In the end, it was a no-brainer.
On Tuesday, Spokane County commissioners unanimously agreed – although one member reluctantly so – to a helmet ordinance that will affect unincorporated areas immediately.
The new law will only affect those from the ages from 3 up to 16, however, and carry no penalty for noncompliance – aspects that provided some bumps for Commissioner Mark Richard, who decided to go along with his colleagues anyway.
“I’ll reluctantly support this – it’s better than nothing but it falls short of the scientific data and information we’ve been presented,” Richard said.
The new law will require children to wear an approved helmet when riding or on a bicycle, electric-based bike, electric personal assistive mobility device (though not a wheelchair), in-line skates, roller skates, scooter or skateboard in a public area such as a roadway or sidewalk.
While no civil infraction will be charged in violation of the law – Commissioner Todd Mielke said law enforcement has no ability to issue a ticket to a minor and it must be proven that parents knowingly allowed their children to ride without helmets – deputies will instead issue educational information to violators that explain the necessity of protective headgear. That information will be developed by the Spokane Regional Health District.
Richard had hoped the commissioners would support his motion for a law that would affect everyone and include a law-enforcement component that could see offenders cited $50 tickets. He added that studies have shown that head injuries are reduced by 15 percent when there is no enforcement component to the law but 50 percent when there is.
But Mielke and board Chairman Al French – researching the issue since it was brought to the board in April -- said they are convinced such a law is unenforceable.
French was on the Spokane City Council when that municipality passed its law in 2004.
“My frustration with the city of Spokane’s law is the lack of enforcement,” he said. “I don’t want to repeat that mistake here.”
“I have a problem passing a law that I know that we won’t enforce,” he said. “I think we need to take a realistic approach.”
At a public hearing in July, the majority of those who testified before the commissioners were supportive of a helmet law.
There is no helmet ordinance in the cities of Spokane Valley, Liberty Lake or Millwood.