Motorcycle Protective Clothing: Protection from Injury or Just the Weather?

An Australian study providing new evidence on the injury reduction benefits of motorcycle clothing in crashes will be launched in Sydney today.  The study, led by Liz de Rome, Research Fellow, The George Institute for Global Health at The University of Sydney, is the first of its kind and will be published in Accident Analysis and Prevention.

This is the first study in over 25 years to examine the effectiveness of specialised motorcycle protective clothing and in particular, body armour.  It is also the first to control for the contribution of other factors that may affect the severity of injury, such as speed or type of impact and age of rider.

One of the key findings of the study, which was funded by Australia’s leading motorcycle insurer Swann Insurance and involved 212 motorcycle and scooter riders, was that riders were significantly less likely to be admitted to hospital if they crashed wearing a motorcycle jacket, pants or gloves.

Ms de Rome said “One of the most important findings was the difference it made to be wearing body armour, particularly for hands and knees.”

When garments included fitted body armour there was a significantly reduced risk of any injury. This included a reduced risk of any injury to the upper body by 23%, legs by 39%, hands by 45% and feet by 45%. The results also found riders wearing shoes or joggers had a much higher risk of foot and ankle injuries, as any type of boot reduced risk of injury by 53%.

While there are limits to the extent clothing can prevent injury in high impact crashes, it is in low impact crashes that protective clothing is thought to offer the greatest injury reduction. There is also evidence that the majority of motorcycle crashes do not involve high impacts.

Ms de Rome commented, “Over 200 motorcyclists die and a further 8,000 are seriously injured on Australian roads each year.  For many years, motorcycle safety research has been dominated by debate about the effectiveness of helmets with less focus on other protection for the rider’s body.

“With the increasing human and economic costs of motorcycle injuries around the world, there was a need for research into the effectiveness of protective clothing. We hope that the results of this study will show riders that their gear protects them from more than just the weather, encouraging them to wear more protective clothing which will in turn help reduce injuries.”

The results of the study also send a clear message to the manufacturers of motorcycle protective clothing.  The proportion of jackets (29%), pants (28%) and gloves (25%) that failed under crash conditions due to material damage indicates a need for improved quality control.

While mandating usage of protective clothing is not recommended by the study’s authors, consideration could be given to providing incentives for usage of protective clothing, such as tax exemptions for safety gear, health insurance premium reductions and rebates.

Co-investigator, Associate Professor Rebecca Ivers, Director of Injury Research at the George, Institute said “This is ground breaking research. It sends a clear message to riders that protection is important every time they ride, and highlights the need for further investment by Government to encourage riders to wear appropriate clothing, and to work with the industry to improve the quality of products available”.

Stuart Chapman, General Manager of Swann Insurance, said the motorcycle insurer was pleased to have supported this study. “We think it's vitally important that riders have access to information such as the findings of this study so they can make informed decisions about what they should wear every time they ride,” he said.

“Funding this study forms part of Swann's broader commitment to improving rider safety - it’s what we are all about. We encourage every rider to take these findings on board."