It was Bike to School Day at Wilmette’s Highcrest Middle School and the bike racks were overflowing.
So were the helmets, in the hands of about 450 riders emerging at dismissal.
Students wearing helmets got treats, explains Cathy Albrecht, civics and safety committee chair for Wilmette Village-wide PTO and Highcrest PTO, who helped coordinate the event. “It’s the carrot rather than the stick,” she says, noting that in the last several years, she’s seen a definite increase in helmet use.
Still, every summer inexperienced riders take to the streets and sidewalks, and some teens can be spotted zipping around town with helmets on their handlebars instead of their heads.
About 85% of all of serious bike-related injuries can be attributed to someone not wearing a helmet, says Jason Jenkins, education specialist at Active Transportation Alliance, a nonprofit organization that gives bike safety training clinics around Chicagoland.
“You only have one brain, it doesn’t heal quickly, and it’s crucial to everything else working,” he says. “ How we deliver that message depends on the age.”
In May, Jenkins visited several schools running bicycle safety clinics, teaching basics such as using hand signals, stopping safely, and crossing the street.
In Buffalo Grove, the local police department partnered with the Wheeling Wheelmen Bicycle Club to run a similar clinic for about 75 children. Together they registered bikes, performed helmet safety checks and free tune-ups and ran bike-skill drills.
Even parents got helmet checks, says Joe Beemster, publicity chair of the Wheeling Wheelmen. To drive home the safety point to adults, he showed them a compressed helmet from a Wheelmen-member’s bike accident. “Had it not been for that helmet, he would have been dead,” he says.
Sometimes parents are the ones who need the most coaching, says Nancy Wagner, also known as the Safety Chick when she pens the Arlington Heights Bicycle Club’s Safety Newsletter. “The real irony is that parents have them on their children, but they’re not wearing them,” she says.
And “traditionally, those are the kids who get around the corner, and the helmet goes off and goes on the handlebars,” adds Active Trans’ Jenkins.
At Highcrest, students showed off their helmet rewards–calculators, Rice Krispie Treats and fruit snacks. One boy offered up possible reasons why kids might not wear helmets — people such as his older brother. “It’s faster (to get on the road) and some people think it looks cooler,” he suggests. What does he think of people who go bare-headed? He snaps his helmet and then responds: “Reckless. Idiotic.”