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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

County considers bicycle helmet law

Panel to draft ordinance, plans public hearing

County commissioners agreed Tuesday to consider a bicycle helmet ordinance.

Users of skateboards, roller skates and scooters also might be required to wear helmets in unincorporated portions of Spokane County.

Commissioners plan to draft an ordinance and schedule a public hearing after receiving more information from the Spokane Regional Health District and the city of Spokane, which adopted a helmet law in 2004.

Among other things, commissioners want to know how well city officials believe their ordinance has worked and whether they would recommend any changes.

Marion Lee, a Spokane Regional Health District injury prevention specialist, made the case for helmets in a presentation requested by Commissioner Mark Richard.

Richard said his service on the Health District board persuaded him to encourage his family to resume using helmets – a habit that lapsed when they moved from Spokane to Spokane Valley.

In June 2005, the Spokane Valley City Council voted 4-3 against an ordinance requiring children to wear helmets.

The Spokane ordinance applies to all ages.

Commission Chairman Al French voted for the Spokane ordinance when he was on the City Council. He said he still considers it a “reasonable regulation” of public thoroughfares to reduce societal costs of accidents.

Debilitating head injuries often create a significant public burden with treatment and remedial education costs, Lee said.

She said bicycle and other “wheel sport” accidents sent 1,299 Spokane County residents to emergency rooms in 2007 – including 61 skull fractures and serious concussions that generated $451,400 in emergency room bills.

On top of that, Lee said, 16 of the skull fractures and concussions required $416,000 worth of inpatient treatment.

She said the normal cost of educating a child is about $8,200 a year, but the cost jumps to $29,200 for one with a brain injury. And lifetime care of a brain-injured child costs an estimated $7.5 million.

A 2008 state survey of eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders showed 90 percent of them rarely or never used a helmet. Yet they are precisely the people who need helmets, Lee said.

She said youths 10 to 17 years old account for 1 in 3 cycle-related concussions and more than one-third of the skull fractures.

According to Lee, studies have shown bicycle helmets are 65 to 88 percent effective in preventing head and brain injuries.

Richard said he is “fully in support” of a helmet law.

Commissioner Todd Mielke said he also believes in helmet use, and is a “huge” supporter of a program in which deputies and volunteers give prizes to kids who wear helmets.

However, Mielke cited lack of enforcement of helmet rules at skateboard parks, and said he is reluctant to pass a law that can’t or won’t be enforced. He suggested starting with parks and portions of the Centennial Trail that are under county jurisdiction.

Lee said helmet laws have increased use 26 percent in New York state, 40 percent in Maryland and 45 percent in Georgia.

Law-abiding people will gradually embrace helmets just as they have seat belts, she said.