Widgets Magazine


Op-Ed: Students: Befriend Your Brain

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

  • a grad student

    Take a few minutes to adjust the straps on your helmet so that it fits well.

  • I am a person who is passing out my discount bike repair flyers to some of the residences. I’ve worked on campus for many years on and off, often commuting on bicycle.

    On my bike repair web page, I mentioned that a few years ago I wanted to get hired as the university’s bicycle coordinator, and that if I had been hired, one of the things I’d have done would be to put up a bunch of those yellow caution signs for cars to see with a sketch of a bicycle. So instead of blaming the victims as a reaction to bike accidents, let’s look at Stanford bicycle policy and policy makers a little more critically.

    I should say here that I believe students should wear a helmet. I wear a bike helmet whenever I ride. I agree that a helmet at the bikeshop for $20, partially subsidized by the university, is a good deal.

    But as a homeless guy screwed over in the employment system, I can say that helmet promotion needs to be something other than occupational capital to paste over larger corruption. I’m tired of watching carefully selected employees with prestigious resumes who “got there” for all the wrong reasons and feel entitled to degrade and push out others, like me, from the economy.

    Here are other points I put on my flat tire web page about what I would have done if I had been hired as the bicycle coordinator:

    – The bicycle coordinator would become responsible for creating standards for bikeshops doing business on campus.
    – The University would not dictate or facilitate bike licensing.
    – The cement things in White Plaza would never have been put there.
    – The University would have purchased a couple tandem bicycles so the visually disabled students could ride once in a while.
    – I’d move the bicycle coordinator job away from the transportation department and police department, or at least create a multi-department standing committee.

    Saying these things might not help my new bike repair business, but it’s a way of opposing the system I disagree with that I’d be contributing to.

  • I wrote

    > I’ve worked on campus for many years on and off, often commuting on bicycle.

    I meant to say I’ve worked on campus for many years on and off, doing bicycle work and other kinds of work, often commuting on bicycle.


    We need tedtimonials from those who suffered from not wearing their helmet PROPERLY, too many wear their helmet either on the back of their head, on the rack or handlebars! It must cover the forehead!
    I have spent 11 years as a bicycle mechanic and ridden 17 different bikes in 5 nations! Confiscating the bike for non-wearers, or requiring them to visit the hospital rooms of non-wearers might work! Also, at Stanford where everyone is out in space about their next test and current paper, this is far more important than for the bike messengers in S.F.!