Updated: Vancouver passes all-ages helmet law

Posted by on February 25th, 2008 at 8:50 pm

[Updated: 2/26, 11:37 am – I’ve added audio from the Councilmembers’ testimony (see below).]

Last night, the Vancouver City Council voted 5-1 in favor of an expanded, all-ages helmet law. More photos here.
(Photos © J. Maus)

Thirty days from now, it will be illegal for anyone to ride a bicycle in Vancouver without a helmet. Last night, after emotional testimony in favor of the law by Mayor Royce Pollard and other councilmembers, an all-ages helmet ordinance passed by a vote of 5 to 1.

“Statistics be damned…I support this.”
–Vancouver Mayor Royce Pollard in support of the helmet law.

The sole councilmember opposing the law was Pat Campbell, who said such a law would be “totally unnecessary” and that “what we have now is working.”

Campbell’s opposition to the law was echoed by the public testimony that was heard. Four citizens showed up to speak in opposition to the law, while one was in favor.

But given the emotional positions of a majority of Councilmembers, including Mayor Royce Pollard, it seems no amount of opposition could have derailed this from passing.

Vancouver City Council passes helmet law-7.jpg

Mayor Pollard smashed his helmet
against the table as he told
his story.

Mayor Pollard said that Vancouver used to not need a helmet law, but that the “this is a much larger city now.” He added that, “If we can save one child because of this ordinance, or if we can save adult by this ordinance, than the statistics be damned. I support this.”

Pollard, with his own helmet in front of him as a prop, recounted a bad fall he took while riding in Esther Short Park. He told the crowd how he bruised his hip and scraped his shoulder; but because he was wearing his helmet his head was fine.

He concluded his testimony by saying that, “We will do everything we can to see that every child who can’t afford a helmet will get a helmet, the rest of you are on your own.”

Councilmember Jeanne Harris also had a personal story to share; she hit a man on a bike when she was 21 while pulling out of a fast food restaurant. But, because he was wearing a helmet, “He walked away from it.” She recalled, “I can’t tell you how it affected me that I could have hurt somebody…You can’t plan not to have an accident and that is what this is about. I don’t know if it’s going to help, but I don’t think it can hurt. It’s the responsible thing for the city to do.”

Vancouver City Council passes helmet law-8.jpg

Vancouver City Council passes helmet law-3.jpg

Jim O’Horo spoke in favor of the law.

Councilmember Pat Jollota also told of a “life-changing experience” she had that helped form her opinion on this issue: A visit to a brain injury ward. Her justification for supporting the law is that brain injuries lead to a financial burden on the state. “It’s not that I have the right to go out without a helmet and if I hurt myself it’s my problem, it’s not, it’s society’s problem, because we’re the ones that have to take care of you when it’s over with. It’s not you that you have to worry about, it’s everyone else who has to worry about you.”

A similar sentiment was shared by Councilmembers Larry Smith and Tim Leavitt.

Smith said for him, it comes down to his personal principals and values. “It comes back to who I am, and my value systems and what I believe in…The most important thing I do, is provide safety for the community. If I can save a life or an injury, how much does that cost…to a family?”

He added, “This is the right thing to do, I believe and support helmets for all ages. Why not?”

–Download the official ordinance here (PDF).


Here are audio clips of the testimony given by each member of the City Council:

Mayor Royce Pollard
[audio:vancouverHelmetPollard.mp3]
Download file

Jeanne Harris
[audio:vancouverhelmetHarris.mp3]
Download file

Pat Jollota
[audio:vancouverhelmetJollota.mp3]
Download file

Pat Campbell
[audio:vancouverhelmetCampbell.mp3]
Download file

Larry Smith
[audio:vancouverhelmetSmith.mp3]
Download file

Tim Leavitt
[audio:vancouverhelmetLeavitt.mp3]
Download file

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Phil LeefinaminwsbobValTabi Recent comment authors
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RN
Guest
RN

Another mean spirited law.

How about protecting cyclists from harassment by Vantucky motorists? How about providing places to lock up my bike when I spend money in Vancouver?

Keep your laws off my (adult)body.

JH
Guest
JH

*comment deleted due to inappropriate language*

toddistic
Guest
toddistic

well i guess i\’ll never been venturing across the river. i wear a helmet but making a law about such is tom foolery and unconstitutional. most disappointing was the some \”bike\” club guy who\’s physical appearance definately shows he hasn\’t spent any meaningful time in the saddle.

John Russell
Guest

I now feel a bit sadder that I happen to live on the North side of the river. So much for my letter to Mr. Royce Pollard himself. All I can say is that your side of the river will be seeing me a lot more than before.

And don\’t get me started about harassment. Just today on my short ride to school, I was nearly hit by a guy in a truck who then revved his engine, sped around me, and flipped me off. Luckily we\’ve got a police officer at our school and I promptly gave him the guy\’s license plate. Who knows what will happen, but at least it\’s a start.

SH
Guest
SH

oh snap

racer x
Guest
racer x

After watching the show on line…

do not worry about enforcement local bicyclists…several council members said they were supporting it on such a limited budget that enforcement will be secondary – especially if more important police business calls.

Perhaps the police department was too timid to challenge the mayor – thus their silence in the back row – usually they are pretty upfront when supporting something safety related.

More troubling about some of the council motivation in supporting this law was personal experience as drivers of crashing into bicyclists.

(Protect bicyclists not from poor driving or bad facilities but put a helmet on them to survive the crash vs. avoid it.)

For example, the repressed memory of a young Council member Harrison (?) of running into a bicyclist while leaving a drive thru was her reason for supporting it now vs. 10 years ago when she last voted on it.

Though please send letters of thanks to new Council member Campbell for asking questions – if there is a better way to achieve the shared objectives of safety and more healthy communities without more underenforced laws.

pat.campbell@ci.vancouver.wa.us

Chris
Guest
Chris

JM –

Couldn\’t make the meeting tonight but caught some of it on CVTV. Saw you in the front shootin\’ photos and taking notes. I don\’t agree with the council\’s decision and wish the anti-ordinance had some better representation, but I appreciate you taking the time to venture north of the river to report on bike issues. Thanks much!

Toby
Guest
Toby

#2
I don\’t understand your one word response. Are you saying that you\’re happy about the outcome? Because that is the only definition of the word that could in any way pertain to this thread.

Bjorn
Guest
Bjorn

I can\’t believe they received as many letters in support as they did in opposition. I ride to work on a street that is 40mph, 4 lanes non of them for bikes, and curbed sidewalks. With a little funding they could remove the median planting strip and add bike lanes, but from attending several of the vancouver bike advisory committee a little funding is something that the council will never dedicate to bike safety. This passed because it cost close to nothing (I think they are going to buy a few kids helmets although I doubt they funded it well enough to buy one for all the kids who need them) It still amazes me how bad facilities are on the other side of the river…

Bjorn

Joe
Guest
Joe

yikes! buckle up..

Antonio Gramsci
Guest
Antonio Gramsci

In light of the link to the stats someone posted previously regarding the extremely adverse impact that such measures have had elsewhere on ridership numbers, this one leaves me wondering, is it just cluelessness, or actual malice that\’s driving these council members (no pun intended)?

a.O
Guest
a.O

Whether they\’re clueless or malicious – as I\’ve said previously about certain members of Portland\’s City government – who cares? Either way, they\’re bad at governance and need replacing. I hope this illustrates to everyone out there the importance of PARTICIPATING in YOUR democracy.

Although I am a big supporter of helmet laws, this is a truly stupid action given the far greater needs with respect to promoting the safety of bicycling, and road use in general, and the stated desire to do so.

rainperimeter
Guest
rainperimeter

i wear a helmet, don\’t live in the \’couve, but do bike over there to hang with my dad from time to time. I\’m with RN, i\’d like to see some kind of biker awareness/courtesy/safety action over there. the hostilities drivers send towards bikers increases dramatically as soon as you cross the river. it really sucks. whether it\’s some d.s. kids shouting at you or hicks trying to intimidate you by buzzing you way too close, there is always something to deal with.

joel
Guest

is the law still directed at *any* person riding non-motorized wheeled vehicle of any type, as it seemed to be before?

cause enforcement on that is gonna be crazy, and bikes are only going to be the tip of the iceberg. getting every skater, blader, rollerskater, push scooter rider, etc etc in vacouver to wear a helmet, or cite them for not doing so… well, good luck with that.

i still cant believe the \”car drivers keep hitting bicyclists! lets make them wear helmets.\” angle.

when does the law go into effect? immediately?

John Reinhold
Guest
John Reinhold

In the past we had taken our bikes into Vancouver as a family, and rode around downtown Vancouver and the riverfront. We would eat and shop a bit.

But I guess that won\’t happen anymore.

I wear helmets but oppose helmet laws.

Jeff
Guest
Jeff

The picture explains it all. They look like a bunch of old farts! I doubt they\’ve even been on a bike in 40 years. And they\’re probably a bunch of disciplinarian religious types that think they\’re doing God\’s good work through legislation…. So sad….

true
Guest
true

I wear a helmet – I don\’t pretend that it will save my life in a serious collision – I think time and energy focused on cyclist safety could be much better spent than passing an adult helmet law.

Perhaps they could pass a mandatory full-body bubble wrap law. Would that change road safety for cyclists? Would that change motorist attitudes?

Might this be another homeless/transient/poor folks harassment law? Most fancy bike middle class cyclists wear helmets anyway. Most transient bottle collector types don\’t.

I will chime in with Toby about post #2. Whether you intend it or not, you are associating homosexuality with a helmet law. I don\’t see the connection, and as I have posted elsewhere, it neither strengthens or weakens your argument (if there is one) to drop such language. Unless you did mean \’happy,\’ which, of course, is still a confusing fragment, but perhaps legit.

Off to commute I go! Wheeeeeeeeee…..

Matthew
Guest

For crying out loud…
Why do they hate freedom?
Why do they hate America?
The Nazi\’s have won.

ps: I wear a helmet when I ride…

Dcary
Guest

I think they pass these laws because too many people are too stupid to realize that helmets are a smart idea. They won\’t save you from being hit from behind or being scrunched by a bus, but if a choice between broken bones and a severe concussion is my option, I\’ll take the broken bones. And who pays for my care when my insurance runs out (that includes my 1 million dollar umbrella policy)? It\’s you, the public.

Last week my nephew skiied and fell with a faceplant into a rock. His broken nose and gashes will heal, but his severe concussion will last a lifetime. But he was too cool to wear a helmet. And we taxpayers will continue paying for his care.

So if you already wear a helmet, what\’s the big deal? Do you want to take it off as soon as you cross the river into Vancouver? Do you take off the seatbelts in your car when you cross the river? Get over it! Set a good example to your kids by your own actions.

TL
Guest
TL

So….rather than just bitching about how much Vancouver sucks, what can we do about it? I just moved to the N side of the river a couple of months ago. I opposed the law and couldn\’t make the meeting but did write a letter. I\’m trying to use my bike for transit, but I\’m much more worried for my safety up here. We say, \”get involved\” and \”participate in govt\”…but if we do want to but don\’t know how….how?

ChipSeal
Guest
ChipSeal

Absolutely fantastic! What we have here is a great opportunity for greater bicycle safety. We need to strike while the iron is hot!

\”Mayor Pollard said that Vancouver used to not need a helmet law, but that the “this is a much larger city now.” He added that, “If we can save one child because of this ordinance, or if we can save [sic] adult by this ordinance, than the statistics be damned. I support this.” \”

From his statement, can we expect mayor Pollard to support lower speed limits on city streets in his efforts to \”save (even) one life\”? Perhaps the city council can now do something of substance for the safety of it\’s citizens!

John Reinhold
Guest
John Reinhold

So where do we stop? Do we continue to pass laws for our own protection from anything that could hurt us?

Soon we will all be required to be coated in Nerf(TM).

a.O
Guest
a.O

John Reinhold, I want to recommend to you that you (and everyone else) bypass the whole reducto ad absurdium argument and go straight to finding a bike advocacy project to spend your energy on. Want to make some media calls for my citizen-initiated violation proceedings?

Vance
Guest

Dcary, statements like you\’ve just made here make me so sad about the future of this country. Helmet and seat-belt laws do not serve the cause of public safety, they line the pockets of insurance companies, plastics manufacturers, and provide still more probable cause for enforcement-bodies.

In this instance helmets are being used to harass cyclists in Vancouver. Plain and simple. This on the heels of motorist outcry for licensing, registration, and liability insurance. The timing is beyond suspect. The Vancouver city council just delivered this message to an entire class of people: \”If cyclists are going to whine about their personal safety, then how do they like these apples?!\”

Dcary, the big-deal is one of principle. While few argue that using personal safety equipment is a bad idea I, for one, am of the opinion that these choices are personal ones; and that they are none of your business, Dcary, let alone the city government of a rinky-dink town like Vancouver, Washington.

Your argument about public resources does not stand up, either. You are careful to point out that uninsured, injured cyclists are a drain on public monies. As such, you feel entitled to legislate away our personal freedoms in order to prevent public responsibility for this rare occurrence.

Consider this just a bit further, and you will see that we all pay into the tax system, yet we take from that system at a disproportionate rate. This is the very nature of taxation. For instance, Dcary are you a giant, fat cow? If so, you\’ll likely end up with diabetes. At what point will you need to draw upon public resources in order to survive? And once you do, won\’t I have the right, using your logic, to monitor your eating habits, and your fitness level?

I\’ll give this cycling-community kudos for some things. One of them being a better than average ability to organize. I hope I see the entire, \”cycling community\”, riding all over Vancouver, sans helmet of course, in protest of the B.S. law. Lastly, Dcary mind your own business, instead of everyone else\’s. That is a two-way street, and I bet you wouldn\’t like to have your lifestyle under a micro-scope.

Grimm
Guest

There is a larger underlying issue. That cycling sucks in Vancouver. Every time I have had to ride up there for something I cross my fingers I don\’t have to return. Or maybe there is some magical roads that aren\’t marked up there where cars are flying by at 50 while on their cell phones right as the bike lane disappears. A corner stone for bicycle safety should start with urban planning, which to me is one of Vancouver\’s greatest weaknesses.

Oh yes, and I\’m a helmet advocate but I still respect peoples right to choose even if I dont agree with it.

Vance
Guest

Oh, and a.O., the day is coming when you and I are gonna\’ meet. I\’m counting the seconds.

dano
Guest
dano

I\’m with chipseal #21.

instead of everyone complaining about the erosion of personal freedoms (which is important, granted), now is a good time to hold the council to their words and try to push their hand with regards to safer roads.
It\’s not so easy as saying \’we\’ll wear helmets, now you make bike lanes\’, but there\’s an opportunity now that wasn\’t there yesterday. However misguided, the council has been discussing cyclist safety. Should folks complain about it, or try to guide it?

bahueh
Guest
bahueh

the choice is pretty easy now…don\’t like the law, don\’t go to Vancouver.
period. that\’s now the personal choice for Oregonians..and really, why would anyone want to ride up there to begin with? the road terrain is terrible, hostile, and hardly accessible…

I highly doubt the Vancouver City Council really cares what Oregonians think, really..

Vance, your ramblings won\’t change a single thing….and I hope A.O. saves your last message as it has threatening tones..

Paul S
Guest

What a waste of effort and energy all around. I wear a helmet because I\’m grownup enough to know I need to. I don\’t need Johnny Law telling me to eat my veggies or wipe my ass front to back either.

Well I\’ve gone 10 years in Portland without ever once setting foot in Vancouver so it\’s not like they\’re gonna miss my business.

wsbob
Guest
wsbob

\”Four citizens showed up to speak in opposition to the law, while one was in favor.\” J Maus/editor bikeportland

Just four citizens? Well that says a lot doesn\’t it? I wonder if they were all from Vancouver. Also, how many letters in opposition city council received in regards to the proposed, now official law.

There\’s six people on the Van City Council. Four people speaking out in opposition to a six panel city council\’s mostly emotionally motivated action is not an effective way to bring a decision to a more realistic turn.

It isn\’t that city council members sentiments and concerns about bike related injuries aren\’t well advised and appreciated, but simply that at this time, despite Vancouver Mayor Royce Pollard\’s observation that “this is a much larger city now.”(whatever that means…larger, relative to what?)circumstances in Vancouver do not seem to call for such a law in that city.

todd
Guest
todd

whew, at last some relief from the difficult moral ambiguity of drivers injuring or killing bikers! now such incidents will fall neatly into the easy categories either of \”scofflaw biker had it coming\” or \”act of god,\” neither of which will impel real safety improvements in the physical and mental environment of our roads.

this is not change; this is at once a washing of hands and a legislative reinforcement of the status quo.

Moo
Guest
Moo

Wouldn\’t ride there before, now won\’t even consider it…Though I might set up a helmet stand at the State line of the I-5 bridge.

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

For bicyclists interested in taking Mayor Pollard and our council up on their strong interest in improving bicyclist safety in Vancouver…please contact the BTA about organizing a BTA chapter for Vancouver.

There has been support at the BTA in doing this but no cadre of active transportation activists in Vancouver to kick this off.

BTA Staff for Metro Vancouver contact:
Emily Gardner
503.226.0676 x11
emily@bta4bikes.org

Val
Guest
Val

Yep, same old, same old for the sate of Washington, with a few lovely conceptual highlights:
– Councilmember Harris hits a man on his bike with her car, but he\’s fine because he was wearing his helmet, which protected…what? His legs? His ribs? His spine? Man, if I had one of those full body helmets, I might just wear it all the time.
– Mayor Pollard falls, bruises hip and shoulder, and takes the fact that his head was fine as proof that the helmet is essential to preserving life. So if I go around endlessly recounting the myriad instances that I have fallen and scraped my knees, bruised my hip, banged my elbow, or even broken my collarbone while not wearing a helmet, can I use these instances as proof that a snap brim fedora saved my skull?
– One more time, we have the unassailable argument that \”if even one life can be saved by this law, it should be passed.\” I quite agree. This is why we need laws banning cars completely from all streets in the country, as well as laws that require anyone walking in the presence of any hard surface to wear helmets, laws that ban swimming without flotation devices, laws banning any poisonous substances, etc. Think how many lives could be saved! Now think about whether that is truly a good thing.
– \”This is the right thing to do. I believe in and support helmets for all ages, so why not?\” Sounds good. All citizens of Vancouver should be provided with helmets by the city, to be worn at all thims. It\’ll be the safest city in the world, and just think of all the lives that will be saved!

a.O
Guest
a.O

Oh, and a.O., the day is coming when you and I are gonna\’ meet. I\’m counting the seconds.

What the hell is this supposed to mean?

Vance
Guest

a.O, bahueh #28 – What? Are we dating? Is this some silly little child drama? It\’s droll, fools. Imagine that I said it behind a yawn. Get over yourselves. I may be pretty hard on the messenger, granted. But your ad-homninem attackes are so tiresome. Which I was merely pointing out, by the way. But you go ahead with whatever paranoid delusion you are stirring up.

Zaphod
Guest

The helmet law was based upon emotion versus data and that isn\’t the right way to come to a decision but that\’s not the point of my post.

My concern is the ridership impact and its effects. If infrastructure expenditure is calculated by ridership and this suppresses it what do you think is going to happen to Vancouver infrastructure?

The core problem lies within that answer. That\’s the irony of what appears to be heartfelt reasons for their decision. There\’s another aspect of this: the helmet law bears no budgetary cost. Meanwhile building infrastructure impacts tax dollars.

It does seem like a good idea to call council members to initiate other safety related cycling programs as they have stated their desire to save lives. We might want to leverage that.

a.O
Guest
a.O

Yeah, that\’s what I thought.

Opus the Poet
Guest

I\’m not comparing the Vancouver City Council with nazis, because fascists don\’t care about either individual freedom or safety. However unless CoV is going to drasticly drop their speed limits and up enforcement their rationale for passing this law is highly suspect. What this law is is a cosmetic for the behinds of the city council members i.e. a CYA. It won\’t do anything to reduce the number of cars running into cyclists, nor will it have any real influence on the number of fatalities for those who do get hit. Head trauma is such a small part of the overall fatal injuries that even the fabled 85% reduction of head injuries given for helmet usage will only make a blip in the statistics.

And as I counted the support there was a 4-1 ratio against the proposal, with the council ignoring those opposed to listen to the one in favor.

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

BikePortland scoops another transportation news topic.

Additionally, there was local news coverage of this in the Columbian newspaper this AM:

http://www.columbian.com/news/localNews/2008/02/02262008_Vancouver-city-council-enacts-helmet-law.cfm

Torfinn
Guest
Torfinn

Nanny state ftl

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

BikePortland readers you may also view the public and council discussion of this topic on CVTV web link:

http://www.cityofvancouver.us/stage/cvtv/cvtvindex.asp?section=25437&folderID=1718

Dabby
Guest
Dabby

So,

Todd B, where were you in preventing this from happening?

I thought you were the City of Vancouver Cycling man?

bahueh
Guest
bahueh

Vance..remember your medication in the morning…its easier on all of us.

what you post makes little to no sense..

wsbob
Guest
wsbob

\”And as I counted the support there was a 4-1 ratio against the proposal, with the council ignoring those opposed to listen to the one in favor.\” Opus #39

Opus, I\’m not disagreeing with you, but rephrasing my earlier post, that 4-1 ratio you mention represents merely 5 people. Only 4 people out of an entire city showed up before their city council to oppose this decision. That would seem to indicate that the citizens of Vancouver Washington do not generally oppose this law.

Bill Stites
Guest

I SUPPORT THE HELMET LAW. And I feel like I\’m alone. I had to write this \’cause I can\’t believe the overwhelming opposition.
For everyone complaining about not doing other safety actions in Vancouver, having a helmet law doesn\’t exclude any other safety initiatives.

Life is a percentage game, with risks in everything we do – wearing a helmet protects the brain, which is super-serious when it is even slightly injured.

There\’s the analogy of seat belt laws – do folks really believe that we should have \’freedom of choice\’ regarding wearing a seat belt?

The problem is that many people underestimate their risks, and would not wear either without a law.

And since this is the usual helmet-law arguing that has been shown to never end, I\’m stepping out right here.

Toby
Guest
Toby

#45, or that not enough people actually knew of it in time.

Paul S
Guest

Bill Stiles (#46) wrote: \”There\’s the analogy of seat belt laws – do folks really believe that we should have \’freedom of choice\’ regarding wearing a seat belt?\”

Yes. I do.

More grownups please.

Dabby
Guest
Dabby

I must tell you that as a cyclist, and long term Vancouver/Hockinson resident, (albeit off and on) and being known as a serious rider, I hear about cycling concerns from a wide variety of residents. Young, old, etc. Standing on a corner, or sitting at a bar, I hear it all the time.

The majority of them, (I really should say all of them) speak out against the same problem.

It is the group rides, especially out here in Hockinson, riding three and four wide, on the shoulderless country roads.
Many of these are regular VBC rides, it would appear. It is also the same type of group rides, in town, riding three and four wide, even spilling out of the bike lanes.

It is a general concern for the safety of the cyclist for one.

And the apparent actions of the groups of cyclists, that give the idea they have the right to ride three and four wide, and do not even attempt much of the time to move over and
allow cars to pass.

And these people have the right idea, as it is the responsibility of the cyclist to narrow it down to no more than two wide, if not single file, to allow traffic to pass.

It is the holier than though attitude that gets people irked. Not the fact that they are on the road, the fact that they appear to think that they own the road.

MY point is that most residents are encountering cyclists, and having problems with cyclists, that are already wearing helmets.

And the Vancouver Bicycle Club, the one possible ally we had in shutting this ordinance change down, was sadly and solidly behind it.

This would point, and is echoed through sentiment when I have recently asked random people, to residents not having a problem at all with a helmet requirement. It is really not going to affect them, they already generally wear helmets if they ride, and make their kids wear helmets. (the families I deal with anyway)

Adams Carroll (News Intern)
Guest

RE: comparing helmet laws to seatbelt laws.

Main difference I see is that cars are very easily proven to be dangerous by numerous statistics and research papers.

On the other hand, no such conclusive research (that everyone can agree on) exists for bicycle use.

And by the way, aren\’t helmets not mandatory for motorcycles in Washington?