Trends in Fatalities in Motorcycle Accidents in Great Britain With Reference to the Studies by Hugh Cairns

Vaughan Matthew Evans



Introduction: Hugh Cairns, a neurosurgeon practising in Oxford, noted in a 1941 report the high number of deaths in motorcycle accidents, and advocated the use of helmets.     

Objective: to review road traffic accident fatality data to assess how the risk of death in a motorcycle accident has changed, or not changed, since the publication of Cairns’ findings.

Material and Methods: analyses of road traffic accident data for Great Britain (1950–2017).

Results and Discussion: in modern times, the risk of fatality for a motorcycle rider is around fifty times greater than that for a car driver, per mile travelled. Although the wearing of a helmet became mandatory in Great Britain in 1973, motorcyclist fatalities increased in the following years, against a background of falling all-road-user fatalities. Fatalities, however, declined markedly after restrictions were placed on novice riders in the early 1980s.

Conclusions: a motorcyclist remains essentially as vulnerable as one was in the 1940s, aside from the reduced risk of head injury, and death from head injury, afforded by use of a helmet. On most modern motorcycles, in contrast to modern motor cars, there is no restraint system, nor impact energy-absorbing vehicular structure. The implementation of restrictions on novice rider led to a greater fatality rate reduction than had the enactment of the requirement to wear a helmet a decade earlier.


motorcycle; fatality; injury; helmet; accident

Full Text:



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