Helmets are effective in decreasing maxillofacial trauma in motorcycle crashes. The impact, however, of motorcycle crashes on the location and patterns of craniofacial injuries among helmeted versus unhelmeted patients has not been examined. In the present study, 331 injured motorcyclists were evaluated to compare the incidence of craniofacial and spinal injury in 77 (23%) helmeted and 254 (77%) nonhelmeted patients. Nonhelmeted motorcyclists were three times more likely to suffer facial fractures (5.2% vs. 16.1%) than those wearing helmets (p < 0.01). Skull fracture occurred in only one helmeted patient (1.2%), compared with 36 (12.3%) of nonhelmeted patients (p < or = 0.01). The incidence of spinal injury was not significantly different between the two groups. Blood alcohol levels demonstrated that 12% of the helmeted group were legally intoxicated (blood alcohol level > 100 mg/dL), in contrast to 37.9% of the nonhelmeted motorcyclists (p < or = 0.01). Failure to wear a helmet resulted in a significantly higher incidence of craniofacial injury among patients involved in motorcycle crashes, but did not affect spinal injury or mortality. Alcohol usage seemed to correlate with failure to use helmets. Helmet use should be legally mandated on a national level for all motorcyclists.