Friday, April 11, 2014

Topic for Discussion: Should Snohomish County Require Bicycle Helmets?

At the March 13th, 2014, CTCSC Board Meeting, Snohomish County Parks asked that we investigate the idea of endorsing a move to require the wearing of bicycle helmets in Snohomish County.   This will be a topic of discussion at the next CTCSC General Meeting: 
6:30 PM at 
Willis Tucker Community Park

6705 Puget Park Drive
Snohomish, WA 98296

The goal of this post is to share reference sources that are relevant to the discussion.

Discussion aside, wearing a bicycle helmet is the sensible thing to do.  It is easy and convenient and gives a valuable measure of protection!

Bicycle helmet laws have been enacted in 21 states.  In recent years there has been some discussion that bicycle helmet laws can be counter productive.

In 2012, Milton Washington repealed its helmet law, also discussed here on the Seattle Bike Blog.  The City of Milton apparently decided that they were not able to effectively enforce this law and the lack of enforcement could lead to a liability problem.

From Washington DOT here are the Bicycle Helmet Requirements in Washington:
Currently, there is no state law requiring helmet use. However, some cities and counties do require helmet use with bicycles. Here is a list of those locations and when the laws were enacted.
Location NameWho is AffectedEffective Date
AberdeenAll ages2001
Bainbridge IslandAll ages2001
BremertonAll ages2000
DuPontAll ages2008
EatonvilleAll ages1996
FircrestAll ages1995
Gig HarborAll ages1996
KentAll ages1999
King CountyAll ages1993, 2003 updated to include Seattle
LakewoodAll ages1996
MiltonAll ages1997
OrtingUnder 171997
Pierce County
All ages1994
Port AngelesAll ages1994
Port OrchardAll ages2004
PoulsboUnder 181995
PuyallupAll ages1994
RentonAll ages1999
SpokaneAll ages2004
SteilacoomAll ages1995
TacomaAll ages1994
University PlaceAll ages1996
VancouverAll ages2008
All Military InstallationsAll agesN/A
The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute provides a wide range of information on helmet use and data.  You might start by reading their page with Journals and Studies.
Helmet law discussion points taken from other sources:
  • It sets a good example for kids.
  • It lowers the risk of liability and medical expenses for society.
  • It is a good practice that should be encouraged.
  • Wearing a helmet gives very important protection in some low speed accidents, etc.

  • Helmet laws create a misplaced focus that in some sense blames the victim instead of aiming at real risks and causes.
  • Helmet laws are unnecessary regulations, an over reach of controlling normal behavior.  (ie: The Nanny State)
  • Wearing a helmet gives false send of security and leads to risk behavior.
  • Some places in the world, such as Denmark and the Netherlands have very low bicycle injury rates while at the same time they do not require helmets.
  • Helmet laws discourage some users from doing an otherwise beneficial activity, and in this case  may do more harm cumulatively than good.  The health risks of not exercising are greater than the health risks of riding a bike without a helmet. 
  • Helmet laws create an illusion that bicycling is inherently unsafe.  Safety concerns are often the biggest reason people give for not riding a bicycle.
  • Such laws may disproportionately discourage bicycle riding by a category of people who would naturally practice very safe behavior and probably have a low risk of injury.

Side Notes:
  • Many individuals have sincere and dramatic anecdotal evidence that having worn a bicycle helmet did indeed protect them from injury in an accident.
  • Bicycle helmets are most effective in relatively low speed, low energy situations.
  • The most effective way to reduce injury and risk is by having a high level of mutual consideration and awareness amongst all the users of the traffic space, drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians alike.
  • Statistically there are two groups of people who consistently have the highest risk for injury on a bicycle: Children, and Men age 18-35.
  • Other attempts to gather compelling statistical evidence are hampered by the lack of consistent reporting and accident investigating procedures, and by the limits of comparing widely varying cultures and traffic environments.
Please use the comment section below to add other discussion ideas or to relay reference links.  (All comments are reviewed before posting.)

Other References:

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