Quoted from Boston.com:
By Jonathan Simmons, Guest Columnist
I am thrilled with how bicycle friendly Brookline is becoming. The town keeps adding bike lanes and every day I see more and more cyclists out on the road. So I was startled and unhappy last fall at a Brookline Bicycle Advisory Committee meeting when I heard a teen from the high school cycling club say “I think only about 10-20% of the kids who ride their bikes to school wear a helmet.” I hoped he was wrong but feared he was right. I decided to do a headcount of my own.
Before I posted myself in front of the high school, I needed permission from Dr. Robert Weintraub, headmaster at Brookline High. I e-mailed him and in less than an hour I had my answer: go for it! Turns out he’s also an avid cyclist who thinks a lot about bicycle safety.
Next I had to get permission from my 16-year old son. I planned to do my polling in the cycling clothes I wear when I bike to work: a gaudy fluorescent yellow jacket and black tights. He reluctantly agreed, “as long as you wear a mask and don’t tell anyone you’re related to me.”
That’s how I found myself the week after Thanksgiving in front of Brookline High School. It was cold out but that’s to be expected: we live in New England. Unfortunately, the low temperature meant there were fewer students biking. After two days I decided to shelve my project until spring.
This April, when the warm weather finally arrived, I went back. Between last fall and this spring I spent four mornings in front of the school and counted 105 teenage bikers. Here’s the bad news: of the 83 boys I counted, less than half (42%) were wearing helmets. The girls did better: 14 out of 22 (64%) wore helmets. Still, even they had room for improvement.
I was surprised to see that there were so few girls riding to school. This is consistent with national trends, but still, I had hoped it would be different in our fair town. And the boys? Those 48 guys without helmets make me nervous. And that doesn’t include the nine kids with headphones, the three kids who were "pulling a salmon" (going the wrong way on a one-way street), or the three bikers who rode their fixed gear bikes without brakes.
Every kid I spoke with knew they were safer with a helmet. “So why don’t more kids wear them?” I asked. They told me:
1. I’m careful and I know what I’m doing; I would never crash.
2. I only ride on the sidewalk.
3. I’m not going that far.
None of that is logical, but then not wearing a helmet isn’t about logic. It’s about something else, I just couldn’t put my finger on it. Fortunately my neighbor’s daughter could and she was kind enough to explain it to me. “It’s just not cool.” That, I think, hits the nail on the head. Helmets are dorky and they make you look like the little kid you’re trying not to be.
Almost all of the K-8 students who ride to school in my neighborhood wear a helmet. They have to: their parents are in charge. That all changes with adolescence, when kids start to be in charge of themselves. As old as I am, I can still remember that it matters to be cool and fit in. A lot. Way more than protecting yourself against something that you are sure will never happen.
So what could get teens to wear a helmet? Some kids told me it’s hopeless. “If they haven’t learned by high school they’ll never learn.” Others were more optimistic. They suggested:
1. “Use humor. That’s one way we’ll listen. Check out those cool videos on YouTube that make you want to wear a helmet.”
2. “Definitely DO NOT LECTURE OR NAG. We won’t hear you, no matter how loud you talk.”
3. “Maybe hand out prizes for anyone wearing a helmet. Especially food.” That makes sense: teenagers are always hungry, but if you’re a parent you already know this.
4. A policeman and a 10th grader both told me “Pass laws so the police can make you wear a helmet.”
That all sounds good, but now what? Here’s my plan -- but remember, it takes a village, so please join in by commenting.
I’m going to talk with, not at, the kids I know. I will try not to lecture, as hard as that may be. And parents: please join in. Bicycle helmets are probably not up there with sex, drugs and college admissions. But this conversation is important.
Most important are the teen cyclists who wear helmets. You guys, please take the lead. Your classmates are much more likely to listen to you than to those of us over 30. In the meantime, happy trails and keep the rubber side down.
Jonathan Simmons is a Brookline psychologist and avid cyclist.