The King County Board of Health signaled its support to repeal the county’s bicycle helmet law Thursday, but voted to delay taking formal action until November to address community messaging and outreach.

While members expressed unanimous support of helmet use while on bicycles and scooters, questions during Thursday’s board meeting centered on whether current helmet laws are effective and on racial disparities in enforcement. 

The debate over the helmet law follows reports on how citations are doled out by police and various calls by community members and groups to repeal the law, citing unequal enforcement toward homeless and Black cyclists in the last year.

“The question before us is the methods of enforcement, the involvement of police officers in a noncriminal activity, the financial impact of citations and whether there are alternative paths,” said King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay.

The public comment portion of the meeting Thursday lasted more than an hour, with people speaking enthusiastically both for and against the repeal.

Some speakers argued repealing the law would send a message to children that helmets are optional, and that traumatic brain injuries disproportionately affect poor and marginalized communities during recovery.

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Other speakers questioned whether the law, rather than cultural norms, leads to helmet use, and whether the law can still be encouraged without a punitive policy involving police.

Racial disparities prompt calls to repeal King County’s bicycle helmet law

Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles, who initially raised the issue to the board, requested spending another month addressing the issue and including physicians in the process.

“I keep thinking about the messages that kids and youth and others will get if they heard that the King County Board of Health repealed the law,” she said.

Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda said the Seattle Department of Transportation also supports the repeal, paired with engineering and educational improvements.

The King County Board of Health will meet next on Nov. 18, but a date to vote on the helmet law was not set Thursday.

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An analysis of nearly 1,700 helmet citations issued between 2003 and 2020 in Seattle found Black cyclists received infractions at a rate nearly four times higher than white cyclists. The research was conducted by a University of Washington doctoral student for Central Seattle Greenways, a branch of the street safety group Seattle Neighborhood Greenways.


An analysis of court records by news organization Crosscut found 43% of citations between 2017 and 2020 were issued to people struggling with homelessness.

Under the law, violators can face a $30 fine, though the total can rise to $154 after court fees.

While there is no state law requiring cyclists to wear helmets, some cities and counties have enacted mandatory helmet laws, including Bellevue, Kent, Renton, Snohomish County and unincorporated Pierce County. In King County, 17 jurisdictions, representing 35% of the county, have their own helmet laws that would be unaffected by a repeal, according to a staff report.

Tacoma repealed its helmet law for bikes and scooters in 2020.