The King County Board of Health repealed a law Thursday that required cyclists to wear helmets due to "equity" as well as "racist and discriminatory" enforcement.
The BOH claimed in a statement that "...data presented to the Board of Health has shown racist and discriminatory enforcement. Seattle Police Department data collected and analyzed by Seattle Neighborhood Greenways and the Helmet Law Working Group shows that police disproportionately gave helmet law citations to Black, Indigenous, and People of Color cyclists."
"Their analysis found that Black riders were nearly four times as likely to be cited by police for not wearing a helmet while biking compared to White riders."
However, many residents were quick to point out that this was likely designed to protect the "homeless" who are normally seen on the streets riding stolen bike shares cycles. Parts of the cycles as well as cycles stolen from neighbors are commonly found in homeless encampments around the city, many containing chop shops for bicycle parts.
Indeed, the statement itself seemed to support this theory. "Further, in Seattle, nearly half of the citations issued for biking without a helmet were given to people living homeless."
This despite the King County Council previously having allocated "…$221,000 in the supplemental budget passed in November 2021 to support Public Health’s work distributing free helmets to those who may have trouble accessing them and promoting bike safety."
Ironically, the BOH stated the risk that not wearing a helmet can pose to riders in the same statement. "Bike helmets save lives and help prevent serious injuries. A review of several published studies estimates that bike helmets provide a 63-88% reduction in the risk of head and brain injuries for people who ride bikes. As part of the movement to encourage the use of bike helmets, the King County Board of Health passed a law in 1993 requiring anyone riding a bike to wear a helmet."
The BOH even noted the contradictory themes between claiming that "In light of this data, and in alignment with the Board of Health's declaration of Racism as a Public Health crisis, on February 17, 2022, the Board of Health repealed the King County bike helmet law while affirming the importance of helmets in preventing serious injury and death. In a companion resolution passed in the same meeting, the Board of Health emphasized the importance of helmet use for bikes, scooters and other similar vehicles and committed to work with community partners to expand access to low and no-cost helmets, provide education on helmet safety, and support the improvements for safer bike infrastructure."
Despite the obvious contradictions between the data that helmets prevent injury and death and the BOH repeated claims to follow "science and data" on public health, their own statement expressed the importance of wearing helmets despite the repeal of the law. "Wearing a properly fitted helmet while riding a bike is vital to protecting against potential head injuries. Public Health and the Board of Health strongly encourage everyone to wear a helmet while riding a bike. Many programs and organizations in King County provide free or reduced-cost bike helmets, and King County Council has allocated additional funds to support expanded access to low and no-cost bike helmets."
The repeal of the law has given ammo to many critics who question the BOH's mission in protecting public health.
The BOH has been under fire as health officials are pushing to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine for children to attend school in Washington state despite the low risk the virus presents to school-aged children and its reported side effects.
Ironically on Thursday, the same day as the repeal, a Technical Advisory Group tasked with evaluating the mandate for children approved several criteria to include the vaccine as a prerequisite for attending school in the state despite noting the reported side effects of the virus. The TAG group had previously approved criteria finding that the vaccine prevents transmission of the disease.
The final meeting for the TAG group to consider the final criteria and possible inclusion of the vaccine as mandatory for schools will be on Feb. 24.
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