Motorcycle crash statistics have shown that riders who wear a helmet, on average, have a 29 percent better chance of surviving a crash than riders without a helmet.
Because of this information, more states have enacted mandatory helmet laws. Opponents of these laws have suggested that while effective in reducing injuries in a crash, helmets may increase a rider's risk of crashing by interfering with the ability to see and hear surrounding traffic.
The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) has sponsored a study to assess the effect of wearing a helmet upon the ability of motorcycle riders to (1) visually detect the presence of vehicles in adjacent lanes before changing lanes, and (2) detect traffic sounds when operating at normal highway speeds.
Fifty motorcyclists of various ages and riding experience were involved in the study to test their ability to change lanes and respond to traffic conditions.
The vision test showed that most riders recover the lateral field of view that is lost by wearing a helmet by turning their heads a little farther. These riders did not require significantly more time to turn their heads to check for traffic.
Helmet use did not hamper the ability of riders to see traffic or increase the time needed to visually check for nearby traffic. Overall, any negative inference of helmets on rider vision appears to be minor, especially in comparison to the protection offered by helmets should a crash occur.
The hearing test also showed that there were no significant differences in the riders' ability to hear auditory signals. At any given speed, helmets neither diminished nor enhanced hearing.