Washington, January 23 : An analysis of data from a variety of studies on the usefulness of helmets has confirmed that helmets significantly reduce the likelihood of accidental death as well as injury.
Helmet use reduces head injury risk by 69 per cent and death by 42 per cent, according to the analysis carried out by an international team of researchers.
"Motorcycle helmets protect motorcyclists who crash from sustaining head injury, and the results also suggest that motorcycle helmets protect motorcyclists who crash from death," said lead author Dr. Betty Liu, epidemiologist at Oxford University in England.
"The findings are important to consider in those countries with without mandatory motorcycle helmet laws, as well as in jurisdictions with weak or partial helmet legislation," added co-author Dr. Rebecca Ivers, head of the Injury Prevention Program at the George Institute for International Health in Sydney, Australia.
The review appearing in the current issue of The Cochrane Library, a publication of The Cochrane Collaboration, is an update to one reported by the same researchers in 2004. Data from eight additional studies has been included ikn the new review.
"(The review) confirms the belief of specialists in emergency medicine and should put an end to any further debate about the protective role of helmets regarding head injury in motorcycle riders," said Robert McNamara, M.D., chairman of the emergency medicine department at Temple University School and spokesman for the American Academy of Emergency Medicine.
McNamara said that, at this point, "the debate over mandating use in adults should center on personal freedom to accept a known risk."
Though there were differences in methodology of the 61 studies analysed for the review, the authors say that their results were remarkably consistent, especially pertaining to death and head injury.
"The review supports the view that helmet use should be actively encouraged worldwide for rider safety," they said.
The reviewers admitted that their research could not specify the effects of helmet use on facial and neck injuries, and that there was insufficient evidence to determine which type of helmet is most protective.
While addressing the public policy implications of the findings, McNamara said: "The personal freedom issue must be balanced with the cost to society of the care of patients with catastrophic head injury. Riders cite the pleasure of going helmet-less, but often the cost of care for the injured motorcyclist is passed on to society at large."
He said that two-wheeler riders might not realize how much is at stake.
"(They) may not fully understand the scientifically demonstrated level of risk involved in riding without a helmet and might assume the risks are acceptable if the law does not prohibit it. In that context, the American Academy of Emergency Medicine believes that states should require helmet use in all age groups," he said.
The authors concluded that, given the significant influence on worldwide mortality of impact head injuries, "the results of this review should be contemplated widely."