King County helmet law to be reviewed

Last week, members of Central Seattle Greenways joined with Cascade Bicycle Club, Real Change, and others in calling for the King County Board of Health to reconsider its bicycle helmet law. Take our survey to share your thoughts: http://tinyurl.com/KC-helmet-law-survey.

Around the country, Black, Latino, and Indigenous people are disproportionately stopped by police for minor infractions while biking. Amid calls for racial justice last summer, members of Central Seattle Greenways’ Racial Equity Committee decided to investigate whether similar disparities exist in Seattle and how we could help.

This led to the formation of the Helmet Law Working Group, a collaboration with Cascade, Real Change, and members of other transportation and equity-focused groups. Using public records requests, our research found that Seattle police have invoked King County’s bicycle helmet law to stop and ticket Black cyclists at about four times the rate of white cyclists since 2003. In December, investigative reporting by Crosscut found that over 43% of helmet citations since 2017 were issued by Seattle police to homeless people.

Our research found that Seattle police issue helmet citations (right column) to Black cyclists at about four times the rate of white cyclists.

We believe that unnecessary contact between police and people who bike should be minimized, and that Black, Indigenous, and homeless riders should not disproportionately bear the burden of helmet citations in Seattle. While helmets can reduce head injuries in some crashes, we are concerned that the helmet law does more harm than good.

With these considerations in mind, we have asked the Board of Health to conduct a thoughtful review of the helmet law that focuses on its unintended impacts and includes community voices. Last year, King County declared that racism is a public health crisis, stating that “white privilege and anti-blackness cannot be fully addressed until the same systems that have ‘worked just fine’ for white people while acting as the foot of oppression for indigenous, Black and brown communities are dismantled.” Reconsidering the helmet law is one small step that can be taken towards this goal.

Additionally, as safe streets advocates, we know that safer street infrastructure and lower vehicle speeds are more effective at preventing cyclist injuries than helmet laws. We hope the Board will take this opportunity to not only address the problem of inequitable enforcement of the helmet law, but also consider interventions aimed at the most urgent threat to cyclist safety—collisions with cars.

At the Board of Health’s meeting last Thursday, King County Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles introduced an amendment committing the Board of Health to reexamine the law this year. We are grateful for Councilmember Kohl-Welles’ leadership on this issue. In the discussion that followed, other members of the board, including Seattle City Councilmembers Teresa Mosqueda and Andrew Lewis, King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay, Bellevue City Councilmember Janice Zahn, Burien Deputy Mayor Krystal Marx, and Board member Dr. Bill Daniell, voiced their support. The amendment was adopted in a unanimous vote (12-0).

We look forward to working with the Board and community to find ways to keep cyclists safe that don’t involve police enforcement.

Share your perspective: We want your voice to inform the Board’s review process and shape the future of the helmet law. Take our anonymous survey to share your ideas and stories about interactions with police while biking: http://tinyurl.com/KC-helmet-law-survey.

Learn more: You can read about our effort in the following venues’ coverage:

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