries to the upper extremities (both fractures and soft tissue bruises).

It is logical to assume that being conscious, a person instinctively puts his hands forward to soften the blow, but this conclusion was not explicitly mentioned in the study.

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