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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

State Helmet Law Faces Another Setback Second Benton County Judge Rules Law Unconstitutional

Associated Press

A second Benton County judge has ruled the state must make another try at revising its mandatory motorcycle helmet law to meet constitutional requirements.

Superior Court Judge Duane Taber has dismissed citations against seven motorcyclists on grounds that the 1991 law remains unconstitutional.

As a result, county authorities don’t plan to enforce the measure.

“Basically, there is no helmet law in Benton County now,” Deputy Prosecutor Beau Harlan said.

Prosecutors haven’t decided whether to appeal Taber’s ruling, Harlan said.

In 1993, the late Judge Albert Yencopal, then on the Benton County Superior Court bench, ruled that the law was unconstitutionally vague. The state Court of Appeals upheld his ruling last June.

The appellate court directed the state to change the law to meet constitutional requirements.

After the law was enacted, the Washington State Patrol adopted standards from the Code of Federal Regulations that detail helmet specifications.

The appellate court said the federal code’s lengthy description of helmet requirements, including 11 pages of diagrams and charts, was highly technical and incomprehensible to average citizens.

The State Patrol made some changes last July, but Taber ruled last week that the state hadn’t corrected the problem.

“We’ve got to get them (the State Patrol) to put something that is constitutional in writing so we can start enforcing it,” Harlan said.

State Patrol spokesman Lt. Lonnie Brackins on Wednesday said agency officials hoped prosecutors would appeal Taber’s ruling to the state Supreme Court.

After last June’s appellate court ruling, the State Patrol rewrote the language describing helmet standards, using terms that agency officials believed citizens could understand, Brackins said.

The patrol likely wouldn’t make further changes based on a single lower court’s ruling, Brackins said.

“It’s very difficult for us to reopen this and respond with something that judges in all 39 counties like,” he said.

“If they want standards for the consumer, they should put them in words the consumer can understand,” said Ed Alden, a Kennewick attorney who represented the seven motorcyclists.