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Page last updated at 04:58 GMT, Friday, 13 February 2009
Air bag jacket 'could save lives'
By Dan Whitworth
Newsbeat motoring reporter


Stuntman tests an air bag motorbike jacket under controlled conditions

Dozens of motorcyclists' lives could be saved every year if air bag jackets were made compulsory, accident and emergency doctors have said.

The jackets are the equivalent of car air bags and inflate if the rider is thrown off during a crash.

In one version, the jacket is attached to the bike by a lead which detaches when the rider has come off suddenly.

The Department of Transport said it had no plans for a new law but said it welcomed anything to improve safety.

Vital organs

Although motorcyclists make up just 1% of road users, they account for 20% of fatalities.

Figures for 2007 show that 561 bikers died on the roads.

Andy Parfitt, an A&E doctor at St Thomas' Hospital in London, said: "There is a shocking number of deaths of motorcyclists on the roads. I think dozens of lives could be saved if these jackets were made compulsory.

It stopped me from rolling as well. It stops the bounce. I think it's the bounce when you're crashing at speed that hurts you
Stuntman Rob Hunt after testing an air bag jacket

Dr Parfitt, a keen biker, said: "There's no question that what the jackets do afford is, they protect a motorcyclists' vital organs, neck and spine over and above the level that a normal jacket would do.

"A majority of deaths in motorcycle accidents are due to injuries to these vital organs that should be protected by these jackets."

One rider whose experience underlines the kind of injuries that motorcyclists can receive in accidents is 32-year-old Dineth Wijayarathna.

He was involved in a crash two years ago on a private track that left him seriously injured.

He said: "I was doing about 130mph (210km/h), the rear wheel suspension failed on my motorcycle and I came off, broke my pelvis in two places, broke my back and broke a few ribs."

He needed two major operations, couldn't walk for six months and still feels the after-effects two years on.

"I've got a plate in the front of my pelvis with six bolts in it. I've got two 9cm (3.5in) bolts going through my pelvis into my spine," he said.

"It was awful. Not being able to walk, not being able to do normal bodily functions for such a long period of time wasn't the best fun."

Dineth Wijayarathna's X-ray
Dineth Wijayarathna broke his back and pelvis after a crash

There are different types of air bag jackets on sale in the UK, which cost up to twice as much as standard jackets.

One version, sold by Point Two, is attached to bikes by a lead and, if the wearer falls off, that triggers a small gas canister that inflates the jacket in less than one fifth of a second.

The spine is then held tight and the air bag protects the area between the neck and pelvis.

Newsbeat gave one of the jackets to Rob Hunt, a stuntman for 12 years.

He said afterwards: "It just stops you from going anywhere. It's tight. It's protecting all around my ribs."

"It felt as though I was picked up off the floor and I was on the air bag. It was just like gliding on air.

"It stopped me from rolling as well. It stops the bounce. I think it's the bounce when you're crashing at speed that hurts you."

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