Pillion riders on motorcycle more vulnerable to traumatic brain injuries

A study conducted in the US suggests that motorcycle passengers are more likely to suffer from traumatic brain injuries in crashes as they are less likely to wear helmets. Researchers studied almost 80,000 motorcycle drivers and nearly 6,000 passengers who were involved in crashes between 2007 and 2010. Two-thirds of the drivers were wearing helmets, compared to only 57.5 percent of the passengers.

Traumatic brain injuries were the most common type of injury for drivers and passengers, the study found. But passengers experienced this more often, in 40 percent of cases, compared with 36 percent of cases for drivers, the researchers report in JAMA Surgery.

Even when they wear helmets, passengers are still more at risk than drivers. The rate of traumatic brain injury was 36 percent among helmeted passengers, compared to 31 percent among helmeted drivers.

“We believe that in certain accidents, the passenger is more likely to be ejected from the motorcycle,” said Dr. Tyler Evans of the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis. “This is likely to increase the risk for serious head injury despite helmet use, given that being ejected from the motorcycle at a high rate of speed may be too severe of an impact for the helmet to be as protective,” Evans said by email.

Drivers might have lower risk for these injuries because they sit behind a protective windshield and have a firm grip on the steering column, while the passenger often sits at a higher position behind the driver with little to hold on to, Evans added. “Being directly above the back wheel, one can hypothesize that passengers are more prone to being ejected from the motorcycle, likely adding to the potential for serious head and neck injuries,” Evans said.

“The drivers have the benefit of being more aware of what is in front of them and have a higher chance of bracing themselves and creating a tighter grip on the motorcycle, while the passenger often may not have the same reaction time given they are not controlling the motorcycle.” Alcohol also played a role, the study found. Fewer than half of passengers and drivers under the influence of alcohol wore helmets: 42 percent and 49 percent, respectively.