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Mandatory cycling helmet law dropped in Seattle as it unfairly targets black people and the homeless, say officials

The King County Board of Health voted to end its long-standing mandatory helmet law, with one member saying they were concerned about "disproportional enforcement"...

The US county of King County, which includes the famous city of Seattle, has voted to repeal its mandatory cycle helmet laws, with a board of elected officials and medical experts questioning the law's effectiveness. Members also cited concerns that officers were stopping helmetless cyclists on a pretext for something else, with analysis finding that black riders were four times as likely to be fined for not wearing a helmet, and almost half of the tickets were being handed out to homeless people. 

> French Senate debates mandatory helmets — €135 fine proposed for rule breakers

King County's mandatory helmet law was first introduced in 1993, and was expanded to included Seattle in 2003, according to the Seattle Times. It was claimed that studies from the early 2000s suggested implementing helmet laws could increase helmet use amongst young people, and that helmet use could reduce injury severity; however some board members said that recent studies were less clear. 

King County Councilmember Joe McDermott said: “Helmets save lives, full stop. But the disproportional enforcement of the requirement gives us concern. 

“When the Board of Health first adopted a helmet mandate, helmets weren’t part of our social norms and our culture, and so the legal requirements for helmets was new and carried weight."

Sheley Anderson, attorney for the Brain Injury Alliance of Washington, added: "We need the impact analysis to actually look at, does the actual helmet law itself reduce brain injuries?”

Only one board member voted against the repeal. The board collectively voiced support for voluntary use of helmets, and promised to encourage cyclists in King County to wear protective gear.  

Ethan Campbell of Central Seattle Greenways said his group's studies found that the law was not serving its intended purpose, and was instead being used by police officers as a pretext to stop people. 

“It’s this perfect microcosm of what’s broken with our approach to policing,” Campbell told the Seattle Times. 

“It’s an ill-conceived law that’s feeding into highly discretionary, mostly pretextual stops." 

Lee Lambert, executive director of the Cascade Bicycle Club, added: “We’re unequivocally pro helmet-use, however we have concerns about disproportionate enforcement and how it impacts people of color and unhoused people. If we’re centering safety, there are other ways we can make bicycling safer.” 

The repeal is set to go into effect in just under three weeks' time. 

NZ Helmet law effect
Cycling helmets are also mandatory in New Zealand

There are few places in the world where bicycle helmets are mandatory, and analysts have often found that such laws have a negative impact on cycling safety and participation. 

Australia made cycling helmets mandatory in 1991, and at the time it was claimed that there was a sharp decline in cycling almost instantly after the laws came into effect.

In 2011, Professor Chris Rissell of the University of Sydney published research that suggested the number of people cycling in Sydney could double if the laws were repealed: "People who ride occasionally and younger people were most likely to say they would ride more if they didn't have to wear a helmet, but significantly, one in five people who hadn't ridden a bicycle in the last year also said they would ride more," he explained. 

In 2019, two more Australian professors argued that the country's helmet laws had "become a tool of disproportionate penalties and aggressive policing," and were not leading to harm reduction. 

Arriving at road.cc in 2017 via 220 Triathlon Magazine, Jack dipped his toe in most jobs on the site and over at eBikeTips before being named the new editor of road.cc in 2020, much to his surprise. His cycling life began during his students days, when he cobbled together a few hundred quid off the back of a hard winter selling hats (long story) and bought his first road bike - a Trek 1.1 that was quickly relegated to winter steed, before it was sadly pinched a few years later. Creatively replacing it with a Trek 1.2, Jack mostly rides this bike around local cycle paths nowadays, but when he wants to get the racer out and be competitive his preferred events are time trials, sportives, triathlons and pogo sticking - the latter being another long story.  

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22 comments

Avatar
chrisonabike | 2 years ago
3 likes

RE: Mandatory cycling helmet law dropped in Seattle ...

... hopefully not from over a metre as that would exceed the expected standard protection.

Avatar
EddyBerckx | 2 years ago
5 likes

I saw a doc last night on the life of Tupac Shakur (the rapper).

One of his defining experiences was getting the crap kicked out of him by the police for 'jaywalking' - a bs law used by the police to attack all minorities and undesirables they feel need 'teaching a lesson'.

So this doesn't surprise me. 

 

 

Avatar
ktache replied to EddyBerckx | 2 years ago
0 likes

A really nice little documentary that one.  I liked the basing it around photos.

Avatar
ktache | 2 years ago
7 likes

Now, that's one hell of a graph to start things off...

Avatar
eburtthebike replied to ktache | 2 years ago
2 likes
ktache wrote:

Now, that's one hell of a graph to start things off...

Yup, it says it all.  Helmets don't work and are just an excuse for drivers to blame their victims.

Avatar
hawkinspeter replied to eburtthebike | 2 years ago
6 likes
eburtthebike wrote:

Yup, it says it all.  Helmets don't work and are just an excuse for drivers to blame their victims.

That graph shows more that mandating helmets is counter-productive. Helmets do provide some level of protection (e.g. very good against low hanging branches) but as we know, their benefits are over-sold, especially by non-cyclists.

It's clear to me that jaywalking and mandatory helmet laws are perfect laws for dodgy police to use selective enforcement with (probably should put stop-and-search into that list as well).

Avatar
Brightspark replied to hawkinspeter | 2 years ago
4 likes

But helmets reduce your chances of having an accident by 80%.

Just think how much worse it would have been if helmets had not been made mandatory.

It is interesting to note that Seattle is where this helmet nonsense started. It was in this city that the first study was done that gave the 95% effectiveness (I can't remember what the original figure was now and threw out my notes some time ago). The authors of the report later reduced the figure down and down until they withdrew the report findings saying that this had been taken out context. But not before the helmet industry jumped on this as evidence of how good their product was and how it should be made mandatory. They also settled on the 80% figure and stayed there even when it fell a lot further. (10% I think it was in the end.)

The original research looked at admissions at 5 (I think) hospitals and concluded that helmeted riders suffered less head injuries. Another group took the same data-set and pointed out that wearing a helmet also saved you broken legs and other serious injuries thus proving that there was something wrong here. So I guess that my opening statement, which our government and road safety experts used to trot out (including BHIT - the now defunct Bicycle Helmet Inititive Trust pronounced be- hit) was true. Based on that research helmets will reduce your chances of having an accident.

So how come that the data suggested this?

Well this research was done in the 1980's, helmets were almost unheard of at the time and not cheap. So the only people who would be wearing them were fairly wealthy, living uptown or in the suburbs and would have the use of quieter roads and parks. In the downtown area, cyclists were poorer and had to deal with heavy fast moving traffic. 

In my opinion the dataset wasflawed because nobody had any analysis of injuries before helmets had been worn.

And all the research that I have seen since still does not have a comparision dataset. 

Except I did come across some figures of motorcyclist KSI's in the USA. There had been a law change in some states that allowed riders to go helmetless providing that they had adequate and specific insurance cover. The results showed little difference in the KSI between helmeted and unhelmeted riders. But as it was explained to me many times motorcycles are different to push-bikes, so what do I know, I am not an expert unlike the clever bods in the helmet industry.

Avatar
eburtthebike replied to Brightspark | 2 years ago
0 likes
Brightspark wrote:

But helmets reduce your chances of having an accident by 80%.

I read the first sentence of your lecture just to see whether the rest might be worth reading; it isn't.  Cycle helmets increase the risk of an accident.  I'm pretty sure the rest of your diatribe is equally accurate and worth reading.

People who indulge in prolix are usually trying to compensate for their ignorance.

Avatar
Mungecrundle replied to eburtthebike | 2 years ago
5 likes

Maybe you should have read it before jumping to a wrong conclusion about what he wrote.

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eburtthebike replied to Mungecrundle | 2 years ago
0 likes
Mungecrundle wrote:

Maybe you should have read it before jumping to a wrong conclusion about what he wrote.

Maybe the author should learn the art of brevity.  In my experience, the more words used, the lesser the knowledge.

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Mungecrundle replied to eburtthebike | 2 years ago
6 likes

Maybe the learning experience here is not to attack the author of a post you haven't bothered to read???

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Flintshire Boy replied to eburtthebike | 2 years ago
2 likes

.

Oh God, that's Shakespeare out, then.

.

(When in hole - STOP digging!!)

.

Avatar
eburtthebike replied to Flintshire Boy | 2 years ago
0 likes
Flintshire Boy wrote:

.

Oh God, that's Shakespeare out, then.

.

(When in hole - STOP digging!!)

.

I love Willie Wobbledagger, but his plays are worth watching as they accurately portray human experience.  And he only mentions cycle helmets in Under Milk Wood.

Avatar
chrisonabike replied to eburtthebike | 2 years ago
1 like

Usually.

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Captain Badger replied to eburtthebike | 2 years ago
5 likes
eburtthebike wrote:
Brightspark wrote:

But helmets reduce your chances of having an accident by 80%.

I read the first sentence of your lecture just to see whether the rest might be worth reading; it isn't.  Cycle helmets increase the risk of an accident.  I'm pretty sure the rest of your diatribe is equally accurate and worth reading.

People who indulge in prolix are usually trying to compensate for their ignorance.

Have a read - don't get put off by teh first line

Avatar
chrisonabike replied to hawkinspeter | 2 years ago
2 likes
hawkinspeter wrote:

[..] Helmets do provide some level of protection (e.g. very good against low hanging branches) but as we know, their benefits are over-sold, especially by non-cyclists. [...]

Do they provide protection against low-hanging fruit though?  Otherwise it's just nuts.

Avatar
mdavidford replied to chrisonabike | 2 years ago
2 likes

I don't think a helmet is going to provide much protection to your nuts.

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chrisonabike replied to mdavidford | 2 years ago
1 like
mdavidford wrote:

I don't think a helmet is going to provide much protection to your nuts.

Au contraire, my walnuts feel secure.

Avatar
Captain Badger replied to chrisonabike | 2 years ago
0 likes
chrisonatrike wrote:
mdavidford wrote:

I don't think a helmet is going to provide much protection to your nuts.

Au contraire, my walnuts feel secure.

One each?

Avatar
chrisonabike replied to Captain Badger | 2 years ago
0 likes
Captain Badger wrote:
chrisonatrike wrote:
mdavidford wrote:

I don't think a helmet is going to provide much protection to your nuts.

Au contraire, my walnuts feel secure.

One each?

I follow nature - hazelnuts and chestnuts are the cyclists of the nut world. Like motorists in cars or tandem riders peanuts are content to share.  It's harder to keep a hat on the seeds of walnuts, almonds and brazils as they've a tendency to drupe.

Avatar
Brightspark replied to chrisonabike | 2 years ago
1 like

I am SOOOOOOOOO sorry that I used too many words.

Avatar
chrisonabike replied to Brightspark | 2 years ago
0 likes

Leave it out...

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