Why won’t they wear bike helmets?

Stanford hopes parents will help convince their students to wear helmets while biking on campus.

There are an estimated 13,000 bicyclists pedaling around on the Stanford campus each day, creating an abundance of opportunities for cyclists to cross paths with fellow cyclists, motor vehicles, pedestrians—even stationary objects. Stanford Assistant Director of Active Mobility Ariadne Delon Scott talks about what parents ought to know about bike safety at Stanford.

What is the one bike safety mantra parents should tell their students?

Wear a bike helmet for every ride!

Students see themselves as invincible. They think a bike crash won’t happen to them. Many don’t recognize that falling from a bike can happen in an instant, and a helmet can save their life and brain function. We’ve heard students who have survived a crash say they wish they were wearing a helmet, or they are grateful that there was a helmet between their head and the pavement.

To help Stanford parents encourage their students to commit to bike safety, we are offering a prize drawing for students who take Stanford’s bike safety pledge from now through May, which is National Bike Month. The prize is a free bike tune-up and bike safety kit, which includes a bike helmet and bike lights. Please encourage your student to pledge.

What are other bad bike habits you see among students?

Bicyclist distraction is a major cause of crashes—talking on a cell phone, texting, drinking coffee, listening to music. We’ve even seen students doing a combination of these things!

The Department of Public Safety find these violations most often at Stanford:

• Not stopping at stop signs
• Not using a front bike light after dark
• Having both ears covered while riding, typically with phone or music earbuds.

Parents can help by encouraging students to learn and follow the rules of the road. Just as motorists stop at all stop signs, use headlights and tail lights and “drive” on the right side of the road, cyclists also must follow the same rules.

Photo of Ariadne Scott
Ariadne Scott, Stanford Assistant Director of Active Mobility

What is Stanford doing to raise awareness?

Education is key. This year, Parking & Transportation Services (PT&S) partnered with Stanford Synapse to co-host the “I Love My Brain Symposium.” Michael Chen, ’18, founder of Stanford Synapse, initiated the event to raise awareness about brain injury and promote safe practices, such as biking with a helmet.

The School of Medicine blog SCOPE recapped the event, including Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne’s opening remarks in which he highlighted recent discoveries that could lead to ways of minimizing or treating damage from brain trauma.

Until such breakthroughs, however, there is no “cure” for brain injuries. At a separate event, the chief of trauma and critical care surgery at Stanford spoke to students and told them that ruptured spleens, ruptured diaphragms, broken legs and broken arms can all be fixed. We can’t fix the brain. He noted that 98 percent of those who get a head injury riding a bike weren’t wearing a helmet, which could have reduced the risk of injury by 85 percent.

Over the past two years, Paul Brest, former dean at the Stanford Law School, has invited P&TS to talk about bike safety in his class, “Problem Solving and Decision Making for Public Policy and Social Change.” His students have come up with innovative strategies to improve bicycle safety on campus, including improved signage and circulation for the built environment, an online bike safety course for all campus bicyclists, and creative ideas to spark increased helmet use.

What programs does your office offer?

We have many. Here are just a few:

photo of student with a bike helmet
Wearing bike helmets is a proven method of diminishing brain injuries from bike accidents.

• In partnership with the Campus Bike Shop, we offer quality bike helmets for just $25, with additional discounts or free helmets subsidized by campus departments.
• We have bike repair clinics and free bike safety repair stands throughout campus. We also do a lot of outreach in dorms and at events throughout campus in which we share the rules of the road that are mandatory for bicyclists under the California Vehicle Code.
• For bicyclists who are cited, Public Safety offers a one-time option to attend a free bicycle safety class in lieu of paying the fine.

I encourage parents to visit our website to learn more. We also created a Love your Brain web page to spark helmet use that includes two short, student-produced videos.

What can parents do to help?

Parents can help their students realize the potential consequences of not wearing a bike helmet. Tell your children that you love them and do not want to see them hurt or needing to leave school due to a bicycle injury. It can work. One student said his motivation for wearing a bicycle helmet is that he doesn’t want to put his parents through the pain of losing him or caring for him if he were to be in a bicycle crash.

While brain injury is a real risk and serious concern, I want parents to know that the League of American Bicyclists has recognized Stanford as a Platinum Bicycle Friendly University, the highest designation.

Parents can contact me at adscott@stanford.edu.