How safe is safety gear?

In the first study of its kind, researchers in Australia have applied hard numbers to the safety gear we wear below our helmets. Surveying motorcyclists who had crashed both with and without injury and with and without items of clothing like boots gloves and jackets, the team was able to piece together a statistical analysis of the benefits of each individual piece. For instance wearing real motorcycle boots was found to reduce the chances of injury by 53 percent.

The study will be published in its entirety in Accident Analysis and Prevention, a trade magazine for the organizations that try and make the world safer. But, key statistical findings have been released in part:

“When garments included fitted body armour there was a significantly reduced risk of any injury. This included a reduced risk of any injury to the upper body by 23%, legs by 39%, hands by 45% and feet by 45%. The results also found riders wearing shoes or joggers had a much higher risk of foot and ankle injuries, as any type of boot reduced risk of injury by 53%.”

The study also determined the kind of impacts in which we’re most often injured:

“While there are limits to the extent clothing can prevent injury in high impact crashes, it is in low impact crashes that protective clothing is thought to offer the greatest injury reduction. There is also evidence that the majority of motorcycle crashes do not involve high impacts.”

Another interesting takeaway is the frequency with which motorcycle gear fails:

“The results of the study also send a clear message to the manufacturers of motorcycle protective clothing.  The proportion of jackets (29%), pants (28%) and gloves (25%) that failed under crash conditions due to material damage indicates a need for improved quality control.”

To us, those numbers don’t seem to indicate a quality control problem with the right gear, but are rather indicative of the huge disparity in quality and protection between cheap crap and quality gear like I crashed in on Sunday. It stands to reason that an expensive leather jacket made by experts in the field of safety will offer greater injury amelioration than a bargain bin mesh jacket with cheesy foam in place of substantial armor. It seems as if the study has failed to account for that disparity, instead only identifying the presence of motorcycle-specific or non-bike wear. Of course that’d be nearly impossible to do, but it’s worth bearing in mind while considering the results. If jackets can reduce the risk of injury by 23 percent even while 29 percent of them fail, then it stands to reason that a high quality jacket, possibly even equipped with chest and back protection, can reduce that risk substantially further.

“We think it's vitally important that riders have access to information such as the findings of this study so they can make informed decisions about what they should wear every time they ride,” concluded a motorcycle insurer after being presented with the results. We couldn’t agree more. Knowledge is power.

George Institute

Thanks for the tip, Nick!

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