May 18, 2016

Bicycle safety — thriving on 2 wheels

Prevention has always been fundamental to Kaiser Permanente’s mission. That includes both the prevention of illness through healthy behaviors and the prevention of injury by taking safety precautions.

Planning For Health; summer, 1993

Kaiser Manhattan, World's First Safety First Car
Print ad for 1953 Kaiser Manhattan, "the world's first 'safety first' car"

Prevention has always been fundamental to Kaiser Permanente’s mission. That includes both the prevention of illness through healthy behaviors and the prevention of injury by taking safety precautions. Even outside the health care field, Henry J. Kaiser’s Kaiser-Frazer automobile company strove to build safer cars and educate drivers, especially newly licensed teenagers, about safe driving.  The 1953 Kaiser Manhattan was dubbed the “World’s First Safety-First Car!”

A current Kaiser Permanente campaign to encourage the wearing of helmets when riding a bicycle ( 10 tips before you fasten your helmet and pedal away) may be our newest effort in this arena, but it’s certainly not our first. Here are just two notable bike safety efforts from our archives:

Maryland’s bicycle helmet law, which became effective in October 1995, covered children under the age of 16. The legislation was spearheaded by Maryland Governor’s Bicycle Advisory Committee (now called the Governor’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Advisory Committee). Kaiser Permanente was among Maryland’s bicycle helmet legislation partner organizations, providing testimony, incentives, and education.

Newspaper clipping with a photo of a boy on a bicycle wearing a helmet
Planning For Health; summer,1993

Oregon’s law was even earlier. It passed in July 1993 and took effect in July 1994. The year’s delay was built in to educate the public about the law and because of concerns about the ability of low-income children to afford bicycle helmets. The legislation was pushed by the Oregon Bicycle Helmet Coalition, which included a wide range of people and groups, including Kaiser Permanente.

As soon as the law was implemented, Kaiser Permanente distributed 1,500 free bike helmets to students at schools in Portland in hopes of reducing bicycle-related injuries and deaths. Ellen Hall, MD, from the Beaverton, Ore., Medical Office, was quoted as saying, "We're concerned about how few children in our communities have helmets.”

In addition, Kaiser Permanente worked with officers from the Portland Police Bureau's Bicycle Safety Unit and the Community Cycling Center in northeast Portland to teach traffic safety classes at north Portland schools. Kaiser Permanente also sold bike helmets at cost at three 'cash-and-carry' sales. By the end of 1995 Kaiser Permanente had donated nearly 2,000 bicycle helmets to low-income and at-risk children.

Bike helmet giveaway to 200 3rd, 4th and 5th grade students at James John elementary school in North Portland, Pulse 1997-08
Bike helmet giveaway to 200 3rd, 4th and 5th grade students at James John elementary school in North Portland, Pulse; August, 1997

"Even though Oregon law requires everyone under age 16 to wear a hike helmet when riding, many families can't afford one,” said Adrianne Felustein, MD, co-chair of Kaiser Permanente’s Trauma Committee. "At Whitman school, just over half of all students qualify for free or reduced lunches—and the majority don't have bike helmets."

In 1995, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission selected Kaiser Permanente’s "Evel the Weevel" (a parodic reference to the motorcycle daredevil Evil Knievel) bilingual bike helmet safety brochures in Oregon to be distributed nationwide. The brochures were praised as an “example of a best practice in preventing childhood injuries.”