A story about old bikers and the severity of their injuries in motorcycle crashes started infecting the national newzsphere about a week ago. The New York Times ran the story yesterday under the headline “Older Bikers More Injury-Prone.” Today’s Los Angeles Times ran this canned news on page A9 and titled it “Accidents harder on motorcyclists as they get older.” If the story hasn’t run in your local newspaper it will soon.
The scholarly monograph on which all these newspaper accounts are based appeared online in the journal Injury Prevention February 6. It has not yet been published. It may be important to you because this international journal is read by policy makers in multiple governments. It is also important because it is already shaping public opinion about old bikers.
One conclusion of the article is “The increased number of older adults riding motorcycles should put further focus on risk of injury to this population.” Statements like that usually mean more nanny state laws are imminent.
The Scholarly Article
The Injury Prevention article is titled “Older bikers three times as likely to be seriously injured in crashes as younger peers.” It was written by a Brown University graduate student named Tracy L. Jackson (photo above). Jackson based her research on data supplied by the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System-All Injury Program – a surveillance apparatus about which most readers are just now learning.
Jackson looked at “around 1.5 million motor bike crashes involving adults aged 20 and above (that) required treatment in US emergency care departments. Men made up the majority (85 percent) of these incidents.” The study is an entirely statistical exercise uncolored by insight. As her use of the quaint term “motor bike” indicates, Jackson doesn’t know the difference between a Harley, a Vespa and a Ninja let alone the demographics of the Harley boom that peaked in about 2007.
But nobody who reports on this will read the complete study anyway. The complete article costs $30 and everything worth quoting is already in the press release. Here are some of the statements that release contains. You’re going to be hearing them come out of politician’s mouths for years; usually in concert with a phrase like “intolerable public burden.”
The Press Release
Jackson divided injured bikers who went to emergency rooms into three age groups: 20 to 39, 40 to 59 and 60 or older. “Injury rates for all three age groups increased between 2001 and 2008, but the greatest rate of increase was among those aged 60 plus, among whom biking injuries rose 247 percent. Bikers in this age band were also three times as likely to be admitted to hospital after a crash as were those in their 20s and 30s.”
“Middle aged bikers didn’t fare too well either. They were almost twice as likely to require admission to hospital. Both older and middle aged bikers were also significantly more likely to be seriously injured than young bikers, with older bikers 2.5 times as likely to sustain serious injuries and middle aged bikers 66 percent more likely to do so. Injury severity was associated with greater rates of hospitalization, with older adults the most likely to be admitted for both serious and less severe injuries.”
“Fractures and dislocations were the most common type of injury across all age groups. But older and middle aged bikers were significantly more likely to have sustained this type of injury than younger bikers, particularly around the chest and rib cage. They were also significantly more likely to have sustained internal organ damage, with the brain the most common site. This is worrying, given that head and chest injuries are associated with the lowest rate of survival among bikers, say the authors. ‘The greater severity of injuries among older adults may be due to the physiological changes that occur as the body ages,’ write the authors, pointing to dwindling bone strength, changes in body fat distribution, and decreasing elasticity in the chest wall. Underlying illnesses may also increase the risk of complications, they suggest.”
The author does not consider obvious factors that skew results like the cost of different motorcycles and the increase of prosperity with age, differences in helmets, the frequency of injuries suffered by dirt bike riders and cruiser riders, the location of handlebars and dozens of other obvious factors.
But shallow is as deep as most reporters are willing to go. The New York Times and Jackson both concluded “…the rising age in ridership, and the trends in hospitalization, should prompt public health officials to ‘put further focus on the risk of injury to this population.’”
The LA Times, which doesn’t understand that Harley is in a sales slump and trying hard to sell bikes to women in India, thinks, “As more older Americans take up motorcycling – or return to it after a decades-long hiatus – one thing is becoming clearer to emergency room physicians: When graying riders go down they go down hard.”
The day the press release was sent out, USA Today claimed Jackson’s study proved that timid riders are “smart to be so careful.”
Two days ago Consumer Reports urged riders to wear a “DOT-approved helmet” and “chest protection.”
So now you know. Now get out on that freeway and split some lanes.