The King County Board of Health on Thursday signaled its support for the repeal of the county’s bicycle helmet law, but voted to postpone taking formal action until November to respond to community messages and the sensitization.
While members expressed unanimous support for wearing helmets on bicycles and scooters, questions posed at Thursday’s board meeting focused on the effectiveness of current helmet laws and racial disparities. in their application.
The helmet law debate follows reports of how citations are distributed by police and various calls from community members and groups to repeal the law, citing uneven enforcement towards the homeless and black cyclists in the past year.
“The question before us is the methods of execution, the involvement of police in non-criminal activity, the financial impact of summonses and whether there are alternative routes,” said Girmay Zahilay, member of the council of the King County.
The public comment portion of the meeting on Thursday lasted over an hour, with people speaking enthusiastically both for and against the repeal.
Some speakers argued that repealing the law would send a message to children that helmets are optional and that traumatic brain injury disproportionately affects poor and marginalized communities during recovery.
Other speakers questioned whether the law, rather than cultural norms, led to the wearing of helmets, and whether the law could still be promoted without a punitive policy involving the police.
Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles, who initially raised the issue to the board, asked to spend an extra month addressing the issue and including physicians in the process.
“I keep thinking about the messages children, youth and others will receive if they learn that the King County Board of Health has repealed the law,” she said.
Board member Teresa Mosqueda said the Seattle Department of Transportation also supported the repeal, coupled with technical and educational improvements.
The King County Board of Health will meet on November 18, but a date for the helmet law vote has not been set for Thursday.
An analysis of nearly 1,700 helmet citations issued between 2003 and 2020 in Seattle found that black cyclists received violations at a rate nearly four times that of white cyclists. The research was conducted by a doctoral student at the University of Washington for Central Seattle Greenways, a branch of the Seattle Neighborhood Greenways street safety group.
An analysis of court records by the Crosscut news agency found that 43% of citations between 2017 and 2020 were issued to people experiencing homelessness.
Under the law, violators can face a fine of $ 30, although the total can rise to $ 154 after court costs.
While no state law requires cyclists to wear a helmet, some cities and counties have enacted mandatory helmet laws, including Bellevue, Kent, Renton, Snohomish County, and Pierce County no. incorporated. In King County, 17 jurisdictions, representing 35% of the county, have their own helmet laws that would not be affected by a repeal, according to a staff report.
Tacoma repealed its helmet law for bicycles and scooters in 2020.