Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

Heading to the ‘Couve? Don’t forget your helmet

Posted by on May 25th, 2011 at 12:34 pm

Aloha Todd and Low Bar Tour - Pedalpalooza-4

Heading to the ‘Couve? Remember your helmet.
(Photos © J. Maus)

Back in 2008, Vancouver (WA) passed an all-ages, mandatory helmet law. While enforcement has been nearly nonexistent since then, the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) says that’s about to change.

Hoping to increase compliance with the law, VPD spokesperson Kim Kapp tells us new police patrols, will “focus increasingly on making sure all bicyclists are complying with a city ordinance requiring helmets be worn at all times.”

That’s something to keep in mind if you’re from Portland, where the law only requires helmets on children under 16 years of age.

“The police department doesn’t make the laws, the legislatures does. We just have a responsibility to enforce them.”
— Kim Kapp, Vancouver Police Department

Kapp points out that the law has been enforced with warnings and citations the last three years; but she adds that warmer weather, schools letting out for the summer and last month’s collision between a car and helmetless ten year old are all reasons to step up enforcement.

Vancouver’s helmet ordinance, contains several provisions important for Portlanders to understand prior to heading north.

Aloha Todd and Low Bar Tour - Pedalpalooza-19

Riding in Vancouver is fun (as
this photo from Esther Short Park
attests), but getting a $50 ticket isn’t.

First, the law applies to everyone riding, “on a bicycle, in-line skates, roller skates, scooter, unicycle or skateboard.” Furthermore, the city defines “bicycle” to “include any attached trailers, sidecars and/or device being towed by a bicycle.”

Second, event organizers, including Pedalpalooza rides, have an obligation under the law to inform participants of the helmet law, and “reject participants” who don’t have an helmet:

“Any person or organization managing a bicycle race, an organized event involving bicycling or a bicycle tour, which will take place in whole or in part in any public area, shall notify participants of the requirement to wear a helmet during the event, race or tour, and such persons and organizations shall reject participants who fail to comply with the provisions of this chapter.”

The law includes an exemption if “wearing the helmet would violate a religious belief or practice of the person,” but doesn’t define what constitutes as a valid religious practice for the purpose of the exemption.

The law also doesn’t explain how event organizers can inquire about a participant’s religious belief without violating Washington laws on civil rights. (Calls to the Vancouver City Attorney’s office and Washington Human Rights Commission were not returned by publication deadline.)

With a fine of up to $50 per person in violation of the helmet law, Pedalpalooza events could become very expensive for unsuspecting participants. However, Kapp said patrol officers have discretion to issue a warning rather than a citation.

The VPD will pass out these info cards.

According to Kapp, the police will also pass out information cards. The cards are designed to be double sided, with four to a page (It might be a good idea for Pedalpalooza event organizers to distribute the cards to help educate ride participants — PDF here).

If it helps take the sting out of the VPD’s decision, the VPD also announced they will focus on seat belts and scofflaw parking as well.

And in the end, if you don’t like the law, don’t take it out on the cops. “The police department doesn’t make the laws, the legislatures does,” is how Kapp sees it, “We just have a responsibility to enforce them.”

What do Portlanders think of the law now getting more attention from the VPD?

Heather Madison, who frequently bikes into Vancouver, says it’s about time they started enforcing it.

“Whether Vancouver should have a helmet law is a cow long out of the barn… the fact is [Vancouver] has had a helmet for years… sooner or later the police were going to have to start enforcing it, even if they think the law is stupid.”

Despite the potential fine, Michelle Week doesn’t think the helmet law will deter Portland residents from participating in her “PDX 2 Camas” Pedalpalooza ride.

“I don’t think [the helmet law] will stop anyone, the biggest hurdle is the distance and unfriendly road.”

27-year old Kevin Antal believes Vancouver’s helmet law will “improperly” force him to wear a helmet during the Portland portion of his nine mile commute to Vancouver for work.

“I feel like my rights in Oregon are being violated by Vancouver’s helmet law… I either have to carry a helmet with me to the [I-5] bridge just so I can have it for the last mile [of my commute] or I have to ride with an helmet on in Portland just to comply with the law when I get into Vancouver… it’s stupid either way.”

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  • Dave May 25, 2011 at 12:49 pm

    Right, a 10-year-old kid got hit by a car, so let’s crack down on the cyclists and give them fines for not protecting themselves well enough. This is exactly why excessive helmet promotion is a bad thing, regardless of how effective or not helmets are. I don’t want to start a flame war, but I really see this as _the_ major issue with heavily promoting or legislating helmets – it often has the effect of shifting blame to the vulnerable person.

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  • Hans Lain May 25, 2011 at 12:51 pm

    I was pulled over on my bike once for not wearing a helmet. I wasn’t aware the city law covered all ages. The cop that pulled me over was cool about it and just gave me a warning(talked a bit and actually seemed to care and was a rider himself).

    I like the feeling of riding without a helmet, but it won’t kill me to wear one and I can think of something else to spend $50 on than a ticket.

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  • Paul May 25, 2011 at 12:52 pm

    Ridiculous as it may sound for riding a bike…but rollerskates? What’s next? Helmets for stair users? 🙂

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  • Patrick May 25, 2011 at 12:59 pm

    What if you live in Oregon, get cited for Vancouver’s helmet law and simply ignore it? Is there any recourse other than being caught in Vancouver with a warrant?

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    • Jene-Paul May 25, 2011 at 1:06 pm

      Not a lawyer, but isn’t a warrant a warrant? You get pulled over for tweeting in yer SUV*, Patrick, won’t that warrant bite you in Oregon also?

      *joke – I don’t know you or your vehicle habits

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  • Dabby May 25, 2011 at 1:06 pm

    I was slow rolling through Esther Short Park when a female officer tried to educate me about helmet use by shoving her hand up in front of my face while I was rolling by.

    After successfully not wrecking because of it, I stopped. Then she explained the helmet law to me.
    I then explained the consequences of her actions, as in shoving her hands in front of a rolling rider could get people very hurt..

    I then also explained how helmet laws based on ignorance and fear of liability do not have the same uumph and power over the public as helmet laws that are based on the premise of saving lives.

    I then stopped talking as the teenagers next to me were laughing at the police based on my statements. That is not what I was going for at all.

    My point?

    I hope that the VPD takes a more responsible stance towards this enforcement action, and does not make it so easy to be targeted because of it.

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  • Bike-Max-Bike May 25, 2011 at 1:08 pm

    Lame. I ride in Vancouver and the biggest challenges are distracted drivers (cell phone, laptop, makeup, coffee, etc.) and drivers who turn right on red lights without stopping or looking for cyclists. A helmet will not help with any of this.

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    • Jay R. May 25, 2011 at 1:26 pm

      What it will “help with” is helping you not get killed when one of those jackasses manages to hit you.

      No, nothing that you do is going to make their driving any better, but prevention might just save your life.

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      • diondatta May 25, 2011 at 3:34 pm

        Fear mongering. Cycling is not dangerous, automobiles are dangerous. In fact, most people die in car wrecks from head injury trauma; so, logically, people driving cars should be wearing helmets as well.
        Let’s pass a mandatory motoring helmet law because I wanna be your daddy and tell you what to do for your own good because I know what’s best for you. For that matter, people slip on ice and die after cracking their heads on the sidewalk…we need mandatory walking helmet laws! Hey, just following the identical logic. Requiring people to wear a piece of Styrofoam on their heads is no substitute for proper infrastructure and driver education and laws. But it sure is a lot cheaper and politically expedient.

        The more people who cycle, the safer cycling becomes because people in cars start recognizing and “seeing” bicycles. When mandatory helmet laws are imposed, the number of people who cycle drops significantly. A great case study is Copenhagen. They have studied the hell out of this and have decades of traffic/pedestrian/cyclist statistics to show that they have no greater fatalities than anywhere there are mandatory cycling helmet laws. Go to Copenhagenize.com and search for the articles and posts on the subject.

        Okay, I’m vented for now.

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        • spare_wheel May 25, 2011 at 5:45 pm

          there is also safety data showing that wearing helmets in cars dramatically reduces the risk of traumatic brain injury. wear your helmet drivers!

          PS: i wear my helmet on my daily commute because i descend at 35+ mph each day and i expect to wipe out some day. (i’ve made over 4000 trips down that hill.)

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          • diondatta May 26, 2011 at 12:38 am

            Yeah, I wear one too when I’m training on my road bike; but, to commute around town for various errands or just to enjoy the sunshine at a nice easy pace, I don’t.

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  • Allan May 25, 2011 at 1:08 pm

    Perhaps there should be a stash of helmets somewhere on the bridges so unsuspecting riders don’t have to turn around? Just an idea

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  • Alan 1.0 May 25, 2011 at 1:09 pm

    Jeopardy at the City Council: With the police budget down and violent crime up (the only city of WA’s top 5 to increase), related gang problems rising, residential burglaries up over 100%, etc, what can we do to make Vancouver citizens more cynical and estranged?

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  • BURR May 25, 2011 at 1:10 pm

    good reason not to go there

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    • cold worker May 25, 2011 at 4:07 pm

      the helmet law doesn’t break my top 10 reasons to not go to vancouver.

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      • Andrew Seger May 25, 2011 at 6:37 pm


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  • JJJ May 25, 2011 at 1:11 pm

    Skateboards and scooters too? Might as well pass the mandatory helmet-in-shower law, that’s where the real bloodbath is.

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    • El Biciclero May 26, 2011 at 9:23 am

      Don’t you mean bloodshower?

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  • Patrick May 25, 2011 at 1:26 pm

    I think if you don’t pay the ticket and live in Oregon, the ticket would be increased to some penalty amount, then after some more time go to a collection agency. If your credit rating is no worry and you don’t get caught in Washington by a cop, ignoring the ticket is a possibility. For their time it’s only a $50 fine so it would get buried under the more important paper quickly.

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  • J.R. (Dir. Keeping Lights On) May 25, 2011 at 1:47 pm

    Motor vehicles are far more dangerous to operate without a helmet. http://www.drivingwithoutdying.com
    All your favorite Nascar and Monster truck operators use ’em. So should you.

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  • John Landolfe May 25, 2011 at 1:48 pm

    If they’re so concerned, I bet the cost of a helmet handout is cheaper than police officer time.

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    • Dabby May 25, 2011 at 2:28 pm

      They did this for a time right when the law was enacted…

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  • Zombo May 25, 2011 at 1:53 pm

    What concerns me most about this law is that it permits the police to stop someone for not wearing a helmet when their real objective may be to stop someone because they suspect him of something else. In other words, it allows them to circumvent probable cause.

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    • Marcus Griffith May 25, 2011 at 2:04 pm

      The use of the helmet law being used as a pretext was discussed in the November Bike Portland article. However, the Supreme Court has long upheld that pretext stops are Constitutional so long as the pretext, by itself is a valid reason for a stop.

      Helmet law used as pretext to stop cyclist suspected of home robberies:

      Pretext stops okay, again. http://www.ndsn.org/sept96/traffic.html

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      • Zombo May 25, 2011 at 3:41 pm

        The question is whether the law was really created to protect us or to provide the police with the pretext to stop and question any suspicious looking cyclist or skateboarder in Vancouver – e.g. the homeless person riding a bicycle or the group of teenage skateboarders in Esther Short Park?

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        • matthew vilhauer May 25, 2011 at 7:13 pm

          i believe royce pollard was sincre in trying to protect the general populace with his knee-jerk helmet ordinace (it was not voted on by the citizens of vancouver) but your thought on how it has been selectively enforced is spot on.

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    • wsbob May 26, 2011 at 1:07 am

      Bikeportland reported on Vancouver’s deliberations about a bike helmet law, before and around the time the city actually voted to make such a law. Lots of people reading this site responded with comments to stories bikeportland wrote about this subject.

      Among details reported about Vancouver and its process of creating a bike helmet law, was that the Vancouver Bike Club was a solid supporter of the Vancouver helmet law that came to be.

      Did Vancouver Bike Club members fully support the specifications that the helmet law Vancouver now has? Whether they did or did not, is something I don’t recall reading in bikeportland stories. I’d still like to hear from VBC members, whether they, and the club, supports…(and, if so, why.)…the part of Vancouver’s helmet law that deprives people of all ages from exercising a personal choice to decide whether or not the type of human powered travel they opt for, calls for the use of a helmet.

      I kind of doubt the club would support the creation of an all ages helmet law just to give the police another pretext to stop people the police are curious about. Not saying they didn’t, but it seems highly unlikely they would.

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  • matthew vilhauer May 25, 2011 at 2:28 pm

    nice leading photo in the article. riding through red lights is also illegal here in vancouver.

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    • Marcus Griffith May 25, 2011 at 2:36 pm

      Matthew, at the time the photo was taken, the traffic was a “flashing” red status. As you know, numerous traffic lights in downtown Vancouver switch to flashing red status later in the evening, which requires traffic to treat them like stop signs not stop lights.

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  • Spiffy May 25, 2011 at 3:03 pm

    the kid without the helmet was riding in a crosswalk where he would legally be considered a pedestrian… pedestrians are not required to wear helmets… grey area…

    also, if the law covers passengers in trailers then a car-free couple with a new baby can’t go anywhere by bike with their kid… a helmet on a newborn would be very bad for their necks… or maybe they do make helmets for newborns and I just haven’t seen any that small… it’s tough enough to find one for a 1-year-old…

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    • diondatta May 25, 2011 at 3:38 pm

      Can you ride in the back of a pick-up truck without a helmet?

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    • Marcus Griffith May 25, 2011 at 4:17 pm

      I followed up on your concerns:

      Kim Kapp, VPD spokesperson will check with the traffic segregant on the infant helmet issue–a response should be coming soon.

      I called Vancouver city attorney’s office and the VPD, they don’t think there’s any “grey” area. The helmet law applies to all city right aways to include roads, sidewalks and parks. If you are on a bike, you need a helmet, even if you are on the sidewalk.

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    • dude May 25, 2011 at 7:37 pm

      It is really not a good idea to take newborns on bikes. They dont have the muscles in the neck to support that big head yet, bad things can happen.

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  • beelnite May 25, 2011 at 3:14 pm

    Religion… Veloculturalists?

    How come pedestrians and joggers aren’t required to wear pads and helmets?

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  • Evan May 25, 2011 at 3:30 pm

    Gotta protect cyclists from those speeding drivers. Can’t help but think of a line from Beverly Hills Cop: “What ticket do I get for being thrown out of a moving car? Jaywalking?”

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  • diondatta May 25, 2011 at 3:39 pm

    A Motorist Helmet!
    Let’s make them mandatory now!

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  • diondatta May 25, 2011 at 3:40 pm

    And another model if you didn’t fancy the headband styled one! They are soooo sexy!

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  • diondatta May 25, 2011 at 3:41 pm
    • Dave May 25, 2011 at 3:43 pm

      Um, it’s ok, we’ve got the idea.

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  • diondatta May 25, 2011 at 3:48 pm
  • David Parsons May 25, 2011 at 4:39 pm

    That’s more than slightly tipping over the edge into black helicopter territory.

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  • Todd Boulanger May 25, 2011 at 4:41 pm

    On this tangent…In the Vancouver CBD there are multiple traffic signals that are programmed to go on flash at 9 PM. These are typically the more minor intersections with little regional traffic. Before this change was made 6 (?) years ago – many a driver and cyclist would have to stop for over a minute and wait for phantom cross traffic to pass. A few other signals are now flash all day.

    Many of these signalized intersections (some crosswalks were diagonal too) go back before the war when there was more evening traffic on old Pacific Highway (Main St) and among the department stores/ card rooms. The controller equipment is very old and operates on fixed time – thus no loop detection (or ped push buttons) to detect a call from the minor sidestreets. These signals will likely become stop sign controlled some day (my assumption) unless the MAX needs it.

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    • matthew vilhauer May 25, 2011 at 5:38 pm

      thanks for the background info on traffic signals here in the humble ‘burg of vancouver. the depth of your knowledge is amazing and because you actually use your full name your statements are much more valid than “anonymous” comments and the simple fact that you connect the dots really helps. can the city adjust the sensitivity on loop control devices? there are several that do not seen to pick up a bike even when i’m stopped over the right side of the loop as i should. (4th plain & columbia especially) are helmets available at no or a reduced cost anymore? i remember “bike me vancouver” having them available at one time. i’m sure lots of folks would benefit if they knew where to find one.

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      • spare_wheel May 25, 2011 at 8:22 pm

        actually my legal name is spare_wheel.

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  • Brian May 25, 2011 at 6:55 pm

    Speaking of protecting our safety, while we’re at it…

    … let’s get some extra Portland police officers out on the street, solely to pull over and ticket the hoardes of obnoxious Vancouverite drivers tearing through our city streets illegally yakking on their cell phones, and almost mowing me over as I walk to work every day.


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    • matthew vilhauer May 25, 2011 at 7:09 pm

      a fantastic idea! sadly the extra tax dollars needed to fund enforcement of any kind would surely be voted down. and to be honest i get right hooked, cut off and generally treated as the bottom of the totem pole roadway user regardless of the state i’m riding in or the plate on the car.

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    • diondatta May 26, 2011 at 12:40 am

      They are too busy writing tickets to cyclist without a helmet. They have plenty of money for that.

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  • jim May 25, 2011 at 7:41 pm

    Is there a sign on the bridge as you enter washington telling people that helmets are mandatory? There is one for motorcycles entering Oregon

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    • Robert May 30, 2011 at 12:46 pm

      Wait a second. Can we infer from Jim’s comment that in the state of Washington motorcycle riders are not required to wear helmets, but in Vancouver, WA, bicycle riders _must_ wear helmets? Haha. Put a nasty two-stroke on your commuter bike and give it hell.

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  • The Entitled Cyclist May 25, 2011 at 7:53 pm

    it should be your right not to wear a helmet. it should also be my right not to pay for your hospital bills.

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    • esther c May 26, 2011 at 12:30 am

      How about the driver that hits me pays for my hospital bill.

      Seriously, though, I wear a helmet every time I ride a bike but its a joke. I wear one when I ski too but I’d be better off wearing it riding to and from the ski hill in my car.

      My bike helmet did save my noggin once. I came inside after riding my bike in the rain and slipped with my wet shoes on my slick tile kitchen floor smacking my head hard against some built in benches. Fortunately I still had my helmet on and lived to tell the tale.

      I think I wear the helmet as some sort of amulet or charm to protect me.

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    • diondatta May 26, 2011 at 12:39 am

      Good news, You don’t pay for my hospital bills.

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  • Rol May 25, 2011 at 8:12 pm

    This law seems ripe for a court challenge.

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  • JJJ May 26, 2011 at 2:05 am

    You know, those who brought up the whole bridge and border situation bring up an interesting point.

    Say you are using your bike on a delivery or something. You know, business.

    And say you cross the border and get stopped for breaking the local helmet law, even though theres no signage at said border.

    Isn’t this an interstate commerce clause violation? The city is forcing people conducting commerce to purchase equipment not needed elsewhere. And while locals will know of the law, outsiders do not.

    Perhaps someone with more than 3 minutes of google legal experience can chip in?

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    • Marcus Griffith May 26, 2011 at 7:26 am

      Kim Kapp was asked that question. Her response was to compare it to seat belt laws that vary–or used to vary–between regions. People are responsible for meeting laws of the area that are in, not from, according to Kapp.

      I asked the City of Vancouver about possible signs on along the I-5 and 205 Bridge paths, and was told the idea was being discussed, but haven’t received a detailed response yet.

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      • JJJ May 26, 2011 at 1:48 pm

        Theres a difference though. Most street belt laws used to, and still do, exempt cars which were never built with seat belts in the first place. You can legally drive your Model T around without buckling up.

        The laws NEVER required you to go out and purchase something new to cross a border.

        With the helmet thing, it’s different.

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  • Chris May 26, 2011 at 7:40 am

    I’m so disappointed! Where are all the anti helmet people citing Newton’s second law in a failed effort to show how helmets won’t protect you!

    I need my daily dose of pseudoscience!!

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  • Deeeebo May 26, 2011 at 8:37 am

    The science is established but irrelevant. Vancouver has decided that its citizens do not have the capacity to make informed decisions about their own well-being. By extension they should also enforce the nutritional intake, excercise and tooth-brushing habits of every individual since improper application of these activities will lead to health complications down the line. This is ultimately a question of how important we believe free will to be and if we are going to continue letting our legislators treat us like children.

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  • Nick Roberts May 26, 2011 at 1:10 pm

    I cannot believe that ANYONE would ride a bike without a helmet. It does not infringe on anyones rights. It is strickly a safety measure. When is the City of Portland going to wake up and make helmets a requirement.

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    • Robert T. May 27, 2011 at 7:41 pm

      @ Nick Roberts:

      I can’t believe you think biking is a significant source of serious head injuries. I can’t believe you really think these flimsy helmets have reduced serious head injuries. Don’t you bother to read anything about an issue before posting?

      Visit http://www.cyclehelmets.org and learn a little.

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  • JPDX May 26, 2011 at 2:45 pm

    At the very least by not wearing one I think the rider should waive all rights to sue if they are left w/ head injuries from an accident of any kind.

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  • JPDX May 26, 2011 at 2:47 pm

    How stupid do you have to be to get pulled over on a bike. Isn’t it easy to just ride off. Or, just say you don’t have any ID… see yha.

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    • Marcus Griffith May 26, 2011 at 2:54 pm

      JPDX–I hope you are being sarcastic. Washington State law is very clear on the requirements for vehicle operators to cooperate with law enforcement offices.
      Don’t make a helmet issue into a criminal matter.


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  • Deeeebo May 27, 2011 at 11:17 pm

    How does it not infringe upon our rights when someone else is mandating our actions? Please see 10th Amendment to the US Constitution. There seems to be a very troubling theme of those who cannot discern between what we should do (based on the information available to us) and what we must do (by law). Just because I really think everyone would benefit from stretching every day does not mean it should be mandatory but that is exactly what these types of laws do. They strip us of our right to decide these things for ourselves and in a situation where my actions affect me and me alone, that is nonsense.

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    • jim May 29, 2011 at 12:22 pm

      does it infringe on your rights to have to wear a seatbelt in a car? Do you want that law abolished? We do live in a place where we let the lawmakers decide what we have to do regardless of how we feal about things. If you dont like the laws then you need to vote for different lawmakers

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    • Psyfalcon May 29, 2011 at 4:14 pm

      The 10th amendment refers to states rights. A state or city is free to make such a law because of the 10th. Complain to the council, not about the constitution.

      “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

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  • North 40 May 28, 2011 at 8:10 pm

    What is Vancouver doing to inform riders north of Vancouver?

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