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.
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.
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).
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.”