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Vancouver City Council approves all-ages helmet ordinance; hearing planned

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on February 12th, 2008 at 5:48 pm

Vancouver BFC Award
Evan Manvel and Andy Clarke on the
streets of downtown Vancouver.
(Photo © J. Maus)

The Vancouver (WA) City Council unanimously approved an all-ages helmet ordinance at their meeting yesterday. The ordinance was initially drafted to only apply to kids under 18 and was then re-written as an all-ages law at the suggestion of a local bicycle club.

The Council has set a second reading and public hearing of the ordinance to take place on February 25th.

Vancouver is one of only a few jurisdictions on Washington to not have an all ages helmet law. If it passes in its current form, the law would also apply to other human-powered vehicles including; scooters, skateboards, roller skates, unicycles and roller blades. The ordinance also sets aside $5,000 for an educational campaign about the new law and for the purchase of helmets for low-income youth.

While both the current and past presidents of the Vancouver Bike Club have testified in favor of an all-ages helmet law, Vancouver business owner Chris Jochum published a letter in opposition to the ordinance in the Vancouver Voice yesterday.

Jochum, who calls himself a cyclist, said he's "curious as to the motivation behind" the new law. Here's an excerpt from his letter:

"I am unaware of a rise in cyclist accidents in the city of Vancouver, is there one? I have also been informed by other cyclists that there is no evidence that cyclist accidents/fatalities were reduced as a result of helmet laws in other cities. In fact, there is more evidence to support that bike safety increases as more cyclists are on the road (helmets or not).

...I strongly believe that this is excessive government and not something worth the use of our police officers to enforce. I realize that other cities in Washington have these laws on the books, but that doesn’t mean that Vancouver must follow suit.

Again, considering that there is no evidence that Vancouver has a problem with non-helmet wearing cyclists and that there is little evidence to support a decrease in accidents or fatalities when these laws have been implemented, I strongly oppose a helmet law for adults in the city of Vancouver."

If you'd like to weigh in with your opinion about this, be sure to attend the public hearing. Here are the details:

    Helmet Ordinance Public Hearing
    Vancouver City Council Chambers
    7:00pm (show up at 6:40 to sign up for testimony)
    210 East 13th St. (1st floor)
    Monday, 02/25/08

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Comments
  • John Russell February 12, 2008 at 6:23 pm

    So much for my letter to the mayor in opposition to the all-ages part of this law. I might just have to go to the hearing myself.

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  • Dabby February 12, 2008 at 11:57 pm

    I am very sad about this, and also that the VBC is backing such a ludicrous proposition.

    I live out in the country NE of Vancouver. I have to ride into town to pass the city limits signs, but I know the city limits run right down the middle of the driveway to the family compound.

    This puts me in what might be a gray area, but I have no doubt the enforcement will be as wide as the city is \"shallow?\".

    If I survive my brother\'s 40th birthday poker night that weekend,(his bachelor party lasted two days plus) I will be making a statement at the planned hearing.

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  • Dabby February 13, 2008 at 12:04 am

    Does anyone know what time this hearing is happening?

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  • Racer X February 13, 2008 at 12:21 am

    From the city\'s web site - it looks to start at 7PM. Get there at 6:40 to get in line.

    http://www.cityofvancouver.us/government.asp?menuID=10462&submenuid=10474&itemid=45227

    From reading the law - I do not understand how a city can do this with a $5000 budget. If they are going to only buy helmets for poor kids then at like $5 each this buys 1000 helmets - the size of one large school not a city.

    Perhaps they are going to run it off of the profit from helmet tickets.

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  • Javen February 13, 2008 at 12:41 am

    I wish there was a helmet that could prevent the recent deaths in Portland and Oregon. Until then, I\'ll still be wearing my helmet.

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  • Moo February 13, 2008 at 7:24 am

    There goes Vancouver again, being at the forefront of yet another exciting addition to their cutting edge ideas. Why not try putting in some bike lanes and signs first?

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  • Vance February 13, 2008 at 8:30 am

    Moo #6 don\'t forget, the idea behind a helmet law for cyclists, at least from the standpoint of most motorists, is to punish, not protect. Police, insurance companies, and child-labor sweatshops in Asia are about the only folks going to benefit anything from a helmet law.

    I personally will go to jail, before I\'ll ever wear a bicycle helmet in compliance with Mommy\'s law. Why does the cycling community hate cyclists, so much?

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  • jamie February 13, 2008 at 9:15 am

    I need some government repellent. How do I get the gov out of my business?

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  • Paul February 13, 2008 at 9:32 am

    I propose a mandatory helmet law for all automobile occupants. Trained, professional racecar drivers wear them, so why not unskilled everyday motorists and occupants? In fact, I had a bottle of wine fall on my head from a high shelf the other day. It hurt. Maybe the government should force me to wear a helmet at all times since I appear to be at a higher risk for injury.

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  • bahueh February 13, 2008 at 10:15 am

    all this emotional outcry is ridiculous....get over yourselves and all the childish whining. seems the city of Vancouver values your brains more than you do... you should thank them for it...you insure property, right? why do you choose to not insure your brain?

    I can tell from the responses very few of you have actually taken a hard fall off a bike and experienced head contact to the pavement at speed...I\'ve got a few cracked helmets I can show you for effect if it\'ll stop the whining.

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  • Ken February 13, 2008 at 10:41 am

    I live in the Couve and I am mixed about this... I like the idea of more helmet use but blanketing the whole city seem a bit far. I live up in the Felida area, not Vancouver proper but my address is Vancouver... does this affect me too?

    My daugter is 4 and ALWAYS wears a helmet by Fatherly Mandate but we live in a quiet neighborhood with slow streets. I would feel a bit better if it was required on streets with speed limits of 35+. This would exclude putting around your neighborhood.

    I will still ride though.

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  • skodt February 13, 2008 at 10:42 am

    when it comes to helmets, call me \'pro-choice\'.

    looks like the vancouver city council falls into the \'pro-life\' category. am i right?

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  • Anonymous February 13, 2008 at 11:34 am

    bahueh, sounds like you need to learn alittle more about riding your bike in a safer and more attentive manner. How do we know your reckless actions didn\'t lead to your head shots? Only thing worse than a whiny cyclist is a dangerous one.

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  • Moo February 13, 2008 at 11:35 am

    bahueh, sounds like you need to learn alittle more about riding your bike in a safer and more attentive manner. How do we know your reckless actions didn\'t lead to your head shots? Only thing worse than a whiny cyclist is a dangerous one.

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  • Rockie February 13, 2008 at 11:39 am

    Call me cynical if you want: I\'m a criminal defense lawyer in Vancouver. The helmet law would just give cops more pretexts to stop a person, ask for ID, check for warrants, search the person for drugs, etc. Minor vehicle defects, minor traffic infractions, give cops carte blanche to stop someone they think looks suspicious. But now, with the high cost of gas, are less \"suspicious\" type people driving vehicles?

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  • Dabby February 13, 2008 at 12:06 pm

    Rockie is right, as Vancouver police for many years have been notorious for using any excuse to check a person out.

    I actually used to refer to the Vancouver Police Dept. as \"The Gestapo\", after hearing stories, and personally witnessing and dealing with some of their tactics.

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  • bahueh February 13, 2008 at 12:12 pm

    hey Anonymous...
    I actually race Cat. 3 for OBRA and ride my bike more per year than you probably ever will in your entire existence...
    group peloton crashes and blown front tires are what caused my accidents...but I\'ve steered out of more situations than I\'ve been involved in. don\'t question my bike handling skills simply because you want to continue the whining cycle..

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  • bahueh February 13, 2008 at 12:21 pm

    on second though Anonymous...I\'d be happy to set you up on a tour of the trauma unit here in the hospital where I work...you have a great conversation with all of the TBI patients here and see how they feel about their injuries and how their life will resume after they leave the hospital...eating through a tube is always fun...as is sitting in a wheelchair I\'m sure. I\'ve witnessed the effects of whacking your brain on the pavement..I highly doubt you\'ve seen patients who\'s skull has been removed to relieve swelling..I highly doubt you\'ve witnessed parents crying nonstop...I highly doubt you\'ve gone bankrupt from hospital charges.

    public health mandates are established for the greater health of individuals..yes it walks a thin line that most people don\'t initially like...they don\'t like it becuase they\'re misinformed about the benefit or have yet to personally feel affected by the issue. Do you enjoy second hand smoke? Did you get all of your childhood immunizations?

    let me know if you\'d like a tour..

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  • Moo February 13, 2008 at 1:56 pm

    bahueh, off the mark dude...this is about the right to choose which way you want to ride- with or without something to protect your melon. Your choice, your consequences- if any. Nobody likes big brother to keep telling them how to live their lives. I wear a helmet, sounds like you do too. But anyone I ride by or with that doesn\'t, I\'m not going to give them a copy of your last post then give \'em crap about it- it\'s their choice...plus they might just want to ride with their cool handmade wooly on their head instead. On top of all this, the cops will be busy for once, making money for the \"Couv. Sorry, you info. is valid, but save it for another argument.

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  • Huh? February 13, 2008 at 2:29 pm

    If you are against helmet laws because of government intrusion, you are probably against second hand smoke laws because of the same principle?

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  • Moo February 13, 2008 at 2:44 pm

    Wrong...government intrusion can be seen as no choice- do what they tell you. Smokers loose their rights because of the immediate and long-term effects it has on those around them, those that have a choice to not have to inhale their second hand smoke. Because someone doesn\'t want to wear a helmet has no immediate effects on me- so I say let \'em be. And let\'s not go to the \"hospital and home-care costs being passed on...\" argument either please, \'cause it would grow legs forever.

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  • bahueh February 13, 2008 at 5:34 pm

    smashing your head into the pavement has immediate and long-term affects on other people...talk to your family once in awhile, see what they have to say about the possibility of helping you urinate or feeding you through a tube the rest of your life...

    I\"m hardly off the mark..but if you\'d like the visit the trauma unit, I\'d be happy to chat with the supervising nurse...you haven\'t seen what I\'ve seen, dude.

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  • bahueh February 13, 2008 at 5:38 pm

    Moo-
    your argument is from a social/legal perspective...its not based in the reality of injury.
    I wear a helmet because I\'ve seen guys laying on a race course either screaming in pain, or not moving at all, from whacking their head on the pavement at 25+mph...ever witnessed it?

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  • BURR February 13, 2008 at 5:54 pm

    riding in a club fred peloton is not the same as tooling around the city on a utility bike, and I\'m sure OBRA has and enforces their own helmet rules. and that\'s the way it should remain.

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  • Noo February 13, 2008 at 8:07 pm

    Smokers \"loose\"? their rights because of the immediate and long-term effects it has on those around them, those that have a choice to not have to inhale their second hand smoke.

    First...smoking is not a right.

    Second, there are no immediate harmful effects of second hand smoke. It may be annoying, but it is not harmful. And it takes YEARS of exposure to even exhibit any ill effects. You\'ve been reading too many trumped up reports from interest groups.

    And let\'s not go to the \"hospital and home-care costs being passed on...\" argument either please, \'cause it would grow legs forever.

    No...let\'s. Insurance costs get passed on. That\'s a reality. Just like the healthcare costs for smokers gets passed on. It\'s a grander scale, sure, but the analogy is sound. You just have a bias for your own behavior.

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  • beefa February 13, 2008 at 9:10 pm

    bahueh-

    Does being a Cat III make you a pro cyclist? Is your experience as a amateur racer have any bearing on a 15 to 20 min a day commuter?. What would you tell a person that rides 8-10 hrs a day, For 17 years,and also an ex Cat II racer? get a helmet?

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  • Mike February 13, 2008 at 10:37 pm

    I just can\'t see how some of the cyclist support this idea. Great your cat 3 OBRA, maybe you can put a shiny gold star on your shiny new helmet in Vancouver. Hospital people, thanks for your hard work, but I don\'t share your sob story\'s.
    I am on a bike everyday of the week for long periods of time, I have been in Emergency Medicine for sevral years, and I race in OBRA also!!(*gold star) I dont care about any of that and niether should you. It does not pertain to this subject.

    What you should care about is how this law will give the police the excuse to selectively enforce it. Its taking away your freedom as mentally capable adult, and it will likely lower cycling activity at some level in Vancouver.

    I think fat people should be forced to ride a bike by law for America\'s #1 health crises, obesity. Unfortunately that\'s not going to happen. Where does it end and who\'s business is it of a bunch of bored bureaucrats to do what they think is right for you?

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  • wsbob February 13, 2008 at 10:38 pm

    It\'s never been explained that the Vancouver City Council\'s inclination to mandate broad-sweeping helmet use by adults, while biking, skateboarding, and skating, was anything more substantial than blind, emotional response with a certain amount of peer pressure from other Washington State cities thrown in.

    Did the Van CC ever cite or rely in making their decision, on any statistics from hospitals within city limits suggesting that TBI\'s resulting from the aforementioned activities, were experiencing any rise in numbers? Please tell me if this was the case.

    Personally, I think that in many, but not all bike riding situations, wearing a bike helmet is advisable. Whether this reasoning entered into the Van CC\'s decision would be interesting to know. It really sounds more like the members of Van City Council realized, \'Hey, this is cool! We\'ve got the power, so lets make a law that everyone in a challenging balance activity has to wear a helmet\'. This kind of supposed concern for citizens of a city by its local government is over-reaching.

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  • beefa February 13, 2008 at 11:05 pm

    Good God I agree with Wsbob. I must need help.

    I do have a question for those that feel a need to regulate the behavior of others.

    Why?

    You do not know me, my friends, my skills as a cyclist. My ability to judge for my self what is, and is not a dangerous situation. How I should react to the those various situations is entirely up to me. I DO NOT need regulation from a CC that publicly states it has the best interest in a VERY small segment of society, yet will not spend the money for that segment. There are larger interest at work here people.

    Why?

    What is your true agenda?

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  • wsbob February 14, 2008 at 12:05 am

    \"Good God I agree with Wsbob. I must need help.\" Beefa

    Beefa, gee, that part of your comment makes me feel as though you think I\'m wacked. Am I wacked? Well, yeah, sort of...sometimes, I suppose, but I\'d like to think that I don\'t appear to be a hopelessly chronic case.

    Regarding serious subjects, of which I think the Van CC\'s decision about bike helmet use is one, I think it\'s important to be as objective and seriously thoughtful as reasonably possible.

    Given the informal nature of this weblog, on some other topics, I\'ve been inclined to allow myself the liberty of being less serious and a little more light-hearted. I may not do that anymore if people are thinking those kinds of thoughts expressed aren\'t good natured joking, and instead, are simply some kind of negative extremism.

    As for the Vancouver City Council\'s decision to mandate helmet use by adults, if they really, really believe a valid need to do so in order to protect the welfare of people within the city limits, exists, I would support them 100%. If there is such a need, the Van CC certainly doesn\'t seem to have done a very good job of allowing the nature of it to be widely known.

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  • Scott Mizée February 14, 2008 at 5:32 am

    I agree with wsbob.

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  • beefa February 14, 2008 at 7:31 am

    Ya bro, your wack :)

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  • Moo February 14, 2008 at 8:04 am

    Goodness, what has been missing here is the fact that the Vancouver Bike Club sure seems to have the city councils ear on this one, and being that they wield all this power, maybe that can make suggestions to the CC about making Vancouver actually accessible by bike. Call uninformed, but those folks up north have a rats nest of bike lanes and signage dotting there 1980\'s cityscape.

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  • Racer X February 14, 2008 at 10:36 pm

    I am not sure that the VBC has taken a public poll of its membership on the helmet issue. Perhaps it is only the executive board who has spoken.

    If there are any Vancouver or Clark bicyclists who wish to fight this they should attend the next City Council meeting to speak and attend the next Clark County Bicycle Advisory Committee (contact Mr. Khan at Clark Public Works)...as it is mainly a forum for a few [well meaning] VBC members.

    The CC BAC needs a bit of diversity on it to be more effective and representative. (Like Portland\'s well run BAC.)

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  • Racer X February 14, 2008 at 10:40 pm

    If Vancouver passes this all ages law then the Clark County Commissioners will pass it.

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  • Andy B from Jersey February 15, 2008 at 6:10 pm

    Catching this late from the East Coast but I\'ve got a perspective on adult helmet laws that I think puts \"a nail in the coffin\" against them. The argument below is a bit choppy since I cut a pasted it with only a few edits from another blog but I think you\'ll all get the point.

    First, the most bike friendly cities in the world (Copenhagen, Amsterdam, and select German and cites) have all purposely decided against adult helmet laws. They cite numerous studies that show these laws reduce bicycle use and therefore reduces the \"safety in numbers\" phenomena which in turn makes cycling less safe. When there are large numbers of cyclists on the roads, car drivers are accustomed and even expect cyclists to be on every road and at every intersection and will then look out for them.

    Instead these cities have purposely decided to invest in infrastructure to improve cycling safety. For example, in Denmark, years of good planning that favors cycling over the automobile and that also protects cyclists from cars, has GREATLY lowered the rate of crashes, injuries and deaths per 100,000km of bicycle travel.

    It must be understood however that in all European bike friendly cities, most cyclists rarely exceed 10 to 12 mph. At these slow speeds riding a bike is not more dangerous than walking. What makes cycling unsafe for even the casual, slow speed rider is the conflict with the car (All of the deaths in Portland recently have been under the wheels of cars, buses and trucks, haven\'t they?) This problem is particularly prevalent in the US (and most English speaking countries). Again, it is the car that is dangerous for those adults who choose to be slow speed cyclists, not the act of casual cycling itself.

    A general analogy that I like to use regarding helmet use goes like this (and I will use a car example as a reference). If I drive my car casually, I am not expected to wear a helmet. However, if I want to drive my car very fast on a race track, pushing the limits of my skill and safety, a helmet is obviously required.

    The same can be said about cycling. If I\'m just casually riding down to the corner bakery I will often not wear my helmet. (I\'m an adult, ain\'t I?) However if I take either my high-performance mountain of road bikes out for a spirited ride where I will push the limits of speed and my riding skill, it only makes sense for me to wear a helmet because the risk of an accident and therefor injury is much greater.

    Unfortunately, I do not live in such a \"Bicycling Enlightened\" country (or state) as Denmark (or Holland or Germany) so the risk of being clobbered by a car while riding slowly is still very great and therefor I still wear a helmet most of the times when I ride my bike casually. I view the fact that I must wear a helmet to protect myself for even the most casual riding as another way that the American Car Culture continues to impose on my life and my freedom.

    The fact that I can not go out and ride my beautiful classic English 3-Speed around my neighborhood, in proper dapper attire, including my wool cycling cap and no helmet, without fear the my skull will be bashed because of a damned car is very sad indeed!

    Andy B from Jersey

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  • Andy B from Jersey February 15, 2008 at 6:19 pm

    And to kind of prove my point \"bahueh\" who was fiercely defending the helmet law cites crashes while racing (or possibly training) in all of examples.

    I totally agree! Where a helmet when racing or riding hard and fast! You stupid if you don\'t.

    But if I\'m cruisin\' for a bagel down the street, keep your laws off my head.

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  • Andy B from Jersey February 15, 2008 at 6:49 pm

    One more thing I came across. This quote is directly from The Bicycle Helmet Research Foundation. Their website is LOADED with bicycle helmet research, pro and con. Anyway here\'s a brief from their Policy Statement page:

    Whilst cyclehelmets.org strives to be objective in its selection of information for presentation, there is more helmet-skeptic material on this web site than that supportive of helmets. This is in part a matter of copyright (we provide references to journals but cannot generally give direct access), but largely because there is a far wider range of arguments and sources that cast doubt upon one or more aspects of helmet efficacy. cyclehelmets.org is not helmet-sceptic on principle, but because pro-helmet predictions are so often contradicted by real-world experience.

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  • wsbob February 15, 2008 at 11:09 pm

    Andy B from Jersey, I hope you are able to keep following the news and discussions on this weblog. Nice to hear the perspective on bike related issues from the east coast.

    Are you privy to Oregon\'s law regarding the use of helmets by cyclists? I don\'t have it to quote for you, but it mandates that people ages 16 and under must wear them when biking (I think it\'s 16, and not 18, but I\'m not swearing on it). With current levels of bike riding in Portland, I\'m comfortable with adults being able to decide for themselves when the kind of riding they\'re engaged in calls for the use of a helmet.

    At some point in the future, if for example, 10 or 100 fold increases in numbers of people commuting on bikes were to happen, and, as a result, the risk of low-speed, head injuring tumbles were to rise, then, in that situation, it might be time to consider whether a mandatory helmet while biking law was called for.

    I\'ve recommended to readers before, that a website for information about helmet protection capability, is \"helmets.org\" This is the \"Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute\". The website you mention seems generally determined to belief that any worthwhile safety measure can be gained by wearing a bike helmet while riding.

    \"helmets.org\", on the other hand at least attempts to make a credible scientific test and evaluation of the safety capability of bike helmets for those that choose to wear them. Heavy handed spin and bias is also absent from \"helmets.org\"

    People of the opinion that the only bike helmet worth wearing when they ride a bike is one that can protect them from being run over by a heavy vehicle, may as well not bother to check out any bike helmet safety website, because no consumer bike helmet is currently capable of providing that level of safety.

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  • wsbob February 15, 2008 at 11:23 pm

    correction: The website you mention seems generally determined to disbelieve that any worthwhile safety measure can be gained by wearing a bike helmet while riding.

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  • Andy B from Jersey February 18, 2008 at 10:25 am

    wsbob,

    I hear ya\' about those websites. There is a whole debate as to whether helmet laws are worth the loss in overall public health due to the lower rate of cycling (and exercise) and the other side that shows that people have a much higher rate of survival in an accident when wearing a helmet vs those that did not.

    But here are some other points to consider. Mandating adult helmet laws is a cop-out by public officials not willing to do what it really takes to make cycling safer in your towns such as expensive infrastructure investments. It\'s \"feel good\" legislation, nothing more.

    Also, adult helmet laws perpetuate this false notion that cycling is inherently dangerous which scares people away from cycling.

    I recently visited Davis CA for the APBP / CalBike conference. Davis does not have an adult helmet law. In fact, there was not even a stigma against those that did not wear helmets. The feeling I got from people and officials around Davis was that cycling has been made so safe in town that it was not worth mandating helmets for fear that it would discourage people from riding and would not make cycling significantly safer. I even believe that I was told this by one of the town officials but I can\'t remember for sure so don\'t quote anyboby. However, I also never saw a town or university official in charge of bicycle safety scold any riders for not wearing helmets.

    BTW. New Jersey does have a child helmet law but only for those 16 and younger. I have no problem with this particularly since New Jersey is so congested, making it a dangerous place to ride a bike and children of this age are not old enough to make proper decisions regarding their own safety.

    Peace,
    Andy B

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