Bike Helmets No Longer Required in Seattle After Research Reveals Enforcement Disparities

The data on bike helmets have changed. Laws are starting to change too.

2 minute read

February 22, 2022, 10:00 AM PST

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

Bus Stop and Bike Lane

Green Lane Project / Flickr

The Board of Health in King County, Washington voted last week "to repeal its decades-old mandatory helmet law for bicycle riders," reports David Kroman for the Seattle Times. The decision to rescind the 1993 law came after data revealed that the law was enforced selectively, disproportionately targeting people of color and people experiencing homelessness.

As explained by Kroman, in 1993, evidence suggested that mandatory helmet laws would increase helmet use and reduce the severity of injuries. Kroman provides this summary of more recent research:

But recent data connecting helmet laws to their use and improved outcomes for cyclists is less clear. In Seattle, helmet use among riders of private bikes is as high as 91%, according to one study. Meanwhile, in Portland, which does not have an all-ages helmet law, one study found use is similarly highA study in King County could not find any discernible impact on hospitalization rates following the law’s expansion into Seattle in 2003, although severity of injuries did decrease around the same time.   

A separate article by Bicycle Retailer digs into the research behind the decision, including a study by Ethan Campbell, a PhD candidate at the University of Washington. A December 2020 article by Kroman, writing for Crosscut at the time, revealed data about the use of mandatory helmet laws to cite people experiencing homelessness.

The decision to drop the county's mandatory helmet laws to disparate impacts also made the New York Times, in an article by Sophie Kasakove.

Thursday, February 17, 2022 in The Seattle Times

Chicago Intercity Rail

Amtrak Ramping Up Infrastructure Projects

Thanks to federal funding from the 2021 infrastructure act, the agency plans to triple its investment in infrastructure improvements and new routes in the next two years.

September 25, 2023 - Smart Cities Dive

View of Interstate 205 bridge over Columbia River with Mt. Hood in background.

The Unceremonious Death of a Freeway Expansion Project

The end of an Oregon freeway project didn't get much fanfare, but the victory is worth celebrating.

September 19, 2023 - Streetsblog USA

Google maps street view of San Francisco alleyway.

Ending Downtown San Francisco’s ‘Doom Loop’

A new public space project offers an ambitious vision—so why is the city implementing it at such a small scale?

September 26, 2023 - Fast Company

Aerial view of coastal development and bright blue ocean in Kaua'i, Hawai'i.

Kaua’i County Uses Long-Range Models to Mandate Resiliency Standards

The county requires builders to assess potential flood risks using models that account for sea level rise projected as far out as 2100.

September 28 - Smart Cities Dive

Semi truck driving down freeway with twilight sky in background.

California Governor Vetoes Autonomous Truck Ban

Gov. Newsom called the new law unnecessary, citing existing efforts by state regulators to develop new rules around autonomous trucking.

September 28 - Wired

Roadside motel with turquoise room doors in Tucumcari, New Mexico.

Low-Barrier Motel Shelter Is a Success—But Not an Easy One

Many guests at Motels4Now are on their second or third stays—but staff say that's doesn't equal failure, and the numbers bear that out.

September 28 - Shelterforce Magazine

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.