Helmet Laws in Effect

A reader wrote to say

I was riding to work today heading south on Beacon near the VA hospital when I think I saw a police officer pull over a rider for not wearing a helmet. As I rode by, I asked the rider if he was okay (thinking maybe he had gotten hit), and he just looked mad. Has anyone else heard reports of this today?

And I just heard from another cyclist that they got a 103 ticket for no helmet.

Just like the periodic stop-sign crackdowns on Mercer Island, sounds like the po po are looking for helmet scofflaws.

Anyone else seen cyclist getting tickets or got one themselves?


I wear a helmet, so I haven’t had to worry about that issue.

I’ve only known of people getting helmet tickets when ticketed for other things- like running red lights.

I got a ticket one time for 10% over the speed limit,  In a 20 MPH School Zone.

I went to court and the Judge laughed and dismissed it.

Framed the ticket though.

Does the state of Washington have mandatory helmet laws? Down here in CA only riders under the age of 18 must wear a helmet.

oh darn - they’re finally giving out tickets for stupidity. Funny how money’s more of an incentive for a helmet than, I dunno, NOT DYING OR INCURRING BRAIN DAMAGE. * sigh *

yeah, i’d heard that there was a general trend towards enforcing the helmet law within seattle.  since i look kinda counterculture, i’ve started wearing a helmet because experience has shown that a nose-ring and funny haircut will not receive a warning where a fine will could do just as well.

Amelia, sorry to say this, but your comment was arrogant and unnecessary. Not wearing a helmet for regular biking is not stupid.

There is much mindless repetition of claims the risk of “dying” and “brain damage”, yet these are ill-founded and cavalierly disregard the reams of evidence that the original claims are based on questionable research and assumptions, as well as facts about at least comparable or greater dangers of head injury due to falls or other accidents from navigating staircases or ladders, riding in cars without a helmet (for some reason nobody ever seems to mention ER head injury cases from helmetless yet belted-in car passengers) or being hit by a car while walking across an intersection.

Please go tell the intelligent bike commuters of places like Denmark or the Netherlands that they are all stupid, but only once you have conclusively demonstrated as wrong the mountain of evidence out there against the belief that there is a particular danger of injury in riding a bike properly (as opposed to carelessly), out of all the possible ways of getting a head injury out there, and against the mistaken belief that a helmet will save you against serious injury as opposed to bumps, cuts, scrapes and concussions in slow impacts.

They are not giving out tickets for stupidity: it is the helmet law itself that is stupid and misguided.

I always wear a helmet for obvious brain-safety reasons.  Also, if kids see adults riding around without helmets, they will most certainly want to ride without helmets as well.

In China, proud to say the only one (and two when Jason is with me) to wear a helmet. I wear my helmet so much, it doesn’t feel right without it, and I cringe when I see kids without one riding bikes. Having seen lots of crashes, including Pam slide right into a curb with her head, anyone that’s arguing against wearing a helmet should themselves go crash into a light pole without one and report back on how that turned out . . . I didn’t post to start the perennial helmet wear or not battle, but debate if you must, let’s just keep it civil.

In NJ the law is for under 17 yrs old only.  I still wear one all the time.  As for places like Denmark or the Netherlands,  they have a well developed cycling based infrastructure.  Drivers are well aware there are bikes around them (if they’re even allowed in the same area as bikes).  If NJ were like Denmark I don’t really know if I’d honestly wear a helmet all the time.  It does make it easy to style the tri-hawk though ;)

Sorry, Christopher Ray Miller, riding without a helmet is STILL STUPID. Right on, Amelia!

While I don’t support mandatory helmet laws - I believe in personal responsibility and accountability - I personally feel uncomfortable without one. That being said, I can’t help but remember Keith Alexander and what could have been had he been wearing a helmet when he swerved to avoid a child on a Brooklyn bike path and crashed head first into a post along the path 3 years ago this July. Police and doctors said he would have walked away if he had been wearing a helmet.

Sure, a helmet won’t save you from a full on collision with a car but it can make all the difference in the freak run in with a curb or any other random object we pass every day on our rides.

Oh my…the perennial helmet debate…this should get lots of comments, anyway.  Just a few of my own:  Byron: I have, in fact, run right into the traffic control box attached to the back of a lamp post (twice! sometimes I’m a slow learner) without a helmet.  What I realized as a result of this experience was: A. I needed to learn my route better. B. My head can stand some abuse.  C. If I had been wearing helmet both of those times, I would have had to replace it both times, and both times I would have been telling everyone who would listen that “It saved my life” because that’s really the best way to justify spending the money every time.  I have hit my head harder working in bike shops and working in warehouses, and it’s not a good thing to do, but it won’t make me wear a helmet all day.  Saftey on a bike is a much more complex issue than can be adressed by the simple addition of a helmet, and even the more specific issue of cranial safety is much more complex.  I would never try to talk anyone out of wearing one, as they obviously can offer some protection, but saying that the lack of one will automatically lead to traumatic brain injury is niave and misleading.  For what it’s worth, I was pulled over by the Hat Patrol on Thursday, and severely lectured for my disregard of the dress code, which the officer mistakenly believed was enforced at the state level (it is not a Washington State law - King County has one, and most individual municipalities do,too; they are part of the Health Code - not the Traffic Code; headgear violation under the Health Code: hairnet citation, anyone?). His classic line: “So, what, did you just wake up this morning and decide to ignore the law and wear a cowboy hat?!”  To which I could only shrug and keep my mouth shut, rather than say: “Damn straight, officer!  When cowboy hats are outlawed, only outlaws will have cowboy hats!  Viva la velorution!!”  I don’t actually say such things, because I really have no desire to find out how a taser feels. Ride safe, all.

How I wish I could’ve seen that discussion with the Po Po and Val. There are photos you can find yourselves of what a bicycle-related head injury looks like and I’m always reminded of [Fabio Casartelli](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fabio_Casartelli). Here’s a sport that for over a hundred years, wore no helmets. Then after that tragedy decided it was time, but not up hill.  Later, [when Kivilev](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrei_Kivilev), landed right on his head and died, the Tour mandated helmets at all times. In the US racing scene, there’s [Nicole Reinhart](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicole_Reinhart). At the old Three-Rivers road race, I rode through the blood of a head injury and that traumatized me into full-on, all-the-time helmet wearing.

Arguing against the State telling you what to do (like say, smoking in public places) sure I get that,  but denying that bicycle-related head injuries occur as a justification for not wearing a helmet is both ignorant and self-serving. Here’s [a page](http://www.iihs.org/research/fatality_facts_2006/bicycles.html) full of facts you can parse yourselves.

> Two percent of motor vehicle-related deaths are bicyclists. The most serious injuries among a majority of those killed are to the head, highlighting the importance of wearing a bicycle helmet. Helmet use has been estimated to reduce head injury risk by 85 percent.

amelie’s rudeness does not make her entirely wrong.  sure, in denmark, wearing a helmet is overkill.  but those lucky folks are not fighting jerkass drivers, bad roads, etc like we get in the US. 

still, helmet nazis are annoying at best and probably do scare people out of cycling.  questionable research gets quoted by them, but it also gets quoted by the anti-helmet crowd.

the bottom line is that it is a personal choice.  whether or not to wear a helmet is nothing we even CAN force on anyone without laws, so trying is pretty pointless.

there’s too much dang infighting:

regular commuters/fair-weather commuters
helmet/no helmet
bike lane/in traffic

if we’re going to fight, we should spend our energy fighting a system that promotes cars and planes and puts us in the position where cycling can—at times—be viewed (correctly or incorrectly) as a dangerous way to get places.

i’m not going to quote rodney king…

um. oops.

sorry, didn’t mean to start a massive blowup. But.

I live in California, at the edge of a college campus and within a mile of two elementary schools and about 2398352983 crazy drivers. None of the undergrads wear helmets going to-and-from class, which is fine given that they’re normally confined to a car-free zone of campus and generally go about 2 mph. Their biggest hazard is their classmates who text while riding (we’ll ignore that their car awareness and tendency to yield when necessary is atrocious, but, really, they’re undergrads, that would be asking a lot from them, apparently).

Most of the elementary kids wear helmets as they ride to school, and between their tendency to zoom off sidewalks into oncoming traffic and of the drivers out here to be oblivious and in a hurry, that’s a very good thing. Yes, the 5 year-olds with training wheels are * probably * okay without one, but given how monkey-see-monkey-do at that age can translate into increased safety 10 - 15 - 25 - 40 years down the line, I personally think it rocks that they’re wearing helmets so early.

It’s not so much that I don’t trust myself on my bike, but I don’t trust a) the people who maintain the roads to not have graced me with a giant pothole in my route and b) the drivers around me. Case in point: in the space of two days, one of the local sheriff’s deputies hit 3 cyclists, killing two of them (http://tinyurl.com/27mjt8), and a day later, someone else decides to make an unprotected left-hand turn into a group of 5 bikers, sending 2 of them to the hospital. I’m just as likely to encounter that driver on a weekend ride, crossing the street to get to Starbucks, or going through the neighborhoods to get to work, and I’d like to be as well defended against him or her as possible. It is a * very * bike friendly area out here (not as much as in Europe, but probably better than most of the US), but cars are still king - and I’d lose a game of chicken with them.

And, for all of y’all who say helmets won’t do anything in a real accident, I present Ryan Lipscomb: <a href=“http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/18681802/.” rel=“nofollow”><a href=“http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/18681802/.” rel=“nofollow”>http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/18681802/.</a></a> Given that your qualifying exam is probably about the third most-terrifying day of your graduate career and he was still planning to take his as scheduled after having a truck run over his head - that speaks volumes about how much protection a helmet can afford.

I dunno. I like my brain the way it is too much to not wear a helmet. The choice is really yours, but I’ll personally err on the side that gives me the best chance of maintaining cognitive function and motor skills in the event I encounter an oblivious driver.

That, and it’d be cheaper, should I ever find myself riding in Seattle. :)


As I said above, any helmet post we do is going to bring on the debate and we’re good here debating, let’s just keep it civil. Example, riding a cruiser down Alki? Probably low chance of head injury—commuting down Alaska Way when a cruise ship and cargo container in dock—very high probably of a serious accident.

DLB, i enjoy the debates, for sure.  But (mostly on sites like bike forums) a lot of people maintain such a dogmatic stance about helmets that there is really no debate, just a dogmatic yelling back and forth.

To answer the question posed in the post (remember that?), I once saw a guy pulled over for riding with no helmet, with his kid in a milk crate bungy corded to the rear rack - also without a helmet. Don’t think you can really debate that one.

As for the helmet debate, unlike body armour a helmet doesn’t hamper your mobility, and in the event of a slow front on collision it may not ‘save your life’ but it will certainly take some of the pain out of the experience. I’m no fascist, so if people want to not wear one and cop the resultant blows then I have no problem with that at all. You know what you’re doing and I respect that. For myself - I’d prefer to pay $40 than nurse my head for a week AND risk being fined for the privilege.

Also, it’s worth noting that some of the anti-helmet theory is contradictory. On the one hand it’s suggested that not wearing a helmet makes you more aware of the potential hazards of riding, and on the other they suggest studies showing lower injury rates amongst helmeted riders may be due to helmeted riders being more cautious in general.

The arguments for and against are pretty even, but pain and fines tip the scales for me.

Actually, after reading my post again, I would like to amend something.  The sentence beginning “I would never try to talk…” should, in fact, read:  I would never try to talk anyone out of wearing a helmet, because what they put on their head is their business, and theirs alone, and I have no place telling them what to wear. The converse, of course, is also true. Cheers!

Bonus debate action! Val and I passed each other yesterday and across 4 lanes of Marginal Way, I tapped my helmet and he nodded with his cowboy hat.

Helmets will never protect bicyclists.

Safety bicyling on today’s threatening roads will only come when it’s safe for autos to ride on today’s roads.

Since our nation’s founding we have lost almost 500 times as many people on our roads than on the battlefields of all American wars fought.

Yes, there is a solution.

  Highway Safety’s Best Kept Secret

“Helmets will never protect bicyclists.”

okay, why?  why will the roads being safer for cars be the only way to make cycling safer?  how is this related at all?

if cars are nicer to each other, that still leaves out cyclists.

screw cars.  as long as they give any idiot who can pass an eye test a license, driving will never be safe.  if people who drive are okay with that, that’s their business.

See this [helmet promotion campaign](http://www.flickr.com/photos/lizhatch/2477008161/), similar to Limar.

To the haters of the helmetless, do you wear a full face helmet?


now are you likely to change your behavior and start wearing a full face helmet now? 


so getting yelled at on the internet and questioning your intelligence doesn’t encourage you to change your ways?

hmm, and yet you thought belittling a personal choice was a good way to encourage discussion about a topic you obviously care about…

ride civil ;)


You’ll have to look elsewhere for hate—we don’t publish that here and that’s not what the post was about or the debate. Opinions on both sides are strong, but the consensus is ride how you want. I don’t think anyone was yelling, but where my voice raises is when the those that don’t wear helmets claim that helmets offer no protection. That’s an absurd argument—I know this first-hand crashing myself and seeing other’s crash and land on their heads.

I take lots of risk on my bike when training and racing and urban riding, like in Beijing, and the industrial areas of Seattle. That’s my choice. Not wearing a helmet is yours. However, it’s against the law in King County (Seattle is in King County) and that’s what I was posting about.

how can you insult the intelligence of someone who doesn’t wear a helmet?  what intelligence?!

(i kid!  sorry, couldn’t resist)

seriously, one thing i think the op was wondering about is something i wonder about: why don’t people wear helmets?  seriously, what are the reasons?  i’m not trying to start a fight.  i’ve just never heard any reasons to not wear them, aside from sticking it to helmet nazi’s.

uhm, helmets dont fit dreadlocks. Maybe I should shave them to prevent “brain damage”

cut a hole in the helmet and loop them out the back? don’t crash and crush your head? or do the dreads provide enough protection?

stated again:

> helmet use or lack thereof does not necessarily reflect the view of Bike Hugger or its affiliates.


To wear, or not to wear a helmet depends on many things as we don’t all ride with the same level of dangers.  If you live in a bicycle friendly country such as the fine examples to be found in Europe, then there is little need for a helmet unless you lack riding skills.  If you weave between congested inner city traffic, then you may want to have a helmet on your head regardless of your riding experience.
Regarding the ticketing, or even the need for a law to enforce manetory helmet use goes, I certainly do NOT want to be told what is best for me.  How is it that the police have time to issue tickets, when they don’t have time to investigate burglary crime.  They claim to have 1100, when they need 2000 officers, yet they have the time to issue a helmet citation?  They ignore burglary, except to gather a report for statistical purposes for increased funding.  They issue tickets because this generates revenue.  My property taxes keep climbing and Chief Kerlikowski’s finest in blue just don’t cut it in my book after having been burglarize and having experienced the lack of effort by the SPD.  They don’t have time to be mommys about bike helmets.

Why does every discussion turn into a war because of the helmet nazis?
It’s not like out there telling you that you shouldn’t be allowed to have an abortion.

Why are the vile filled christian fundamentalist freaks despised but the helmet freaks tolerated?

If you don’t want to wear a helmet that’s cool.  More room for the helmeted in the gene pool!


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