Groups fight ‘geek factor’ to promote bike helmets

Students now have an extra incentive to practice better bicycle-safety habits while biking around campus. Parking & Transportation Services (P&TS) launched its first bike safety dorm challenge on Oct. 26 in an effort to encourage students to pledge to follow the rules of the road and wear a helmet. The dorm with the highest percentage of participants in the challenge will win a bus charter to Tahoe.

“This is the first time we’ve done this challenge,” said Brodie Hamilton, director of P&TS, “and we really want to get all the undergrads engaged in this.”

(Caroline Marks/The Stanford Daily)

To participate in the challenge, students take educational quizzes online and pledge to wear helmets when biking. The challenge will run through the end of fall quarter and the winner will be announced on Jan. 5. In an effort to monitor these bike safety efforts, “Sprocket Man,” a P&TS character championing bike safety, will conduct random spot checks.

The challenge is one of Stanford’s most recent attempts to make bike safety a higher priority among students.

“The University has had a number of ongoing efforts,” Hamilton said, citing NSO outreach, bike safety classes, dorm road shows and White Plaza bike registration.

“But trying to get students to wear helmets has been a real challenge,” he said.

“So this idea came up over here and it felt like, ‘Well, if we get the dorms involved and provide them with something that they might really be interested in winning, that maybe we could get a lot of people involved,’” he said.

According to Hamilton, there are approximately 13,000 bikes on campus on any given day. A significant number of bikers are students, many of whom do not wear helmets.

“I think wearing a helmet is important but not enough people do it,” said Ganesh Raj Kumaraguru ’13, a participant in the bike safety dorm challenge. “I feel like a lot of people want to do it but don’t because it looks funny.”

Hamilton agreed, citing a common reason students give for not wearing helmets.

“Part of it is the geek factor,” Hamilton said.

But Hamilton hopes that the dialogue, collaborative effort and motivation of inter-dorm competition that the new safety challenge will foster might help to mitigate students’ reservations about wearing helmets.

“If everyone was wearing a helmet you wouldn’t feel so geeky,” he said. “Let’s get everyone wearing a helmet and it would be a much safer environment for everybody.”

While the charter bus trip to Tahoe is hopefully a good incentive, those involved with bike safety efforts pointed out that the risks of not wearing a helmet should also be a powerful motivator.

Carolyn Simmons ‘13, a member of the ASSU Undergraduate Senate’s Student Life, Housing and Education Committee, is working with the group to promote better bike safety on campus as well.

“Most of the senators have personal stories and most of us know someone…who has gotten in a serious crash or been in an accident,” Simmons said.

Kumaraguru agreed that the risks of an accident first motivated him to start wearing a helmet.

Hamilton emphasized the serious consequences of particularly bad bike accidents.

“Why not protect the most important asset that you have…your brain?” Hamilton said. “Kids are spending a lot of money to come to school at Stanford and you don’t want to lose it all in one accident.”

Citing places with especially high traffic like the “circle of death” at the southeast corner of the Main Quad, Simmons also emphasized the importance of bike safety for anyone on the road — not just bikers.

“When you’re biking it’s not only about your safety but its also about everyone else’s safety,” she said. “Because ultimately you’re not only endangering yourself but also other bikers, other walkers.”

Correction: In an early version of this story, The Daily incorrectly reported that there are approximately 30,000 bikes on campus on any given day. In fact, there are approximately 13,000 bikes on campus on any given day.