Motorcyclists are particularly vulnerable to internal injuries when involved in an accident and these injuries are mostly very difficult to protect against.
If involved in a car or lorry/truck accident, the body is somewhat more protected from injury due to the surrounding structure but also how that structure is allowed to absorb all or most of the impact energy. As impact is made, the car… will deform at designed points called crumple zones which absorb energy. The body is also further protected by the wearing of a seatbelt and if the vehicle is fitted with air bags which in essence slow the body down and cushion the impact force transferred to the body up to a certain point. Of course even with this ability, the body may still receive sufficient forces to sustain injuries that may also be life threatening.
When involved in a motorcycle accident, the rider does not have this cushion protection, therefore if there is an impact, the rider is highly probable to absorb all the impact energy, regardless of the level of clothing protection that is being worn. The higher the speed of impact, the more solid the object collided with and at what angle the object is hit, will determine how much of the energy is transferred and ultimately what level and type of injuries will be sustained.
If during the initial point of impact the body is propelled forward or allowed the ‘slide’ along the ground without any high impact with a solid object then the body will have a gradual rate of deceleration and although there may be injuries, these are more likely to be less severe in nature, especially if protection is being worn. Protective clothing that either has many thick layers or has a high abrasion resistance quality, e.g. thick leather, will offer good protection in this instance.
As well as the obvious injuries to bones and skin, a high impact load may cause internal organ damage.
Some of the common injuries are those to the liver, kidney & spleen, however all internal organs will be vulnerable.
One of the most vulnerable organs is the heart and under high impact loads or rather a high rate of deceleration the organ will be moving within the body cavity.
In rapid acceleration and or deceleration the heart will be moving forwards and backwards and in a high impact, the heart will continue to move forward, after the point of impact and may collide with the dense body cavity or the rib cage area. This essentially may cause bruising or a tearing of the heart muscle itself. Sometimes the movement is so excessive that the main artery from the heart…the Aorta, may actually tear or rupture which will lead to an instant massive blood loss and almost instant fatality.
Although the rider may wear a protective jacket or may even wear a chest protector to minimise the impact to the rib cage and chest area, it will provide little protection because the heart will still move within the body cavity under varying forces and it is this phenomenon that ultimately determine the level of injury and survivability.
The most successful way to protect against this type and level of injury is to adopt a combination of strategies:
- Wear protective clothing.
- Reduce travelling speed and reduce, as much as possible, pre collision speeds (Practice emergency braking!)
- Avoid accident scenarios (Sounds obvious!) Raise awareness of accident scenarios and practice hazard perception and avoidance techniques.
- Investigate current and future levels of chest and torso protection. This may mean wearing chest protectors or jackets with airbags etc.
As riders, we accept there is a risk in riding motorcycles and that is part of the reason why we ride and it is the trade off for the enjoyment we gain from riding. However, by acknowledging the risks and potential consequences and improving our overall knowledge then it will follow that we will ultimately improve our decision making process whilst riding which will protect us somewhat and will assist us in accident and injury avoidance.