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Mandatory helmets for adults in Vancouver?

Posted by on January 28th, 2008 at 1:27 pm

[Updated: 3:27pm]

Roll On Columbia! ride

Vancouver Mayor Royce Pollard
sets a good example.
(Photo © Jonathan Maus)

The majority of Vancouver (WA) City Council members are reportedly in favor of expanding a youth helmet ordinance to include adults.

The ordinance was first heard by City Council earlier this month and based on recent comments by four of the seven councilmembers, there is some momentum to amend the ordinance to make it apply to adults as well as kids.

*The Vancouver Bicycle Club is also supportive of an all-ages law. Former club President Joe Toscano told me today that the club wrote a letter of recommendation to Council asking them to expand the ordinance to adults. Toscano said that, “We just think it makes sense that if you have the law for kids, you should have adults setting the example.”

In addition to safety concerns, one of the reasons cited for expanding the ordinance is to make it easier for the Vancouver Police Department to enforce.

“If you have the law for kids, you should have adults setting the example.”
-Former Vancouver Bicycle Club President Joe Toscano

Currently, many cities and counties in Washington have an “all ages” helmet ordinance (see full list here), but in Portland, the helmet law applies only to riders aged 15 and under.

When asked about mandatory helmets for adults, the BTA’s Karl Rohde says they would oppose such a law in Portland. “We think reducing behaviors that lead to crashes is a better use of police resources than ticketing people for not wearing a helmet,” said Rohde. He also cited studies that he says make the case that mandatory helmet laws actually make biking less safe.

“Studies prove that when you have a helmet law, less people ride…and studies also prove that as more people ride, safety goes up.”

Vancouver’s youth helmet ordinance is set for a vote and public hearing tonight, but according to City Manager Jan Bader, the vote could be postponed. “I think there’s a majority of council members who favor expanding it to adults,” she said, “and if they do, that would be a significant enough change that we would have to re-announce the public hearing and postpone the vote.”

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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Joe
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Joe

sorry one good reason to wear a helmet below, really think it should be a persons choice not a law.. ( thats just me )
http://www.cnn.com/2008/TECH/space/01/26/dead.satellite.ap/index.html

Jeff
Guest
Jeff

Commence \”sky is falling\” posts now….

Cøyøte
Guest
Cøyøte

If you want to reduce the number of Vancouver cyclists, this is a great idea.

burning shame
Guest
burning shame

Boy, they are really taking that Tornado seriously.

Tasha
Guest
Tasha

I\’m really all for personal responsibility. Call me a libertarian if you will, but there are already so many laws – banning trans fat, requiring helmets, seatbelts, putting kids in the back seat until they\’re 15, etc. What ever happened to personal choice and responsibility? Why is it the government\’s job to make each and every one of us immune to the inherent dangers of living our lives?

Having said that, I wear a helmet 99% of the time (there are those cases when I\’m just biking to get a donut and it\’s very freeing to just pop down without helmet, bag, etc, – light as air!) and think they are a smart choice. But I agree that if you MAKE people do something, rebellion happens and makes people not want to bike.

Just my humble 2 cents.

Jason
Guest
Jason

As the League of American Bicyclists points out, how can you expect your *children* to wear a helmet if *you* don\’t?

And yeah, I\’m for personal responsibility too, but when *organ donors* volunteer to remove themselves from the gene pool, it gives *all* of bicycling a bad name. It\’s a disproportionate amount of bad press for an activity that is *safer* than operating a motor vehicle.

Since the Washington County BTC is trying to *promote* bicycling, my response is that this is a *great* idea.

Keith
Guest
Keith

I think we should have some kind of law against donuts that will help Tasha not feel compelled to ride un-helmeted for her
for her dangerous, frosted..possibly sprinkly tasty fried treat.

Donut is only 1 letter away from don\’t!

hmmmmm..donots….

Jeff
Guest
Jeff

Keith,

While the logic of your argument is powerful, you clearly haven\’t worshiped at the donut shrine of Moody\’s on Belmont. Sunday only, 9-2. You will then be a true believer…

Stripes
Guest
Stripes

If it\’s the right of the individual to choose, then why do we have seatbelt laws for motorists?

Where are the cries that being forced by law to wear a seatbelt infringes ones civil liberties?

Just a thought 🙂

Mike
Guest
Mike

While they are at it- They should make a law for all of Vancouver\’s joggers, boaters, hikers, and maybe even people in wheel chairs or those motorized scooters for the handicap.
What a joke, not only is this another personal freedom being taken away from adults who are free to think for themselves and hurting no one, its another good reason to NOT live in Vancouver if your a cyclist.

mle
Guest
mle

I\’m confused – is the city in the following sentence supposed to be Vancouver and not Portland?

\”Currently, many cities and counties in Washington have an “all ages” helmet ordinance (see full list here), but in Portland, the helmet law applies only to riders aged 15 and under.\”

joeb
Guest
joeb

“the cries that being forced by law to wear a seatbelt infringes ones civil liberties” are there. I do feel infringed upon and would be furious about paying a $92 ticket for choosing to not wearing a seat belt in my car. Of course it is a good idea to wear a seatbelt and I almost always do as I almost always wear a helmet. It has become enough of a habit that I almost feel naked without a seatbelt and nowadays also feel naked in a car without my bike helmet.

I started wearing a helmet to silence the zealots about not wearing one. So it became a habit and I now images of broken skulls and faces through windshields haunt me enough to continue. So I guess the seatbelt laws and zealots accomplished the goal huh. Fine, but you won’t catch me getting on somebody else about their personal choice to use or not use seatbelts/helmets. I don\’t like these laws.

gus
Guest
gus

I\’m with Tasha and Joeb on this one. Laws like this are unnecessary and unproductive and are just another intrusion of the \”nanny\” state. I too wear a helmet and seatbelt, but it should be my business to do so or not.

Jonathan Maus (Editor)
Guest

mle (comment #11),

sorry that sentence confuses you. it is technically right the way it is written, although maybe it\’s not clear.

Vancouver currently has no mandatory helmet ordinance.

Scott
Guest
Scott

Stripes:

If it\’s the right of the individual to choose, then why do we have seatbelt laws for motorists?

Where are the cries that being forced by law to wear a seatbelt infringes ones civil liberties?

There WERE cries that being forced by law to wear a seatbelt infringes on one\’s civil liberties. I remember hearing those cries when I was a kid.

REQUIRING all people to wear helmets when engaging in a possibly dangerous activity is simply a knee-jerk reaction and not a good solution to the problem. This should be a personal choice.

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

Being a Libertarian does not mean you can do what you want all the time. You get to to what you want up to the point it infringes on other peoples rights.

kg
Guest
kg

Does banning trans fats really impede ones personal freedom? It is poison added to your food so that corporations can make more money.

Jeff
Guest
Jeff

“Studies prove that when you have a helmet law, less people ride…and studies also prove that as more people ride, safety goes up.”

I\’d like to see some references to these studies… Proof is a pretty high bar to set and it\’s being applied in the general case here, so it falls under a higher level of scrutiny.

Jeff
Guest
Jeff

BTW, I much graver threat to your personal freedoms and liberties is the rise of fundamentalist Christian groups in this country that advocate for the installation of a strict Christian-based government.

Do a Google search… You\’ll get scared fast.

conquistador
Guest
conquistador

How about if you don\’t wear a helmet while biking and then are admitted to the emergency room, you don\’t get treated?

Don\’t tell me you aren\’t hurting someone else by choosing not to wear a helmet – the rest of us will have to pay for someone to hose your brains off the street.

Stripes
Guest
Stripes

I must say I wholly agree with conquistador (#18).

Folks who believe not wearing a bike helmet only affects them need only trot on over to Legacy Emmanuel, and talk to the trauma nurses who deal with fatal head injuries every day of their lives.

SH
Guest
SH

Just this Saturday I was only going a block or two, but decided to put my helmet on. my bike went out from under me on a random patch of ice and my helmet did some damage to a fence post, I\’m glad my head didn\’t. I decided I\’ll alwaysbe wearing one from now on. Eye opening.

a.O
Guest
a.O

The only civil liberties you have are enumerated in the Oregon Constitution and the Bill of Rights. I\’ve read those documents, and they don\’t mention helmets anywhere.

If you\’re really concerned about civil liberties, you might want to first educate yourself about what they are (and aren\’t). As Jeff suggests, you might want to focus your efforts more productively.

Take the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution, for example. President Bush is violating it every day, right now in fact, with respect to many, many Americans. Maybe even you.

Once you know what civil liberties are, I\’m sure you will agree that the right to be free from warrantless government surveillance is slightly more important than the (non-existent) right to be free of a helmet.

michael downes
Guest
michael downes

If there is a strong argument for cyclists to wear helmets then there is an equally strong argument for pedestrians and motorists to wear them as well. The problem with mandatory helmet laws (apart from discouraging people from cycling) is it puts the entire burden of \’bicycle safety\’ on the shoulders of cyclists. Law makers pass helmets laws and then congratulate themselves that they have \’solved\’ the bicycle safety issue. You can achieve safe cycling without mandatory helmet laws. Just look at Holland where over ninety five per cent of cyclists ride without helmets and yet car/cyclist fatalities are extremely low. Why is that? Because they have engineered a road system that emphasizes safety over speed and education of mutual responsibilities of both cyclists and car drivers. The sad fact is that helmet laws are a cheap and easy way for politicians to appear like they are doing something useful

Scott
Guest
Scott

Well said, Michael Downes. Well Said…

Perhaps we need to mandate helmets for all downhill skiers and snowboarders. What about the skateboarders and in-line skaters… and pedestrians and motorists…

Jessica Roberts
Guest
Jessica Roberts

Most helmet studies focus on whether serious injuries decrease after enactment of helmet legislation (usually measured by percentage of hospital admissions reporting a head injury suffered in a bicycle-related crash). They find, indeed, a reduction in number and severity of injury after laws are passed. This study specifically addresses the fact that most helmet studies do not attempt to measure whether a reduction in injuries is related to a decrease in ridership (as opposed to an increase in helmet wearing). This seems like an egregious omission to me.

One study that did look at ridership numbers is study summarized here on the Center for Disease Control website. It is a before and after study of a mandatory helmet law in Victoria, Australia. The study shows large increases in percentage of bicyclists wearing helmets, as well as declines in number and severity of injuries (both of which I think we\’d all agree are a good thing). Here\’s what makes me concerned, though:

\”Observational surveys of bicycle use in Melbourne indicated a 36% decrease in bicycle use by children in May-June 1991 compared with May-June 1990. The largest decrease (44%) occurred among 12- 17-year-olds, compared with the decrease among 5-to-11-year-olds (15%).\”

We know from Peter Jacobsen\’s very well-respected Safety in Numbers study that the number of people biking and walking is inversely proportional to the number of crashes involving bicyclists and pedestrians. So, any measure that, no matter how well-intentioned, substantially decreases the number of people riding is a major concern for advocates who want safer roads.

If mandatory helmet laws do decrease ridership, then they also decrease safety…and even if the remaining cyclists are all wearing helmets, their crash risk is higher than it was before the mandatory helmet law.

I wish we would see more researchers studying this. It shows a real bias in our medical and public health fields that we are narrowly focused on helmet use without considering the bigger health and societal benefits of encouraging bicycling and lowering the barriers to bicycle use.

Torfinn
Guest
Torfinn

While I agree with a.O on sentiment, all of us feel well outside of having even the slightest control over how much they watch us.

They\’ve been at it since the 70\’s. Not just Bush, but Clinton, and Bush senior and many before him.

Still have to agree that helmets are a bandaid fix for traffic law completely centered around collecting dollars and not saving lives.

I think from my knowledge of living in Vancouver however, they just want to discourage people from riding bikes at all.

Helmets = less riders.

Mike
Guest
Mike

#26 \”Still have to agree that helmets are a bandaid fix for traffic law completely centered around collecting dollars and not saving lives.\”

#25 \”Perhaps we need to mandate helmets for all downhill skiers and snowboarders. What about the skateboarders and in-line skaters… and pedestrians and motorists…\”

I agree on both accounts.

John
Guest
John

I\’m really interested in hearing a certain straw hat wearing Vancouver cyclist\’s story about what\’s going on with this.

On a side note, concerning the picture of our Esteemed Mayor, the Avid Cyclist, setting a good example… That\’s on the Mayor\’s Bicycle Ride. Shortly before he led the group down the sidewalk, on the left hand side of Columbia Way. Oops.

a.O
Guest
a.O

Can someone please share the evidence supporting the notion that helmet laws *cause* lower riding rates?

BURR
Guest
BURR

I believe that study was done in australia

Jessica Roberts
Guest
Jessica Roberts

I just wrote a really long comment that seems not to have taken. I don\’t have time to rewrite now. The gist was that most studies demonstrate that bike-related head injuries go down after mandatory helmet laws are enacted, but they do not look at whether the decrease in injuries is caused by a decrease in ridership or by helmet use. One specific study from Australia that does look at ridership showed a significant decrease in bicycle ridership after a helmet law was enacted. The \”safety in numbers\” principle means that fewer cyclists lead to an increased crash risk for each remaining cyclist on the road.

BURR
Guest
BURR
michael downes
Guest
michael downes

To add to my earlier comment about putting the onus on cyclist for bicycle safety. A few years ago in Texas a motorist ran a red light and fatally collided with a cyclist. In both the police report and in various news media it was claimed that the primary cause for that riders death was the fact that \’he was not wearing a helmet\’. No one bothered to mention the motorist\’s reckless disregard for the rules of the road and they were neither cited or fined and no criminal charges were bought against them. This is what kills cyclists not whether we are mandated to put a plastic bucket on our head. A lightweight polystyrene helmet will prevent some injuries in some circumstances but they didn\’t save Brett or Stacy. Intelligent road design, education and, most importantly, more cyclists is what will make it safer to ride.

a.O
Guest
a.O

Yea, that was weird Jessica. Your post wasn\’t up when I wrote my last one.

Anyway, I have seen the research you link to, but thanks for sharing it. Everyone who makes the claim about helmet laws decreasing ridership cite the Australian study.

But the reason more researchers are not studying this topic is very simple. This hypothesis cannot be definitively disproven or even strongly supported using an observational research methodology. Simply put, it is impossible to isolate the enactment of a law as a causal factor in a change in ridership rate.

To do so, you need an experimental research design, and that is currently impossible or very impracticable outside the laboratory.

There are many other factors that could have caused the ridership decrease. For example, what if the study coincided with a seasonal weather change? Although weather can be controlled for, many other factors cannot, such as prominent media stories regarding traffic fatalities.

I find that me riding home each evening coincides with it getting dark outside, but that doesn\’t mean that my riding causes the sun to go down…

If you cannot demonstrate that helmet laws decrease riding using research, you can use logic.

Why would a helmet law decrease ridership?

Is it because people want to go for a quick ride but don\’t want to be bothered with a helmet and fear getting a ticket? If that were the case, why wouldn\’t all those stop sign-running cyclists stop riding for fear of getting a ticket?

Even arbitrary police targeting of cyclists for traffic infractions hasn\’t decreased ridership in PDX.

Is it because they\’re expensive? You can get them here for as little as $5, and most people here can easily afford a basic helmet.

Is it because they make you look like a dork? That might be a real concern in PDX, given all the fashion conscious hipsters out there. I suspect this is the real reason most people don\’t want helmet laws in Portland.

Can somebody offer a better explanation for why a helmet law should decrease ridership?

Shane
Guest
Shane

I did a quick skim and didn\’t notice anyone give the link to the counter-point website about helmet laws:

http://www.cyclehelmets.org/

As an LCI I teach helmet use for personal safety. However I do NOT think it should be mandatory! Riding a bike should stay fun, easy, and adaptable. There are many ways to ride safely including without a helmet.

Do it safe and do it with a smile.

G.A.R.
Guest
G.A.R.

An attorney friend in WA says that under Washington\’s drunk cycling law you are not to be cited but are to be given a mandatory free ride home by the arresting officer. It would be nicer if they implemented helmets this way.

Washington State does not allow headphones when riding, which I think is sort of the opposite of mandating helmets. The big problem with helmets for me (I wear one all the time, but I am aware of this problem) is the noise they make in the wind. I feel that without my helmet I would hear motor vehicles better.

This would suggest that we should look for the number of accidents of all kinds (not just head injuries) to go up when helmets are used, but for the head injuries from those accidents to be somewhat lessened. Asking a trauma nurse about the severity of individual injuries is useful if the incidence of injuries stays constant, but I would expect to see more miles cycled per incident.

As usual the cars are the real problem, notwithstanding the occasional fencepost. The big huge danger is having a car hit your head. They\’re going fast. They\’re made of metal. They weigh a ton. They\’re not safe. In a bike/ped collision, I am sure the ped would much prefer that the cyclist NOT have a helmet.

John Russell
Guest

While I agree that it\’s a good idea to wear a helmet, I think forcing this on people is a bad idea.
Why not just take the money that would go to enforcing these laws and instead use it to teach people how to bike safely in the first place?

Also, as a resident of Vancouver, what can I do to voice my opinion on this matter?

Cøyøte
Guest
Cøyøte

a.O #35

You are using skepticism as a weapon. Skepticism is not critical thinking, it is really just a poor cousin of sophistry. It is used to doubt anything without ever venturing a hypothosis.

Would a mandatory helmet law increase ridership? There only three outcomes of the law. +, -, or -, pick one.

Garry Busey
Guest
Garry Busey

I think anti helmet laws ar……….
………………………………
I Lost my train of thought.

Huggy Bear
Guest
Huggy Bear

As a 60 year old cyclist in Vancouver I always wear a helmet when I ride but that is my choice made by me and not someone else. To Mike #10 Vancouver is not a bad place to be a cyclist.

Tom Miller
Guest
Tom Miller

Personally, I would turn to The Netherlands for guidance. The Dutch have focused on design to remove as many barriers to bicycling as possible.

In my (limited) experience there, the key is the cycle track. Bicyclists enjoy dedicated right-of-way without fear of a collision with a car. They engineered away that possibility (as much as possible). Where collisions could occur, e.g. intersections, you have separate traffic lights for bikes and cars, with bikes prioritized. Unlike Portland, I think you\’d have to be riding in an illegal manner to get hit.

In the week we were there, we may have seen five helmets among untold thousands of cyclists. This is rational behavior, as 40% daily modal share in the nation\’s largest city attests.

Opus the Poet
Guest

In my wreck my helmet saved my life, but I had severe facial trauma that required much plastic surgery, so now I wear a full-face bicycle helmet, which is basically the same as a Moto-X helmet with vents. Now you would probably think that I\’m for mandatory helmets, but I\’m not. Even a full-face helmet will only protect the head in any wreck, and does nothing to prevent a wreck. I also had a broken hip, femur, fibula, cruciate ligaments and meniscus in my knees, and massive soft tissue damage and nerve damage. And wearing a helmet did nothing to prevent those injuries, as it didn\’t extend to those parts of the body. How often is head trauma involved in a bike wreck?

Opus

a.O
Guest
a.O

Coyote, I\’m using the scientific method. My hypothesis is the null hypothesis. You\’re the one asserting a cause-effect relationship between two variables – @#3. Can\’t you give me any good logic why a helmet law should decrease ridership? I\’m skeptical, but open-minded.

You\’re just against more laws in principle, right? That\’s the same argument that was made against seatbelts. 30 years later, they\’re a social norm and have saved countless lives and dollars.

Saying you don\’t think something should be mandated … even though it will save lives and lower everybody\’s health care costs seems, frankly, kinda callous and misanthropic to me…especially when it\’s only because it would inconvenience you a little.

And seriously … really seriously … if you\’re worried about some sort of creeping infringement on civil liberties, you are going after an ant while avoiding the 800 pound gorilla. There are very real threats to civil society, and helmet laws are the least of our worries.

Anyway, good on ya, mate. I\’m gonna go do something else, cause I don\’t ride in the \’Couve.

Duncan
Guest
Duncan

so will there be \”helmet stings at the I-5 bridge?

Todd B
Guest
Todd B

Ideally the manditory helmet is the last tool in the tool box to use – not the first or second for success in reducing fatalities.

Well funded education, traffic law enforcement, and engineering of great bikeways and bike friendly intersections leads to lower injuries (TBI, etc.) and more riders…this is the successful Dutch model.

Why do our leaders and [some] advocates lead the call to adopt strategies of communities with lower levels of bike ridership and higher injury rates? Perhaps they have not bicycled in well designed bike communities.

couv
Guest
couv

To John (and others) who wish to comment on the pending bike helmet law (for youth and adults) in Vancouver mail your comments to the City Council of Vancouver or give testimony at the next council meeting (Mondays 7PM). If the topic is not on the agenda then pull a yellow card for public comment during \’citizen communications\’.

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

vancmo@ci.vancouver.wa.us

letters@columbian.com

Disco D
Guest
Disco D

I wear a helmet 98% of the time but it does seem a little silly to be forced to wear them. I support seatbelts and motorcycle helmets (I wear both 100% of the time) but I feel like bikes are a little different. True, if you are mixing it up with traffic you would be dumb not to wear one, but to think you could get ticketed for not wearing a helmet while tooling around the esplanade?

I guess as long as rollerbladers, skateboarders, joggers, etc have to wear them too it\’s ok. Furthermore it was pretty icey today…I could easily see someone losing their footing and maybe landing on the back of their head. Hopefully someone will mandate helmets on bad weather days.

Of course the last time I went to Vancouver was, uhm, oh yea never. Guess I can chalk it up as yet another reason to be proud to be from Portland.

P Finn
Guest

Jessica is right on.

Thanks, sistah!

couv
Guest
couv

Jan 7
Vancouver Council Discussion (not a public hearing)
http://www.cityofvancouver.us/cvtv/cvtvindex.asp?section=25437&folderID=1663

Jan 28
Vancouver Council Discussion (public hearing)
http://www.cityofvancouver.us/cvtv/cvtvindex.asp?section=25437&folderID=1688
(not ready yet)