Helmets are more than Smart
(Published in the San Bernardino County Sun, December24, 1998)
Christmas shopping all done? Hope so. It is Christmas Eve, after all.
If you aren’t finished, and there is a child of bike-riding age on your list, Bob Sutton has
a suggestion for you.
Buy the child a bicycle helmet. It’s more than a good idea. It’s the law.
Sutton is the government and community relations representative for Inland Empire
Health Plan, and he can cite plenty of statistics illustrating the value of helmets.
But a second-grader named Christopher is his best evidence.
Christopher was riding his bicycle one day last summer when he was hit by a car. His
bike was dragged some 30 feet.
The helmet Christopher was wearing split in two.
Christopher suffered a mild concussion and was in the hospital a few days.
But the next month he was back in school, and he’s probably bugging his mom right now
about when Santa is going to show up.
It could have been so much worse.
Luckily for Christopher, his San Bernardino school hosted the Rad Rider Bicycle Safety
Program in September 1997. Christopher was one of 514 kids who got free helmets after
taking a bike safety test.
More importantly, Christopher wore the helmet.
The Rad Rider program is the brainchild of Inland Empire Health Plan, a not-for-profit
HMO that serves Medi-Cal beneficiaries in San Bernardino and Riverside counties.
The idea of a comic book action figure promoting bike safety springs from a grim
statistic. Trauma is the major killer of children.
And head injuries are about the worst trauma there is. A broken leg may heal with little
consequence. A broken brain is another matter.
A study by Harborview Medical Center in Seattle found that head injuries account for 43
percent of all deaths among children ages 5 to 9 years. For those who survive, the average
cost of lifetime medical care is $4.5 million. Per child.
With bicycles being a major contributor to head injuries among children, it wasn’t much
of a stretch to figure out that something had to be done.
IEHP officials sent notices to every school district in the two counties announcing the
program. All the schools have to do is ask, and IEHP will come put on a bicycle
safety program and give the kids a Rad Rider comic book to read. The kids and their
parents then take the safety test, the parent signs a release, and the child gets a helmet.
They don’t even have to be IEHP members.
The Rad Rider program has given away more than 30,000 helmet so far.
Sutton is proud of that.
But he wants to do more. The agency is considering applying for grant money to expand,
and maybe trying to find a corporate sponsor – someone who would take the program
But it’s still pretty important right here at home. This two-county region ranks as the
sixth most dangerous in the country for bicyclists, according to a Surface Transportation
Policy Project study last year.
So, if there’s a kid on your Christmas list, spring for a bike helmet today. Or ask your
kid’s principal to call IEHP.