July 16, 2004 in Nation/World

Lack of logic in helmet law a big headache

Carol Macpherson The Spokesman-Review
 

Everybody buckle up, put on your sunscreen, your life jackets and your helmets – the City Council is at the wheel.

This week, the council rode roughshod over Mayor Jim West’s veto of Spokane’s silly new helmet law – which makes it illegal to bike, roller skate or skateboard without a helmet. It also covers clumsy walkers who have a tendency to trip or run into things. OK, I made up that last part.

But come on, really. This is so dumb. (And never mind it doesn’t even have a catchy irritating slogan like “Click it or Ticket.” “Got Helmet?” doesn’t work and “Helmet on or citation” really doesn’t work.)

It would be one thing if this law only covered kids under the age of 16. But it doesn’t. Grandpa must don a helmet too.

At some point, people, with the help of their families and society, must take responsibility for their actions. Governments can’t take away the right to take risks, dumb or not. The effects of cigarette smoking land more people in the hospital than bike accidents.

We know the answer isn’t to outlaw cigarettes, but to educate kids about the dangers of smoking. Just as we educate about the dangers of head injuries if you don’t wear a helmet while riding wheeled vehicles.

To look around our neighborhoods and streets and on TV, education seems to be working. You don’t even see pre-schoolers on Big Wheels without a helmet these days. But if you did, is it really something that warrants a ticket?

“Susie, we’re sorry, but if you skip pre-school tomorrow and plead your case in court, you can probably get the fine reduced.”

Which leads us to the problem of who the heck is going to enforce this thing? Did the council volunteer to patrol? Maybe we could have a toll-free number to report scofflaws? “I saw a skateboarder without a helmet. Describe him? Well, he had long, baggy shorts on … ”

The police simply don’t have the manpower or the time for this sort of law enforcement. And if they did, they wouldn’t have the motivation. Yes, they are all for safety, but they are after Bad Guys.

The police don’t mind enforcing the seat belt law because they know chances are good it could lead to the discovery of a real crime – someone with a thousand outstanding tickets, a driver wanted by the police, a rolling meth lab, even a serial killer.

But stopping somebody because they are not helmeted up? “Sir, I also notice you are not wearing spandex padded shorts. They can really help the, ah, sensitive areas.”

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How busy are the police? They are so busy they probably won’t have much time to enforce a sensible law that Mayor West signed this week – the ban on camping on city property.

The reality is, before this law became an issue, homeless people WERE NOT camping on the median outside the Spokane Club. (There might be some regulars on the park benches there, but that’s different.)

Homeless people were, and are, however, camping in parks and city property along the Spokane River. They are not visible in the same way the mini tent city erected in the median was visible. They are visible if you walk along the river.

Neighbors specifically complained about an entrenched encampment below Summit Boulevard, just north of the Hamblen Conservation Area west of the Maple Street Bridge.

Currently, construction is going on in the area to build a bridge linking the Centennial Trail. It is a great place to walk dogs, picnic, fish, ride bikes or whatever.

But the encampment and its inhabitants scare people away. Police have rousted the campers before. But the transients come back. The reason: You have to walk quite a ways down a steep hill to get to the area. And that is why the law will be hard to enforce.

The police don’t have the time or manpower to trek down there every day to make sure the transients are gone. And so it goes.

We could, however, make it easier for the police by combining the two new laws: Make it illegal to illegally camp without a helmet.

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Let’s end on a City Council high note, shall we? After an endless saga, the council this year finally approved leasing the old Salty’s restaurant site to Anthony’s, a fine seafood establishment. Anthony’s opened this week. Yahoo.

It’s right there on the Spokane River, so when you go, be sure to wear your life jacket.


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