King County repeals bicycle helmet law over discriminatory enforcement concerns

Feb 17, 2022, 6:16 PM | Updated: Feb 18, 2022, 9:11 am

helmet law...

A cyclist on the University Bridge in Seattle, Washington. (Flickr)


The King County Board of Health on Thursday repealed its law that requires cyclists to wear a helmet.

The decision follows evidence presented to the board that the enforcement of helmet laws is disproportionately directed toward Black riders and homeless individuals. The board still encourages cyclists to wear helmets, citing statistics that they provide a roughly three-quarter reduction in risk of head and brain injury.

It has been illegal to ride a bicycle in King County without a helmet since 1993. In recent years, a growing number of community advocates have rejected the premise that the law’s enforcement is evenly distributed, with the Cascade Bicycle Club — the nation’s largest statewide cycling advocacy nonprofit — calling for the law’s repeal in 2020.

Data presented to the King County Board of Health on Thursday indicated that roughly half of helmet-less citation recipients were homeless, and Black riders were four times more likely than their white counterparts to get ticketed.

King County Board of Health delays vote to repeal bike helmet law

“As a cyclist, I know the many health, social and environmental benefits of biking. As a former ER doctor who has treated people with preventable head injuries, I also know the importance of wearing a bike helmet. And as Health Officer, I appreciate that community partners have highlighted the negative impacts of discriminatory enforcement of the helmet law,” wrote Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer for Public Health — Seattle & King County, in a news release.

“The bottom line is that Public Health continues to strongly recommend and encourage helmet use, especially by children,” he added.

Testimonials shared Thursday included a homeless Real Change newspaper vendor who has been stopped by police twice for cycling without a helmet.

“I don’t think it has to do with protection or anything else, it’s just total harassment. … I don’t see that this is really fair to the entire population,” he said. “I don’t see why some can ride without helmets and others get stopped and harassed.”

The Cascade Bicycle Club applauded the decision. The nonprofit requires helmets for its members, but pointed out in a news release that low-income persons are the most likely to ride without a helmet.

“Cascade is 100 percent pro-helmet, but the data is clear — this law was harming vulnerable populations,” wrote Lee Lambert, executive director of Cascade Bicycle Club and its sister organization Washington Bikes. “A majority of riders in King County already wear helmets, but it’s people who can’t afford one that are being targeted for enforcement, and that’s not just or right.”

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King County repeals bicycle helmet law over discriminatory enforcement concerns