Hospital costs higher for helmetless
motorcycle crash victims
By Kara Gavin / UMHS Public Relations
Motorcycle riders who crash without a helmet rack up far larger
hospital bills than those whose heads were protected in a crash,
a U-M study has found.
From the emergency room door to the trauma center to the rehabilitation
unit, the authors report, care for crash victims without helmets
costs substantially more and kept patients in the hospital longer
than care for patients who wore helmets.
At the same time, those injured while riding without a helmet were
somewhat less likely to be covered by insurance that could pay for
their care, according to the paper in the Journal of Trauma. The
results confirm earlier findings that riders without helmets were
younger, suffered more head and neck injuries, and had a higher
overall injury severity score.
The study analyzed data for 216 motorcycle crash victims brought
to the U-M Health System (UMHS) Trauma Burn Center between 1996
and 2000. Forty-two of them, or 19 percent, were not wearing a helmet
when they crashedádespite Michigan's mandatory helmet law.
On average, helmet use led to average hospital costs that were
about 20 percent, or $6,000, less than costs for those who didn't
wear helmets. For patients who were treated on an inpatient rehabilitation
floor at the U-M after leaving the trauma unit, average costs for
riders without helmets were nearly twice those of helmeted riders.
"This adds further evidence to the argument that we need helmet
laws for every rider in every state, not to infringe on personal
freedom, but to improve safety and reduce costs for everyone," says
Dr. Mary Margaret Brandt, an assistant professor in the Medical
School's Department of Surgery and a trauma surgeon at the Trauma
Burn Center. "Until that happens, it shows that those who ride without
helmets should pay higher insurance premiums, as smokers and other
high-risk groups do."
The U-M researchers' approach differs from that of previous studies
that tallied health care costs for every victim of motorcycle crashes
in a given stateáincluding those who died at the scene or before
they reached the hospital, and therefore lowered the overall average
cost of care.
In 2000, 2,862 motorcyclists died and approximately 58,000 were
injured in highway crashes in the United States, according to the
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Riders without
helmets are 40 percent more likely to suffer a fatal head injury
and 15 percent more likely to sustain a nonfatal injury than those
who wear helmets, NHTSA reports.
Despite the evidence supporting helmet use as a means of reducing
injuries, deaths, health care costs and disability, three states
have no helmet laws, and another 27 have laws that only require
helmets for certain riders, mainly minors.
Since Congress lifted federal sanctions in 1995, five states have
weakened their helmet laws. In the past year, there have been campaigns
to weaken or repeal the helmet laws of 10 states, including Michigan.
The state's latest repeal attempt passed the state House in May.
The U-M study found that 81 percent of the patients admitted to
the U-M Trauma Burn Center from motorcycle crashes in the study
period had worn a helmet, even though Michigan State Police surveys
from 1997-99 found that 96 percent of people involved in motorcycle
crashes wore helmets.
The average age of the helmeted riders was 37 years, compared with
32 years for unhelmeted riders. Ninety-two percent of all the patients
studied were male. The injury severity score for head and neck injuries
was significantly higher for patients who had not worn helmets,
as were the average hospital and rehabilitation costs.
The UMHS Data Warehouse, which has tracked all cost data for U-M
inpatients since mid-1996, made the current research possible.
In addition to Brandt, the paper's authors include Karla S. Ahrns,
a nurse in the Trauma Burn Center; and current and former U-M surgeons
Dr. Cynthia A. Corpron, Dr. Glen Franklin and Dr. Wendy L. Wahl.