Washington state’s King County, including residents of Seattle, can breathe much easier now: Bicycle riding is now officially woke, equitable, and definitely not racist.
Upon reading data that shows the enforcement of its decades-old mandatory bike helmet law disproportionately targets Blacks and the homeless, the King County Board of Health voted Thursday to throw the baby out with the bathwater and repeal the helmet requirement.
While board member and King County Councilmember Joe McDermott acknowledged that bicycle helmets will keep people safe, he’d rather find other ways to encourage bicyclists to don a helmet, even if it means taxpayers will need to pay for nifty educational campaigns and a bunch of helmets for homeless people.
Today, @KingCountyWA Board of Health repealed the mandatory bike helmet law following data showing discriminatory enforcement. Public Health continues to strongly recommend helmet use as a vital part of protecting the public's health. https://t.co/FbSvCy4Whm
— Public Health – Seattle & King County (@KCPubHealth) February 18, 2022
According to a report in The Seattle Times, “The Metropolitan King County Council recently budgeted more than $200,000 to buy helmets and expand education.”
Prior to voting, McDermott stated, “Helmets save lives, full stop. But the disproportional enforcement of the requirement gives us concern.”
The repeal passed, despite criticism from both the medical and legal communities.
As the medical director of Harborview Medical Center’s emergency department, Dr. Steven Mitchell sees firsthand on a daily basis the head injuries that result from helmet-less riders.
“I worry that the culture of people who are riding their bicycles will begin to shift away from the absolute necessity to wear them every single time,” he said.
In many ways, the reasoning behind the repeal is yet another example of the progressive, passive-aggressive approach to policy-making. If it’s a choice between allowing the police to do their jobs and potentially appearing weak on social equity, they’ll forgo the medical advice they cling to when convenient and pass the costs of alternative solutions to their citizens.
Lee Lambert, executive director of the Cascade Bicycle Club stated, “We’re unequivocally pro helmet-use,” but “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.”
Advocates of the repeal point to an analysis by Crosscut which claimed, “In total, Seattle police have issued only 117 helmet citations since 2017, at least 50 of which were given to people who either currently or at some point struggled with homelessness.”
“For advocates of both biking and people experiencing homelessness, the lax and disproportionate enforcement calls into question the utility of a law they view as not serving its intended purpose, to improve bicycling safety.”
According to Tom Fucoloro, editor of the Seattle Bike Blog, “When you have a law where lots of people are breaking the law, that gives the police a ton of discretion. It lets police pick and choose who they stop. Lots and lots of people who are white and well to do ride bikes without bike helmets, and they can never get stopped or almost never get stopped. Is the officer genuinely concerned about the safety of their head or is it for some other reason?”
“I think it’s very likely it’s for some other reason,” he added.
McDermott believes people will put their helmets on, regardless of the law.
“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,” he told the Seattle Times. “But I think societal norms and expectations have changed significantly in the 30 years since.”
One Twitter user perfectly summed up the reaction to the repeal on Twitter.
“I seriously could care less about a bicycle helmet law,” he wrote, “but to revoke it claiming it targets racial minorities is just another example of how insane the far left has become.”
I seriously could care less about a bicycle helmet law, but to revoke it claiming it targets racial minorities is just another example of how insane the far left has become.
— Randy Boyd (@merccometgt) February 20, 2022
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