There was a head-shaped hole in the badly shattered windshield of the car on Campus Drive. The paramendics and police had come and gone, but there was still a small crowd of people in front of the Arrillaga Center for Sports and Recreation.
Bike and car collision? I wondered, driving by in the opposite lane. And if so, was the cyclist wearing a helmet?
“No. No helmet,” said Deputy Allen James of Stanford’s Department of Public Safety. He’d been the officer at the scene. “And she’s going to take a long time to recover.”
I’d called to ask James because for the 10 years I’ve lived on campus, I’ve been increasingly dismayed at how few students wear helmets. Sometimes it seems like the only cyclists wearing protective headgear are oldsters like me.
That’s not entirely true, James explained.
“The graduate students are better at wearing helmets,” he said. “But it’s considered uncool by the undergrads. And they say it messes up their hair.”
“It’s the geek factor,” agreed Ariadne Scott, Stanford’s Bicycle Program Coordinator, “and following the crowd.”
James, an 18-year veteran on the force and current bicycle safety officer, explained that at least once a week a cyclist is hurt badly enough to be taken to the hospital. And unprotected heads connecting with cars or concrete isn’t unusual. James hears the students say the campus isn’t a dangerous place to bike. “But all it takes,” he warned, “is a short fall from the seat.”
“Whether or not someone wears a helmet is really about their perception of risk,” explained Dr. David Spain, chief of trauma and critical care surgery at the Stanford Medical Center. “Sure, any one time you go out on your bike, you’re unlikely to have a crash. But if you do, wearing a helmet reduces your risk of serious head injury by 80%. It’s really about relative risk. We can fix almost everything else you can break, but we really have little to offer for head injuries. For lack of a $40.00 helmet, you’re risking the biggest investment you’ll every make in your life — your education.”
Scott and James try hard to get students to wear helmets. During bicycle registration each term, they distribute bike safety information. They give presentations to groups of international students, and provide bike safety classes for cyclists who get issued a ticket. Even so, compliance with wearing helmets on campus is dangerously low, and the result can be a disaster that shatters a bareheaded biker’s life worse than a windshield with a head-shaped hole.
So student — befriend your brain. Please. That precious organ helped you get to this particular place of higher learning. It deserves protection from a fall from your bike or a collision while you’re cruising. When you hop on your bike, strap on your helmet.
It’s the safe — and smart — thing to do.
Mary Sullivan, campus resident