News

Bike helmet loophole plugged

By ERICA HALL

The Mirror

Federal Way has enacted a bicycle helmet ordinance that allows police to enforce a bike helmet law locally instead of through the county district courts.

Several city officials were surprised when they discovered the city didn’t actually have a law on the books requiring bicyclists to wear helmets. Councilwoman Jeanne Burbidge, chairwoman of the city’s Parks, Human Services and Public Safety Committee, said city officials discovered there wasn’t a city code requiring bike helmets when they double-checked to make sure city code was in line with county law.

“I think a lot of us assumed we were consistent,” she said.

Now that the law is on the books, local police will be able to issue violation tickets that will be heard in Federal Way Municipal Court instead of the county’s District Court system. Violation of the bike helmet code is a traffic infraction with a monetary fine of $47.

According to statistics gathered by the King County Health Board, more than 850 people of all ages were hospitalized between 1997 and 2001 after a bike crash. Twenty-four of them died, and head injuries accounted for 60 percent of the bike crash-related deaths, according to county statistics.

Public safety experts estimate helmets can reduce head injuries by up to 85 percent.

Injuries from bicycles and non-motorized vehicles were fifth on the list of causes for hospitalization of children under 18 years old in the county’s south end, according to the Seattle-King County Public Health Department. Countywide, bicycle or other non-motor vehicle related accidents were the second-leading cause of hospitalization for children ages 5 to 9, third-highest for children 10 to 14 and eighth-highest for children 15 to 17.

Almost twice as many children live in south King County as in either Seattle or the Eastside, according to the Health Department, and almost five times more children live here than in north King County.

Only about a third of bicyclists in Federal Way were seen wearing helmets during an observation conducted by the Washington Transportation and Safety Commission in October 2003. Adults and preschoolers were more likely to wear helmets — 71 percent and 78 percent respectively — but only about a third of teenagers and children wore helmets during the observation period.

Several local organizations host bike helmet awareness and fitting events annually. The Federal Way Fire Department, the Kiwanis Club and the Mary Bridge Multi-Care Coalition hold four events a year. Two have been scheduled — one for Federal Way’s Festival Days celebration this summer and the other during the Fire Department’s safety fair in October.

The city ordinance isn’t different from the county bike helmet law, which states any person riding a bicycle, riding as a passenger on a bicycle or riding in tow of a bicycle in Federal Way must wear a helmet with the neck or chin strap fastened, but local officials are hoping the passage of the ordinance will reiterate the importance of wearing a helmet.

The city ordinance also states bike race or bike event promoters or organizers must require participants to wear bike helmets and the person managing the event has to include notice of the bike helmet requirement in promotional information.

Federal Way businesses that rent bikes have to supply bike helmets along with the bikes, according to the city code, and rental papers must notify the bicyclist of the bike helmet requirement.

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