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21 Feb, 2022 13:44

Seattle repeals ‘racist’ bicycle helmet law

Officials argue people of color and the homeless get ticketed more often than whites
Seattle repeals ‘racist’ bicycle helmet law

Officials in Seattle, Washington made it legal on Thursday to ride a bicycle without a helmet, insisting that non-white people and the homeless get disproportionally punished for the offense. 

People of color, Native Americans, and the homeless have been “bearing the brunt of disproportionate enforcement, citations, and fees,” King County Board of Health Chair Joe McDermott said, explaining the reasoning behind the change. He urged everyone to wear helmets while riding even with the new rule in place. 

Officials said they were motivated by a 2020 report by Crosscut, a local news outlet, that revealed Seattle police had issued 117 helmet citations since 2017, 40% of which went to homeless cyclists. A similar 2021 analysis from Central Seattle Greenways, a street safety group, found that black cyclists were almost four times as likely to receive a citation for riding without a helmet as white cyclists, while Native American riders were just over twice as likely to receive one as white riders. 

“Yes, we have to think about brain injury, and we also have to think about the impact on our criminal legal system,” Girmay Zahilay, a King County councilman said, as quoted by the New York Times.

Responding to the Crosscut report on the impact of the helmet mandate on the homeless, Seattle Police Department spokesman Randall Huserik said in 2020 that officers used traffic stops and citations to educate cyclists on the benefits of wearing a helmet and sought to “mitigate” the risk of injury. 

Dr. Beth Ebel, a pediatrician at Seattle's Harborview Medical Center, argued on Saturday that making riding without a helmet legal will get more people hurt, including members of non-white communities.

“I'm hopeful that the Board of Health will look at the impact of rolling back this law because most of us here are worried that we are going to see an increase in the rate of brain injury,” Ebel said in a YouTube message.