OP Ed- We need stronger leadership, not less enforcement
By Brendan Kolding
King County Board of Health Code 9.15 designates the failure to wear a helmet while riding a bicycle a civil infraction. Law enforcement officers are empowered to stop people who are riding without a helmet and to issue a ticket. The fine is $30 before court fees. The purpose of this ordinance is "to protect and preserve the public health and welfare." This is an incentive to be safe, similar to SMC 11.58.198, which requires occupants of motor vehicles to wear seat belts.
Seattle Municipal Court data show that from 2003 to 2020 Black and Native American / Alaska Native bicycle riders were cited for violating the helmet ordinance at a rate two to four times that of white cyclists. There is now a movement underway to repeal KCBHC 9.15 on the grounds of inequitable enforcement. This movement seems to have the support of King County Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles.
Those in favor of repealing the helmet mandate do not appear to be alleging biased policing or pretextual seizures. Rather, they simply argue that helmets are cost-prohibitive for many members of minority communities, and so requiring them to use one is unfair. But this law is on the books in order to keep people safe, just like SMC 11.58.198 and the myriad other pieces of legislation that govern the use of equipment and conveyances. Repealing KCBHC 9.15 will not make it safe to ride a bike without a helmet, but will certainly encourage more people to do so.
This is part of an alarming trend (I feel like I use that term a lot) of attempting to void laws that are difficult or inconvenient to enforce. Misdemeanors committed by addicts, the homeless, and the mentally-ill are a huge problem that will not be solved by decriminalization. Urban camping is unsafe, unhealthy, and undignified, and remains so despite the lack of political will to enforce the applicable laws. I could go on but I think I have made my point: we have laws that were written for the health and welfare of all and failing to enforce them does not address the root problems.
If the County Council determines that the price of a bike helmet is preventing people from owning one and causing them to be cited, they should look at ways to get helmets onto people's heads. A helmet voucher program would be a relatively cheap way to serve the purpose of KCBHC 9.15. The focus should be on protecting people from potentially life-threatening injury, not from a nominal fee.
We lack strong leadership at all levels of government here in King County. Strong leaders would be advocating for true solutions to issues like homelessness, poverty, crime, addiction, and mental illness, not looking for ways to paper over them. If equity really is the goal, it is not served by making people less safe.
Brendan Kolding is a former Seattle Police officer and has run for Seattle City Council
An excellent article and sure to draw the ire of the social justice warriors in our midst who march to the tune of everyone's a "racist" or "white supremacist" etc etc if you don't get apoplectic over certain groups and their problems..just like the DA in LA and other cities who do away with cash bail, release prisoners from jail into the community because of COVID or don't enforce laws and engage in "catch and release"..or welcome illegal immigrants into the country..oh oh I mean "undocumented"..in other words, basically the platform of the current Democratic Party.
Your editorial makes the usual assumption that helmet laws are beneficial and ignores participation and injury data in helmet law jurisdictions ... although you seem to concede that repeal would encourage more people to ride a bike.
Many of those encouraged cyclists getting healthy without helmets would otherwise be driving a car.
See http://www.cycle-helmets.com including the US page.
There are multiple inaccuracies in the author's post. Please read the Cascade Bicycle Club blog post if you would like accurate information on why it supports the effort to repeal the law and decriminalize helmet use: https://cascade.org/blog/2021/02/cascade-and-washington-bikes-support-d…