Mechanisms of Head and Neck Injuries Sustained by Helmeted Motorcyclists in Fatal Real-World Crashes: Analysis of 47 In-Depth Cases

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Journal of Neurotrauma, 2016, 33 (19), pp. 1802 - 1807
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Copyright © 2016, Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. Despite an improved understanding of traumatic head and neck injury mechanisms, the impact tests required by major motorcycle helmet standards have remained unchanged for decades. Development of new test methods must reflect the specific impact loads causing injury in real crashes as well as test criteria appropriate for the observed injury profiles. This study analysed a collection of in-depth crash investigations of fatally injured helmeted riders in the Adelaide metropolitan region between 1983 and 1994 inclusive to review the head and neck injury patterns that resulted from specific types of impact. Inertial brain injury was sustained in 49% of examined cases, most often resulting from facial impacts but also in a large proportion of tangential, run over, and occipital impact cases. Focal brain and brainstem injury was also common (53%) and regularly associated with skull vault (11/12) and skull base fractures (22/31). Prevention of these fractures in impacts outside the area of required protection and in impacts with a straight edge would provide a significant increase in helmeted rider protection. Cervical spinal cord injury was sustained in facial, straight edge, and tangential impacts on the head. Motorcycle helmets are effective for preventing local skull fractures in impacts for which they are designed, whereas other serious injuries such as basilar skull fracture (BSF) and inertial brain injury persist despite helmet protection. Further impact test procedures should be developed for injurious impact types not currently assessed by major helmet standards, in particular facial impacts, and using test criteria based on commonly observed injuries. This study provides the necessary link, from impact load to injury, for guiding impact test development.
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