The freedom and excitement that comes from riding a motorcycle is like nothing else, but it comes with some serious risks. As the driver of a motorcycle is open and exposed to the elements surrounding them with little protection, it is important to be aware of the type of injuries that are caused by accidents on these vehicles. The human body has its own form of protection for its major organs such as the heart and brain. They also are there to support our bodies, and to help us move. When your bones are damaged, it can be detrimental to the organs they protect and the parts of our bodies that are necessary to keep up mobile.
If a motorcyclist is involved in an accident, they will often suffer from fractured bones, like the bones in the hands, wrist, legs, and skull. While we may see broken bones as a common injury, severe bone breaks can alter one’s life, leading to further complications such as brain damage and amputations. A lifetime of rehabilitation and doctor’s visits may be one of the many consequences of either someone else’s negligence or the negligence of the motorcyclist themselves (if you are a passenger on the motorcycle).
Motorcycle crash statistics
As there are fewer motorcycles on the road (they make up 3% of all registered vehicles), it would make sense that they would make up fewer accidents as well. The reality is, however, people killed in motorcycle accidents made up “14% of all traffic fatalities, 18% of all occupant fatalities, and 4% of all occupant injuries in 2020,” according to the National Safety Council.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) goes into further detail, reporting that in 2020, about 82,528 motorcyclists were injured and 5,579 were killed on our nation’s roads. They state that “this is the highest number of motorcyclists killed since FARS [Fatality Analysis Reporting System] started in 1975.” Motorcyclist fatalities happened about 28 times more often than other vehicle accidents.
One of the major contributing factors to motorcyclist fatalities is the lack of helmet use. The NHTSA reports in 2020, 57% of motorcyclists killed were not wearing helmets – these were in states without universal helmet laws. In comparison, in states that do have universal helmet laws, only 11% of fatalities were due to a lack of a helmet.
Finally, while young drivers are often depicted as reckless, the age group that accounted for the greatest number of fatalities (23%) in 2020 was the 55-and-older group. From 2011 to 2020, “motorcyclist fatalities among the 55-and-older age group increased by 37 percent, from 1,087 to 1,486.” This age group, while making up the minority of motorcycle riders on the road, makes up the majority of their fatalities, and that may be due to how aging bodies are more susceptible to injuries (especially bone injuries) that people who are younger.
What are the most common types of bone injuries caused by motorcycle accidents?
Depending on the protective gear the motorcyclist is wearing, the severity and placement of the injuries can vary from person to person. The most common types of bone injuries caused by motorcycle accidents include:
- Skull fracture. Skull fractures are serious injuries, and the main reason a motorcyclist should be wearing a helmet. The skull is meant to protect your brain, and if your skull is damaged, your brain is very likely to be damaged as well, resulting in a traumatic brain injury. These injuries can leave a person changed forever, affecting mobility, speech, and hand-eye coordination among other complications. Symptoms of a skull fracture include: Confusion, seizures, slurred speech, headaches, nausea, vomiting, bleeding from the ears, nose, and eyes, and loss of consciousness.
- Leg bone fractures. This type of fracture is common in motorcycle crashes, as the legs are often the first body part to hit the ground (or another car) during an accident. The bones most often fractured in the leg are the shin and the femur. Often, in these crashes, the type of fracture most likely to happen is a comminuted fracture, and will require surgery Plates and screws, or rods and nails may be necessary to stabilize the bone. After months of treatment, and months of physical therapy, the victim can still experience complications such as malalignment, infection, blood clots, and injury to the nerves and blood vessels.
- Pelvic fracture. The pelvis is a highly stable part of the body, due to its shape and location in the body. In order to break your pelvis, it has to be caused by a high-intensity, high-impact trauma, such as a motorcycle accident. The pelvis has many parts to it, such as the pelvic ring, hip bones, sacrum, and coccyx, but damage to your pelvis can also include damage to the lower part of your nervous system. According to the National Library of Medicine, “neurologic injuries associated with pelvic fractures typically involve the L5 or S1 nerve roots. If there is a sacral fracture involved, this may also include an S2-S5 sacral nerve root injury which could result in bowel or bladder incontinence and sexual dysfunction.” Damage to your pelvis can cause a decrease in the quality of life even years after the surgery to treat the fracture. This includes the physical aspects of life as well as mental, emotional, and social aspects.
- Hand, wrist, and ankle These are some of the most common types of fractures for motorcyclists, as during an accident, the riders often throw out their arms, hands, and feet to try and break their fall. These injuries usually only require casting, depending on the break. These bones are smaller and more fragile than other bones, hence their commonality in motorcycle accidents. While treatment and recovery have a good outlook, severe breaks can cause disfigurement and a decrease in functionality, which may affect one’s ability to work or do hobbies.
It should be noted that older drivers (drivers in the 55-and-older range) are more prone to injury as their bones are more fragile due to aging. Osteoporosis is a huge factor in bone-breaks, as the disease causes low bone density. According to HealthinAging, “one half of all postmenopausal women and one in five men over 50 will experience a fracture related to osteoporosis.” Since pelvic and hip fractures are a risk in motorcycle accidents, it should be stated that for older riders, the risk of death a year after a hip fracture is 20% likely.
What are the different categories of bone injuries?
Bone fractures and breaks are common injuries, especially in traffic accidents. Motorcyclists are more prone to bone fractures than other motorists, as they do not have the protection of airbags or the sturdy frame and windows of a car around them.
A bone fracture isn’t generally an easy fix, as there are multiple types of bone fractures, some more severe than others, usually requiring surgery and implants to treat.
The different categories of bone fractures, as per OrthoInfo, include:
- Stable fracture. The broken ends of the bone line up and are barely out of place.
- Open (compound) fracture. The skin may be pierced by the bone or by a blow that breaks the skin at the time of the fracture. The bone may or may not be visible in the wound.
- Transverse fracture. This type of fracture has a horizontal fracture line.
- Oblique fracture. This type of fracture has an angled pattern.
- Comminuted fracture. In this type of fracture, the bone shatters into three or more pieces.
Depending on the type and size of the fracture, different treatments may be needed. For example, a stable fracture is the easiest to treat, usually only requiring a cast and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication. This is because there is no realignment required to the bone. A comminuted fracture can cause damage to surrounding organs, muscles, tissues, and nerves due to the bone having been shattered into many fragments. Surgery is required to treat this injury, and in order to protect the surrounding area. Comminuted fractures occur often in the hands and feet, which are common injuries among motorcyclists because they often use those limbs to try and break their fall during an accident.
Riding a motorcycle is a fun activity, but the driver needs to be aware of the risk they are taking when they decide to go for a ride. It is important to drive defensively, to wear protective gear such as a helmet and leather clothing or armor, and that your clothing is conspicuous or reflective so other drivers around you can see you clearly.
At Cunningham & Mears, we have successfully represented clients who have been injured in motorcycle accidents due to another driver’s reckless and neglectful driving. If you have been in a motorcycle crash, call us or use our contact page. We proudly serve the people of Oklahoma City.
Ryan Y. Cunningham is a founding partner of Cunningham & Mears. Mr. Cunningham devotes his practice to protecting the rights of injured Oklahoma residents. In addition to assisting injured clients, Mr. Cunningham endeavors to improve personal injury representation by speaking on issues related to personal injury law to attorneys in continuing legal education courses and to law students. Learn More