The use of motorbikes among children and adolescents is dangerous, on the rise and leading to a greater number of injuries, according to a new Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center study. In addition, the study shows that children often ride motorbikes on public roads and, most of the time, without wearing helmets, leading to significantly increased severity of injury.
The study, published in the March issue of Pediatrics, concludes that children should not operate motorbikes until they are old enough to obtain a driver's license and that mandatory helmet use should be pursued.
"Motorbikes are two-wheeled vehicles, such as motorcycles and dirt bikes, and are intended for off-road use," says Wendy Pomerantz, MD, an emergency medicine physician at Cincinnati Children's and the study's lead author. "Riding motorbikes is dangerous because the rider's body is fully exposed and there is very little protection during a crash. Fast vehicles, combined with immature skeletal systems, strength, coordination and judgment of many young riders, result in increased potential for injuries."
The researchers examined data from six Ohio hospitals that admit a significant number of pediatric trauma patients. In all, 182 children under the age of 16 (the legal driving age in Ohio) were hospitalized between 1995 and 2001. Of the 85 percent of patients in which events surrounding the injury were documented, 35.5 percent rode in streets, and 53.9 did not wear helmets. One died. Those who did wear helmets sustained significantly less severe injuries.
Nine of 10 injured were boys. Most of those injured were white, from urban areas and had commercial medical insurance coverage. From 1995 to 1997, there was an average of 20 hospital admissions a year. From 1998 to 2001, there were 30 admissions a year on average. Overall, motorbike-related injuries increased about 50 percent during the entire study period.
"Most injured children did not wear a helmet and sustained multiple injuries," says Dr. Pomerantz. "The severity and increased frequency of these injuries underscore the need to increase efforts to prevent these injuries, particularly among high-risk populations."