Letter: Davis Students Need to Wear Bike Helmets


By Dana Treadwell

Davis. Really? You are the bicycling campus capital of California. You proudly advertise your Platinum Bicycle Friendly University rating, a much-deserved honor:

One of two UC schools in the top 10, University of California, Davis is an incredible place to be if you’re a bike-loving student. Although Stanford took top honors, UC’s numbers blow them out of the water: 45% of UCD’s students, faculty, and staff have a bike on campus each day, compared to Stanford’s 21%. UC Davis encourages these numbers by providing a staggering amount of resources for bicyclists: services include bike classes, DIY bike repair and maintenance, summer bike storage, commuter showers and lockers, and even maps and directions created just for campus bikers. But Davis isn’t just providing practical bike love; they’ve embraced the history and art of biking as well with the Pierce Miller Bicycle Collection, an exhibit of vintage bicycles that is the core of what will eventually become a major bicycle museum. Off campus, the city of Davis, Calif., is recognized as one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in the world, with more than 100 miles of bike lanes and paths, designated lanes and signals, and local bike maps.”

You also enjoy status as a world-class academic university. So, why have you not taken up the task of inspiring your students to wear helmets? Head injury is the main cause of death and severe disability in bicycle-related injuries. Many states, California among them, have passed laws requiring children to wear helmets until the age of 18. As a result, most of the young adults that we hand you are trained to wear helmets when riding bicycles. You can build on this to help protect their brains and lives while they inhabit your realm.

The promise-to-wear-it free helmet program is a great start. Unfortunately, as you can see any day on campus, it only increases the safety of a few students. Unofficial numbers report 250-300 students taking advantage of this program in 2018.

Step up!

Make it an interdisciplinary endeavor to produce a cool, eco-friendly, customizable, trendy, whatever-it-takes helmet product and program. Material science, environmental science, design, physics, business, marketing, psychology – every department that wants to contribute can help in the cause to save dreams and lives.

Employ whatever tactics necessary to prevent these tragedies from continuing. Interview past students whose college and life dreams were cut short due to preventable brain trauma suffered in a UCD biking accident. Let the parents of a student who died due to preventable injuries inflicted in a biking accident on campus tell their story of grief. These people would likely find solace in helping to prevent similar loss to others. Perhaps include stories of incidents where helmets prevented serious injury. Show animated videos of unprotected brains riding bikes and what can happen to them in a fall or collision. With UCD’s superb campus-wide resources, creativity and expertise, preventing bicycling tragedies would be a beautiful effort to behold and, ultimately, a supremely rewarding accomplishment. What better all-hands-on-deck endeavor to undertake than to save lives?

UCD’s Platinum Bicycle Friendly University status is up for review in 2021, I believe.

C’mon Davis.

Rise to this challenge.

Save lives, hopes and brains.

You got this.


Bike & Brain Fan

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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19 thoughts on “Letter: Davis Students Need to Wear Bike Helmets”

  1. Alan Miller

    There is nothing I enjoy more than when the subject of my bicycling to an event comes up, and someone inevitably notices I’m not wearing a helmet and they say, “You should wear a helmet”.  Do you honestly believe I haven’t heard it all before?  One person recently said at a dinner party, “Your not wearing a helmet costs us all more in insurance costs when you have an accident and get a brain injury”.  I wanted to say back, “You shoving all that food into your face costs us all more in insurance costs when you develop diabetes or have a heart attack”.  But I didn’t, because I’m a nice guy.

  2. Todd Edelman

    Earlier this year at a BTSSC meeting the Bike-Ped Coordinator trumpeted the increase of helmet-wearing of UCD students as a result of a joint town-gown program, but when I asked if there was any evidence it had improved safety, she was all-crickets.

    We – the Greater Davis community – do the most to support the health of students by enabling a lot of them to ride bikes to campus with reasonable infrastructure in most parts of the City and amazing infrastructure on campus… a general culture to expect bikes helps… as does education. We encourage cycling with an excellent campus-focused bus system that’s an alternative to cycling as much as it to cars, and with a bike share program. We enable it by discouraging driving using clever parking management strategies on campus.

    We could improve student health via cycling further by decreasing the amount of parking in new developments – seriously, what an insult it is for the U-Mall re-development to have surface parking in the same footprint as what should be housing! – and reducing and making people pay fees to park around town – many of my roommates have been UCD students with cars, and they most often drive to non-campus destinations. We could have a better bike share system that safely carries and keeps dry laptops and books/media… and a bag of groceries…. and that goes faster off-campus (I am working on a proposal).  We could make local streets have a 15 mph speed design and raise development fees, corporate and parcel taxes to repair streets and add physical-separation for bike lanes on faster streets. We should sort out a new way for incoming students to be comfortable cycling long before they start classes here. I would like some fancy bike lights to be included with the expensive tuition.

    Broadly-speaking, these are all features of the safest cycling country… the Netherlands. Helmets have virtually no presence for normal city cycling in that country. Promoting helmets is a distraction from far more effective ways to promote health (and fun), and we do most of these things. Good on us! The City of Davis is nevertheless on somewhat shaky ground as the “USA cycling capital”, mostly because things are not improving much overall. Over 50% of people reach UC Davis campus by bicycle, and about 30% go to junior high by bike. But the overall modal share is about 20-23%, meaning that less than 10% of trips to other destinations are made by bike. That’s a serious imbalance, and forcing or even promoting helmets will not change that, nor will it solidify the “cycling capital” status of our city.

    1. Bill Marshall

      but when I asked if there was any evidence it had improved safety,

      Weird question, and/or (????)… perhaps a “trap” question?

      Helmets reduce serious head injuries… don’t protect shoulders, hips, legs, arms, wrists, and does not change frequency/likelihood of crashes, so, helmet use or not, does not affect “safety” per se… any cyclist knows this (or should!)… only goes to likelihood of serious head injury… doesn’t even help with neck fractures… any reasonable person knows this.

      Weird question posed…

  3. Todd Edelman

    NACTO Statement re: Mandatory Helmet Laws
    Nov 08, 2019

    Corinne Kisner, Executive Director of the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), issued the following statement in response to recommendations from the NTSB to improve bicyclist safety:

    For the first time since 1972, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) turned its attention to bicycle safety and released a series of recommendations to protect people on bikes on US streets. NACTO applauds the Board’s road design and bike infrastructure recommendations and renewed focus on this topic as cyclist fatalities in the US hit an 18-year high in 2018. However, a last-minute recommendation that states adopt mandatory helmet laws flies in the face of best practice on bicycle safety.

    While requiring helmets may seem like an intuitive way to protect riders, the evidence doesn’t bear this out. Experience has shown that while bike helmets can be protective, bike helmet laws are not.

    In Australia, where mandatory adult helmet laws were introduced regionally between 1990 and 1992, bike count and safety data from the time showed that helmet laws actively discouraged people from riding a bike while producing no notable safety gains. Closer to home, North American bike share systems have low rates of helmet usage (estimated at below 25%), yet are incredibly safe, with four fatalities over more than 160 million trips.

    Making people on bikes more visible makes them safer. Data from numerous cities demonstrates that risk to an individual cyclist drops as overall bicycle ridership grows.

    Building safe places to ride, including all-ages-and-abilities bike lanes, and increasing bike ridership are the most powerful methods to improve safety—not only for people riding but for all road users. Governments at all levels must embrace this finding and work to build and expand high-quality bike infrastructure to truly protect cyclists and eliminate fatalities.

    NACTO strongly urges NTSB to remove the recommendation that states adopt mandatory helmet laws and work with their federal and state partners to enshrine the remainder of this critical, timely, and well-researched report into practice.


    About the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO)NACTO is an association of 81 major North American cities and transit agencies formed to exchange transportation ideas, insights, and practices and cooperatively approach national transportation issues. The organization’s mission is to build cities as places for people, with safe, sustainable, accessible, and equitable transportation choices that support a strong economy and vibrant quality of life. To learn more, visit nacto.org or follow us on Twitter at @NACTO.
    Contact:Alex Engel | alex@nacto.org | 646-324-2919

    1. Darell Dickey

      Whenever I take a stand against mandatory helmet legislation, I am invariably beaten to a pulp by people who employ a logical fallacy to insist that I am discouraging helmet use.

  4. Alan Miller

    Many states, California among them, have passed laws requiring children to wear helmets until the age of 18. As a result, most of the young adults that we hand you are trained to wear helmets when riding bicycles.

    Or they never rode a bicycle before because they didn’t want to get their hair messed up.

  5. Ron Glick

    We need the University to step up and start a driver safety program more than a bike helmet program. Just Friday we got passed on Sycamore by a kid in an SUV with Missouri plates right in front of Willet Elementary, at 1 in the afternoon with school in session, right where the road turns just enough to make passing dangerous anytime. Of course when we got down to the light at Russell we both stopped and no time at all was saved by this young person’s dangerous behavior. Since school has started this year  I have observed many other young people doing stupid and unsafe things while driving.

    At least the guy I almost ran over on his bike the other night while riding in the wrong lane with no light and wearing dark clothes as I turned onto E St. from Fifth was only going to hurt himself. Lucky for him I drive around town slowly. If I was that testosterone juiced up kid in the SUV from Missouri that bike rider wouldn’t have had a chance.

    1. Darell Dickey

      >> We need the University to step up and start a driver safety program more than a bike helmet program. <<

      Exactly. Removing the danger is far more effective than trying to protect the victim from that danger. Insisting on helmets while ignoring the real danger is a distraction at best.

      1. Bill Marshall

        I agree, but it should be drivers ed for both MV operators, and for ‘bicycle drivers’…

        There are so many “stupids” for both sub-sets of the UCD population (and City folk as well!)… too many UCD students haven’t been on a bicycle since they were ~ 10… parents driving them to school, then parents give them a car in HS when they get their DL’s…

        Even when I lived on campus in the early-mid 70’s, I hiked to classes early fall quarter…  the first two-3 weeks of Fall Quarter… it was carnage… on-campus!  Fractured wrists, arms, shoulders, ‘road-rash’, etc.

        1. Darell Dickey

          Thanks, Bill.

          I contend that Physical Education in grade school should include bicycle riding skills. It will help our kids be better riders immediately, and perhaps also better drivers if they decide to drive a car in the future (not a sure thing these days!). Let’s create good riders instead of just hoping that they’ll figure it all out when they get to college. And creating good riders of course does not mean “wear a helmet, use hand signals, and blindly follow the Vehicle Code that were created for the drivers of vehicles” … which is pretty much what we teach the few kids today who actually endure a tiny bit of riding education (or who are pulled over for a lecture by law enforcement). Of course all of this is also what many non-riders would like to see happen (as well as mandatory helmet laws).

          I propose that the educational effort should be proportional to the damage and injury that a particular mode is capable of inflicting on others. Where is real driver education? Pretending that all modes are the same in this regard will not increase public safety.

        2. Bill Marshall

          Growing up in the 60’s, there was a NSC campaign, that focused on defensive driving… and, arguably, pedestrian and bicycle admonitions… served me well over the years… reinforced by physics classes where I could grasp the math;  M x V; 1/2 M x V (squared)…

          If a 2000 lb vehicle collides with a 160 lb object (almost any speed), it is obvious who ‘loses’, no matter who was in the right, who was in the wrong… simple physics and math… the lower mass object loses big time.  And morals, philosophies, laws, do not play into those calculations.

          The commercial I recall had a voice-over, something like “Jack had the right of way.  He was right.  Dead right.”  Some folk think a painted line, sign, signal, can stop a stop a vehicle of greater speed and/or mass… and believe they are “safe”… those folk tend to be dismissed from the gene pool.  Attention, anticipation, judgement, tends to help folk to remain in the gene pool.  Simple concept, that needs to be taught to pedestrians, bicyclists, MV drivers.

        3. Alan Miller

          Speaking of physics, I got doored a couple of months ago.  For anyone having had the joy, it’s like getting hit by a cannonball from the side.  Irony is, I ride away from the parked cars, often lane-take, look in every parked car and ring my bell constantly.  I should be the last person to be doored.

          But I was riding on the inside of what I thought was a car stopped waiting at a stop sign in a lane, right in front of my work building.  After being stopped for the entire block as I approached, the rear passenger door, from a passenger too short to see, swung upon as I passed next to it, a car width plus away from the curb.


          the impact was so intense it ripped the welds off several of the basket wires on my giant front basket.

        4. Bill Marshall

          Yes… “dooring” is a different animal… even when one is attentive, that can occur without warning… always the driver’s fault, IMHO… between side-view mirrors, and turning one’s head when opening a door, there is absolutely no excuse for those collisions… same goes for “J-hooks”… rarely the cyclist’s fault, but at least there, there is at least the possibility for the cyclist, being ‘over-taken’ right before an intersection, to see the car, and hopefully a right-turning light…

          Stopping distance is crucial… easy for pedestrians, a bit less so for a cyclist, problematic for a car moving too fast, huge problem for a train.  Again, the M x V thing.

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