King County delays vote on repeal of bicycle helmet law

The King County Board of Health could repeal its helmet law, which data shows is disproportionately applied to communities of color and the homeless.

SEATTLE — The King County Board of Health is considering repealing the county’s helmet law, citing unfair enforcement.

The board met on Thursday to discuss the measure, which would replace the law with a resolution affirming the importance of the bicycle helmet. The board decided to defer a vote on the matter.

Data presented to the council on June 17 shows that black, Indigenous and people of color received helmet citations more frequently than white cyclists. People experiencing homelessness also said that wearing helmets was a common reason for interacting with police.

The council found that disparities in law enforcement hit these communities hardest in the form of civil fines and court costs.

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In September, the Chairman of the Board requested to proceed with the repeal of the bylaw.

The measure was met with opposition from some groups, including Washington’s Brain Injury Alliance, which said it understood the social justice issues behind the measure but feared that repealing the law could lead to increased brain damage.

“Repealing the law may end unfair enforcement, but it will actually unfairly increase brain damage in the community and communities of color,” said alliance board member Darin Harris and of the defense committee. “We can apply with education and helmet vouchers, not tickets.”

The current county helmet law has been in effect since 1993.

Seventeen jurisdictions in King County have their own helmet laws — including Kent, Bellevue and Federal Way — and King County’s resolution would not affect those laws. If approved, the measure would affect unincorporated King County and the county’s 22 remaining jurisdictions.

However, the resolution would call on the remaining jurisdictions with helmet laws in effect to repeal their regulations and align their policies with those of the council.

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