There is a significant difference in bicycle helmet use between recreational activities and everyday commuting among college students, according to a recent Colorado State University study.
The study found 40 percent of surveyed students wore helmets every time for recreational activities like trail riding. For commuting around town, the rate of helmets worn by those same riders plunged to 9 percent.
"This means students have different risk perceptions for recreation and commuting," said Itsumi Kakefuda, a social psychology doctoral student, who conducted the study. "It’s very intriguing because before this study no one figured bicycle helmet use was different."
With the help of the Colorado Injury Control Research Center based at CSU, Kakefuda surveyed more than 300 student bicycle riders last spring. The idea for the study stemmed from previous CICRC findings as well as a traumatic experience suffered by Kakefuda.
In 2004, Kakefuda was riding her bicycle to a Fort Collins grocery store when a car struck her leaving her unconscious. She was not wearing a helmet.
"When I woke up, I was in an ambulance going to the hospital," she said. "I suffered a mild brain injury."
Kakefuda, who sustained a concussion, was not wearing a bicycle helmet because of cultural differences. In her home country of Japan, it is not a common practice to wear a helmet, she said. Since the injury, she always straps on a helmet whenever riding her bike.
As for the reason why students only wear their helmets for certain purposes, Kakefuda suspects a number of factors. She believes students hold a sense of invincibility as well as the perception that injury is less likely close to home.
From 2000 to 2002, the CICRC conducted a number of activities following two bicycle-related deaths in Larimer County in 1999. One of those activities included mapping reported bicycle-related injury incidents to Fort Collins police.
The map showed a significant number of bicycle-related injuries happened around the Colorado State campus, said Julie Gibbs, CICRC associate director for community programs.
Kakefuda explained one of the biggest challenges is reaching these students, who only wear helmets for certain activities. She noted many of these brain injuries would be preventable with more precaution.
"You may not think an injury will happen to you," she said. "This is a big problem for us. How do we change this kind of perception?"
Kakefuda is currently working with the data she has collected to better determine the reasons why students do not wear helmets for certain activities. She is also examining methods in how to change this attitude.