FRIDAY, June 16, 2017 (HealthDay News) -- Riding a motorcycle without a helmet may conjure up images of a cool rider with the wind blowing through his hair.
The reality? A fractured skull, and a bruised and battered face -- or worse -- are much more likely if a crash occurs.
Since Michigan eased its helmet laws, the number of skull fractures and other head and facial injuries related to motorcycle accidents has doubled, a new study finds.
Michigan repealed its universal motorcycle helmet law in 2012. The new law allows riders to go without helmets if they meet criteria for age (over 21), training/experience and insurance coverage.
Researchers reviewed motorcyclist injury data for three years before and three years after the change in helmet laws. The study included a total of nearly 4,700 motorcycle trauma patients. They were seen at 29 Michigan trauma centers.
The proportion of motorcycle trauma patients who were riding without helmets more than doubled, from 20 percent to 44 percent, during the study period. Compared with those who wore helmets, those who didn't wear helmets were about twice as likely to suffer head and facial injuries, the findings showed.
The rate of these injuries rose from 25.5 percent under the universal helmet law to 37 percent under the partial helmet law. That's a 46 percent increase. There was a 28 percent increase in fractures and a 56 percent increase in soft tissue injuries, the investigators found.
Certain types of facial injuries increased significantly after the change in helmet laws, including fractures of the cheekbones, facial cuts, scrapes and bruises. All types of injuries were more common in people who didn't wear helmets, the study authors said.
The study was published in the June issue of the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.
"Our study demonstrates the negative impact of weakened motorcycle helmet laws leading to decreased helmet use," study lead author Dr. Nicholas Adams said in a journal news release.
He is with the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine and Spectrum Health, Grand Rapids.
Previous studies have shown that helmets prevent nearly 40 percent of fatal injuries and 13 percent of nonfatal serious injuries, according to the news release.
However, as many as one in three U.S. motorcyclists don't wear helmets. And that figure is higher in states without universal helmet laws, the study authors noted.
"We urge state and national legislators to re-establish universal motorcycle helmet laws," Adams said.
The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has more on motorcycles.