Support for a bicycle helmet law in unincorporated Spokane County was overwhelming at a public hearing Tuesday evening.
Several of some two dozen people who addressed county commissioners offered personal examples of the power of helmets to save lives.
Dr. Tim Seppa was allowed to take cuts in the lineup of speakers because of discomfort from injuries that required him to wear a “halo” traction brace – a four-posted device to immobilize his head and neck.
Seppa said he shattered a vertebra when he crashed his bicycle into a parked truck three weeks ago on High Drive.
“My helmet was cracked by the impact, and I assume that my skull and brain would have been similarly injured had I not been wearing a helmet,” Seppa said.
Brenda Goehring showed photos of her battered daughter, Alex, who was hit by a car exactly eight years earlier at age 14 while riding a bicycle without a helmet.
“Hell looks like a comatose child for weeks on end,” Goehring said. “Hell looks like bills that totaled over a quarter of a million dollars.”
She said Alex recovered, but still suffers some difficulties from her injuries.
“I wouldn’t be sharing my story today if I hadn’t had a helmet,” Jeannette Murphy said of a bicycle “face plant” that knocked her unconscious and muddled her mind for several months.
Heleen Dewey, a Spokane Regional Health District employee, said she was focused on her 10-year-old son’s broken bones and “road rash” a week ago Monday when an emergency room physician made the sobering comment, “Good thing he had a helmet.”
Only a couple of speakers opposed a proposal to require helmets for everyone who uses a bicycle, skateboard, roller skates, foot scooter or similar devices in public areas.
One critic, Hank Greer, said he is a bicycle commuter who recognizes the value of wearing a helmet. He said he uses a helmet for his commutes, but doesn’t think he should have to use one for “puttering around the neighborhood.”
Others who wanted changes in the proposed ordinance called for making it broader or stronger.
At the conclusion of 2 ½ hours of testimony, Commissioner Mark Richard said he would like to study some of the improvements speakers suggested.
But, Richard said, citing testimony from numerous emergency workers and safety officials, “I can’t think of any more compelling evidence that I need.”
On his motion, commissioners voted unanimously to keep taking written comments through Sept. 2, and to decide the issue at their meeting at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 13.
Commissioners Al French and Todd Mielke were noncommittal during Tuesday’s meeting, but French said afterward that the testimony “was very compelling.”
Mielke said he wanted more data about whether reported head injuries occurred in Spokane, which already has a helmet ordinance, or elsewhere in the county.
However, Mielke said he believes people without insurance transfer the cost of their injuries to the rest of society, “so maybe if you want to use the public right of way, there is a trade-off.”