Their data correlates with that of the CDC and AAAM, showing that the majority of injuries (in this case broken bones) occur to the lower limbs.
Pattern and frequency of injuries in body extremities from
As you can see, the Tibia and Fibula are the most commonly broken bones in the lower extremity, followed by the Femur. In the upper body, it’s the wrist bones — the Radius and Ulna — which are the most commonly broken, followed by the Humerus.
In fact, the Tib and Fib represent such common injuries that the WHO report concludes: “In this study, the Tibia was found to be at greatest risk in motorbike accidents, probably due to its superficiality and exposed position while riding a motorbike. Protective measures need to be taken for the prevention of injuries and disability associated with lower limb involvement in motorbike accidents and leg protectors may help in this regard.”
But what about fatal injuries? The NHTSA provides that data, tracking available death certificate information for 8,539 fatal motorcycle crashes between 2000, 2001 and 2002.
Head Injury by Helmet Use
Among Fatally Injured Motorcycle Riders
As you’d expect, the instances of head injuries causing a fatality are shown to be lower among helmeted rider than among those that go without.
Injury Locations in Fatally Injured Motorcyclists When Only
One Injury-Related Record Axis Was Coded, 2000-2002
This table shows injury locations when only one injury was reported in a fatal crash. The head is the most common single area of fatal injury among both helmeted and unhelmeted riders, but does make up a greater proportion for unhelmeted riders.
Number of External Injury Codes for Fatally Injured
Motorcyclists by Their Helmet Use, 2000-2002
How many injuries are caused by multiple, as opposed to single injuries? It turns out not that many and is roughly the same across helmeted and unhelmeted riders.
Injury Locations in Fatally Injured Motorcyclists With Two
Injury-Related Record Axis, 2000-2002
This table tracks fatalities as the result of injuries in two locations. Again, the head is overwhelmingly fatal, more so for unhelmeted riders.
What We Don’t Know
The same problem that we had in What Can Fatality Rates Tell Us About Motorcycle Safety again exists here. Helmet use is only reported as a “yes” or “no,” but in the real world, a great difference exists between even DOT-certified, street legal helmets. A crash in a $700 Schuberth will not have the same results as a crash in a $25 half-helmet. On top of that, no other safety gear is statistically accounted for. We routinely watch as motorcycle racers walk away from 200 mph+ crashes while wearing head-to-toe protection; crashing in board shorts and flip-flops will have very different results.
What We Can Learn
To me, the most surprising data point is the prominence of leg and foot injuries. Among the small portion of motorcycle riders who actually take advantage of safety gear, these are the least likely areas to be equipped with real protection. Is this data a reflection of that fact or is it simply indicative of just how exposed our feet and legs are? Regardless, seriously protective boots, pants and armor are widely available and, anecdotally, are extremely effective at preventing foot and leg injuries.
At the same time, we can see that injuries to the lower extremities are unlikely to result in death. Overwhelmingly, according to the NHTSA, that is caused by a head injury, regardless of helmet use. That highlights the importance of wearing a quality, full-face helmet that’s less than five years old and fits properly; the glue used to bond layers of the EPS absorption material deteriorates beyond that time and poorly-fitting helmets can come loose in an impact, potentially failing to provide any protection or, worse, exacerbating injuries.
Injuries to the upper body are also common, but easily preventable. Virtually all motorcycle specific jackets incorporate shoulder armor, while protection for the back and chest is an easy add-on.
Next up are arm and hand injuries — those Radius and Ulna breaks. I’ve experienced more than my fair share of those, despite always wearing quality protection spanning my hands and arms. What I’ve learned that is effective, at least in some crashes that typically result in these injuries, are palm sliders. Those prevent your hands from “grabbing” the road, thereby turning direct impacts that would otherwise send forces straight up your arms into shearing forces that don’t break bones.
Hips and pelvic bones are pretty strong — reflected in the infrequency of their breaks — and also hard to protect against. That doesn’t mean you can’t do so, just that a full riding suit may be required, one that incorporates substantial armor around the hips, coccyx and pelvis. Padded under shorts — which will not fit under jeans — provide similar protection.
I guess what the real takeaway here is that major, life-altering injuries can occur anywhere on your body. But, it is easy to reduce the severity of them with quality, protective motorcycle gear. Hopefully this information helps you make the kind of decisions that could save your life, or at least your ankles.