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Orange County Focus

Countywide : Researchers Dissect Bike Safety Effort

July 24, 1993|SHELBY GRAD

Like many cities around the county, Irvine undertook a campaign to encourage children to wear helmets while riding bicycles.

What made Irvine's 1991 effort different was that a group of UC Irvine researchers studied it. The researchers have just published a report that examines which parts of the program worked and which did not.

The researchers said they hope their work will help other cities and school districts craft successful bicycle-safety programs.

"Given the fact that we know bicycle helmets are effective in preventing serious injuries, if other communities want to try (a campaign), we can show how to focus the program," said study co-author Daniel Stokols, dean of the School of Social Ecology at UCI.

The study surveyed parents before and after the campaign. Of the 212 parents who completed the survey, 32 of them purchased helmets. Those parents said they were swayed by "one-on-one" encounters with helmet advocates.

Among the most successful methods of persuasion was having pediatricians give "prescriptions" for helmets to parents--something that Stokols said hammered home the health and safety issues.

The doctors' intervention highlighted the children's vulnerability, Stokols said. "People thought the helmets were effective. But if they didn't feel there was a (threat) to the child's safety, they were not going to make changes in their child's behavior."

Parents who received the prescriptions or personal telephone information about safety were twice as likely to purchase helmets as those who did not.

Stokols said the parents were less convinced by indirect methods, such as mass mailings and group activities.

The study, published in the American Journal of Health Prevention, was conducted by Stokols along with doctoral students Margaret Schneider and Philip Ituarte. It was funded by a grant from the Irvine Health Foundation.

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