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King County considers whether to repeal bicycle helmet law

The King County Board of Health is reviewing the law after concerns it is unfairly enforced and targets people of color.

SEATTLE — The King County Board of Health is looking into whether it should repeal the county’s bicycle helmet law, after concerns it is unfairly enforced and targets people of color.

Central Seattle Greenways, a group advocating for safer streets, started researching the law last year in the wake of nationwide protests over racial inequality.

“We found that Black cyclists have been cited disproportionately for not wearing a helmet at four times the rate of white cyclists, so a really stark disparity,” said Ethan Campbell, who leads the helmet law working group.

Latino and Indigenous cyclists were also cited at higher rates, and Crosscut reported that nearly half of all recent citations went to homeless people.

It is against that backdrop that the King County Board of Health is now reviewing the law.

“If this helmet law is having the unintended effect of actually harming public health through criminalization, that's something we should take a look at and take very seriously,” Councilmember Girmay Zahilay said during a hearing Thursday.

To be clear, no one involved in the county discussion is saying helmets are bad.

“We strongly support helmet use," said Campbell, noting the primary concern is enforcement. "We know that helmets reduce your likelihood of being injured in a crash pretty substantially."

During Thursday’s hearing, council members sounded serious about taking action.

“This one seems to be so egregiously disproportionately applied, I think it does demand our attention,” said Councilmember Joe McDermott, chair of the health board.

A helmet law violation in King County adds up to $104 in fines and court fees, Campbell said.

Tacoma repealed its bike helmet law last year after similar concerns about unfair enforcement.

In place of a helmet law, bike advocates are pushing for increased education, free helmets, and safer streets.