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King County repeals bicycle helmet law, citing equity

A cyclist pedals in traffic near Pike Place Market as snow falls Monday, Feb. 11, 2019.
Ted S. Warren
The Associated Press file
A cyclist pedals in traffic near Pike Place Market as snow falls Monday, Feb. 11, 2019.

The King County Board of Health has voted to repeal its decades-old mandatory helmet law for bicycle riders, saying data shows enforcement has been both minimal and disproportionate toward people of color and those experiencing homelessness.

The board, made up of elected officials and medical experts from cities across the county, on Thursday voiced its support for the voluntary use of helmets, passing a resolution encouraging riders to don the protective gear.

But, according to the Seattle Times, board member and King County Councilmember Joe McDermott said there are other ways of encouraging helmet use that do not rely on law enforcement, including educational campaigns and free helmet distribution.

The King County Council recently budgeted more than $200,000 to buy helmets and expand education programs.

The repeal affects most of King County, including Seattle. However, 17 cities in the county, making up roughly one third of the county’s population, have their own laws mandating helmet use that won’t be affected by Thursday’s vote.

Board member and King County Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles was the sole vote against repeal.

The action came despite criticism from some in the medical and legal communities who argued the law remained a necessary mechanism to ensure helmet usage remains high in Seattle.

Sheley Anderson, attorney for the Brain Injury Alliance of Washington and regional vice president of the NAACP, had pushed the board to do a deeper analysis on the costs and benefits of the repeal, particularly as it relates to communities of color.

Emergency room physicians have also expressed concern about the law’s repeal. Dr. Steven Mitchell, medical director of the emergency department at Harborview Medical Center, said his opposition to the repeal is rooted in his daily experiences with people who’ve suffered a head injury.

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