A bike accident made a West Lag peer health educator a proponent of helmets at Stanford

Jana Marie Mauricio-Lee
Jana Marie Mauricio-Lee became a proponent of bike helmet use after a painful biking accident.

Jana Marie Mauricio-Lee remembers the moment when wearing a bike helmet on campus began to seem like a really good idea.

It was fall quarter during her sophomore year, and Mauricio-Lee, a science, technology and society major and human biology minor from San Diego, was reading an email on her phone while pedaling through Meyer Green. Suddenly, another student zoomed past her on his bike and clipped her front tire. In a flash, Mauricio-Lee was flying through the air.

“I knew I was going to fall, and there was no way I could stop it,” she remembers.

She landed hard on the pavement, nursing a bloodied knee and bruised elbows. But she realized she’d been lucky to avoid a head injury. She couldn’t imagine how she would have explained a head injury to her parents.

“My first thought was, had I hit my head, my mom would have been so mad that I wasn’t wearing a helmet,” she said.

Since that time, Mauricio-Lee, now a junior peer health educator in West Lagunita, has become an advocate of wearing bike helmets. She acknowledges that it’s not necessarily a popular position among undergraduates at Stanford.

“When I first started wearing it, I was so self-conscious,” she said. “There is a lot of peer pressure, and I get a lot of comments. Usually, they are lighthearted, but it still doesn’t feel good. People will say things like, ‘Extra safe today?’ or ‘Jana, you are the only person I know who wears a bike helmet.’”

That may not be far from the truth, Mauricio-Lee suspects.

“Honestly, I only know three people who wear their bike helmets consistently – and two of them are sisters,” she said.

Since her accident, Mauricio-Lee has heard about other students who weren’t as lucky as she was. One of her friends, for instance, flipped over the front of his bike handles, hitting his mouth. His front teeth have since been replaced.

“I took an introductory seminar TA’d by med students who did rotations in the ER,” Mauricio-Lee said. “They told me they see so many bike accidents and scooter accidents. Ninety percent of the time, the person wasn’t wearing a helmet, and they end up with concussions, skull fractures and traumatic brain injuries.”

What is the answer to the perplexing challenge of getting undergraduates to wear bike helmets? After all, they’ve invested time and energy to their educations. What would convince them to guard perhaps their most important possession – their brains?

Mauricio-Lee believes student residential staff can play a key role in normalizing helmet wear.

“As a freshman, I knew that I should be wearing a helmet,” she said. “But I got here and I realized that no one really wore a helmet. As a freshman, you are very hyper-aware and you don’t want to look weird. I noticed that none of my staff wore helmets.”

If student residential staff wore helmets, Mauricio-Lee believes first-year students would get the message that it’s OK to worry about safety.

“That’s why I’m very proud of the fact that I wear a bike helmet,” she said. “I tell all my frosh that I wear a helmet and they should too.”

Among the programs she sponsored as PHE was a Free Bike Safety Road Show for her dorm at which 28 helmets were given out and 30 mini free bike tune-ups were performed. So far this quarter, residence staff have sponsored seven dorm events, and Ariadne Scott, assistant director of active mobility in Stanford Transportation, hopes to do even more.

Learn more about Stanford’s efforts to encourage members of the campus community to wear bike helmets on the Love Your Brain website. It could save your student’s life.