The King County Board of Health on Thursday repealed its law requires cyclists to wear a helmet.
The decision follows evidence presented to the board that enforcement of helmet laws is disproportionately directed at black riders and the homeless. The council still encourages cyclists to wear helmets, citing statistics that they reduce the risk of head and brain injuries by around three quarters.
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 dismissed the assumption that law enforcement is evenly distributed, with the Cascade Bicycle Club – the largest cycling club in the state. non-profit advocacy – calling for the repeal of the law in 2020.
Data presented to the King County Board of Health on Thursday indicated that about half of recipients of citations without a helmet were homeless and that black riders were four times more likely than their white counterparts to get a ticket.
King County Board of Health delays vote to repeal bicycle helmet law
“As a cyclist, I know the many benefits of cycling for health, society and the environment. As a former ER doctor who treated people with preventable head injuries, I also know the importance of wearing a bicycle helmet. And as a health worker, I appreciate that community partners have highlighted the negative impacts of discriminatory helmet enforcement,” wrote Dr. Jeff Duchin, health worker for Public Health – Seattle and 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.
Testimonies shared on Thursday included a homeless Real Change newsboy who was arrested twice by police for riding his bike without a helmet.
“I don’t think it has to do with protection or anything else, it’s just total harassment. … I don’t think it’s really fair to the whole population,” said he said, “I don’t see why some people can ride without a helmet and others get arrested and harassed.”
The Cascade Bicycle Club applauded the decision. The non-profit organization requires helmets for its members, but pointed out in a press release that low-income people are most likely to ride without a helmet.
“Cascade is 100% pro-helmet, but the data is clear – this law was hurting vulnerable populations,” wrote Lee Lambert, executive director of the Cascade Bicycle Club and its sister organization Washington Bikes. “The majority of King County bikers already wear helmets, but it’s the people who can’t afford one who are being targeted by law enforcement, and that’s neither fair nor fair.”