SAN JOSE -- A motorcycle officer who was seriously injured in a collision with a car while answering a robbery call continues to recover in the hospital as police credit a newer-model helmet for preventing additional injuries.

Officer Mark Hernandez, a 13-year police veteran, was responding to a robbery about 11:30 a.m. Friday when he collided with a gray hatchback just south of the intersection of North Fourth and Empire streets near downtown.

"He's recovering, showing a lot of progress every day," said Sgt. Steven Payne of the SJPD Traffic Enforcement Unit.

Payne said the Nolan N104 Highline police-model helmet that Hernandez was wearing, with its modular design that provide face protection that earlier-issue helmets did not, was crucial in preventing serious head and facial injuries.

The helmet's plastic-shell composition, as opposed to the fiberglass makeup of older models, allowed for the helmet to absorb more of the impact from when the officer was thrown from his motorcycle and landed on the pavement, similar to how a car's crumple zones lessen the amount of force transferred to the passenger compartment.

"It's obvious by the marks on the helmet that he would have had facial injuries if he had not had this helmet," Payne said.

Combined with newer-issue kevlar-reinforced pants, Payne said the officer suffered minimal external injuries. He noted that an officer in a similar crash two years ago wearing an older helmet needed reconstructive facial surgery afterward.


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Less than a handful of the two-dozen motorcycle officers are still using the older-issue helmet and are due for imminent upgrades, Payne said.

At the crash site Friday, the hatchback was stopped facing southbound with significant damage to its left front end. The downed motorcycle faced north.

Police said the man driving the gray hatchback involved in the crash remained on scene and was cooperative with police. No citations or arrests were made, and alcohol or drugs have been ruled out as a factor. It remains under investigation.

Contact Robert Salonga at 408-920-5002. Follow him at Twitter.com/robertsalonga.