Motorcycles offer little protection to those who ride them, so you assume inherent risk anytime you use one. It may surprise you to know that your risk of suffering a serious and debilitating head injury is higher when you ride on the back of the bike, rather than drive it. 

Per Reuters, riders and passengers alike are more likely to suffer traumatic brain injuries in accidents than any other type of physical damage. When motorcycles crash, the people steering the bikes experience TBIs in 36% of cases, yet those riding on the backs of the bikes suffer brain injuries in about 40% of the wrecks. What might explain this disparity? 

Helmet use 

Statistics show that you are more likely to wear a helmet when you drive a motorcycle, rather than when you ride on the back of one. A three-year study of about 86,000 riders and passengers showed that nearly two-thirds of all motorcycle drivers wore helmets when traveling by bike. Only 57.5% of the passengers on those motorcycles did the same. 

The study also showed that passengers faced higher TBI risks even when they wore protective gear. In motorcycle wrecks where both drivers and passengers had helmets on, the drivers experienced TBIs in 31% of them — the passengers suffered brain injuries in 36% of these cases. 

Alcohol also plays a role in helmet use. Drivers and passengers are less likely to wear helmets when under the influence of alcohol, and passengers are 7% less likely than drivers to wear helmets while intoxicated. 

Other factors 

Another reason passengers suffer head injuries more than riders may be because the motorcycle driver has a windshield that offers a small level of protection between their bodies and the roadway or other vehicles. The rider may also have a firmer grasp on the handles than a passenger, which may make him or her less likely to fly off the bike during a crash.