Scrapping helmet law could reduce cyclist injuries in Seattle

Oct 13, 2015, 2:29 PM | Updated: 2:31 pm
Research shows that more people are apt to ride bicycles in a city if it doesn’t have a helme...
Research shows that more people are apt to ride bicycles in a city if it doesn't have a helmet law. (SDOT)
(SDOT)

There might be a cheaper way for Seattle to lower traffic-related deaths without having to irritate drivers and spend the city’s money. All city officials have to do is convince King County to remove its helmet law.

The Wall Street Journal reports that cycling advocates argue that not requiring helmets makes riding bikes in cities safer.

Wait, how could that be?

Advocates say that requiring people to wear helmets deters them from wanting to ride, thus fewer people are riding bicycles. The fewer the cyclists, the more crashes there are. Alternatively, more riders on the road actually decreases crashes, The Wall Street Journal reports, citing research. That is because drivers become used to maneuvering around cyclists.

Having more cyclists on the road heightens driver awareness of them, KIRO Radio’s Tom Tangney explained. It should be noted that while advocates support ending helmet laws for adults, they still want them for children.

The amount of injuries a helmet may protect someone from is offset by the fact that a city would have fewer crashes overall.

With the amount of cyclists riding around Seattle these days, that concept is something to think about; especially with the expanding bike ride-share program. If people wishing to ride a bicycle didn’t have to wear a helmet, maybe they would be more apt to rent a bike &#8212 especially for those who don’t want to put on a used helmet. In fact, the rate of usage in the first year of bike-share programs was up in cities that don’t have helmet laws. For example, the Wall Street Journal reports Washington D.C.’s bike-share program saw 76 trips per bike per month for its 1,100 bikes; Seattle had 24 trips per bike per month for its 500 between 2014 and 2015.

And, perhaps more people would ditch their vehicles, which could help reduce the congestion on the road for commuters.

If this information is valid, and having more cyclists on the road makes it safer for them, maybe the City of Seattle and King County should eliminate its helmet laws. Everyone in King County is required to wear a helmet while riding a bike, according to information from the Washington State Department of Transportation. With more bikes on the road, and fewer crashes, Seattle could, perhaps, spend less time focused on cyclist and pedestrian safety.

The city is rolling out changes to improve safety for cyclists and pedestrians. The project, called Vision Zero, aims to end traffic deaths and serious injuries within 15 years. If all the city has to do to lower vehicle versus bike crashes is change its helmet law to progress that vision, maybe it’s worth considering. Then again, what will protect cyclists when a vehicle cuts them off in a bike lane?

John Curley and Shari Elliker on KIRO Newsradio 97.3 FM
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Scrapping helmet law could reduce cyclist injuries in Seattle