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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
News >  Spokane

Getting There: County weighs mandatory bike helmet-use law

Bicyclists use the Centennial Trail on Aug. 4 near Gonzaga University. County commissioners this month are expected to consider an ordinance for mandatory helmet use within unincorporated Spokane County. (Dan Pelle)
Bicyclists use the Centennial Trail on Aug. 4 near Gonzaga University. County commissioners this month are expected to consider an ordinance for mandatory helmet use within unincorporated Spokane County. (Dan Pelle) Buy this photo
Sara Leaming And Scott Maben Staff writers

As deputies describe it, the 6-year-old boy hit by a truck in Newman Lake on July 28 bounced between the Dodge’s undercarriage and the asphalt like a pinball.

The boy’s bicycle helmet, which cracked in two places, may have saved his life. According the Sheriff’s Office, the boy is at home recovering from his injuries. If not for the helmet, the injuries could have been fatal, said Detective Dave Thornburg with the Sheriff’s Office traffic unit.

“I’ve been investigating crashes for 20 years, and usually the impact with the vehicle isn’t what kills,” Thornburg said of crashes involving bicycles or pedestrians and cars. “It’s usually when the occupant comes off the vehicle and their head hits the pavement.”

It’s one of many statistics that county commissioners will think about this month as they consider an ordinance for mandatory helmet use within unincorporated Spokane County. The law covers all wheeled transport, including bicycles, skateboards and scooters. The city of Spokane enacted a similar helmet law in 2004. Idaho has no state or local helmet laws.

Jurisdictions within the county, including Spokane Valley, Liberty Lake and Airway Heights, would still need to pass similar laws, officials said.

“There is a real fine line between a close call and a tragedy, and oftentimes that line is a helmet,” said Marion Lee, an injury prevention specialist with the Spokane Regional Health District.

Research shows that ordinances increase helmet use, even without enforcement, Lee said. Within five years of passing a law, communities see a 16 percent or more reduction in bicycle fatalities, statistics show.

“It really does change the culture of a community to have some policies in place that support health and safety,” Lee said.

It also reduces the number of injuries.

Of the children admitted to Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center for bicycle-related injuries between June 2010 and May, 25 percent were wearing helmets, hospital officials said. None of the patients who wore helmets sustained severe brain or head injuries, said Denise McCurdy, pediatric trauma coordinator at Sacred Heart.

The compliance rate is higher for adults. Of patients 18 and older admitted to the hospital for injuries related to bicycle crashes, 46 percent were wearing helmets, she said.

“Helmets reduce the risk of head injury and brain injury by 88 to 85 percent if worn correctly,” McCurdy said.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, nearly 70 percent of all fatal bicycle crashes involve head injuries.

“You can wear all the protective gear you want to, but most likely you will still have some kind of injury,” McCurdy said. Wearing a helmet reduces the severity of the injury, or the chance of death.

A public hearing on the proposed ordinance is scheduled for 5 p.m. Aug. 23 in the commissioners hearing room, lower level, Public Works building, 1026 W. Broadway Ave.

Idaho website for young drivers

The Idaho Transportation Department’s Office of Highway Safety offers young drivers and their parents an online resource promoting safe driving among young adults.

The website,, provides links, videos and stories about distracted driving, impaired driving, winter driving, driver’s education, motorcycles, passenger safety, bicycles, pedestrians and even how to change a tire.

Visitors can connect to the ITD’s 511 travel information site for the latest road and weather conditions. Links to the ITD’s home page, safety statistics, Idaho’s Division of Motor Vehicles and driver education programs at public and commercial schools also are available.

Wellesley Avenue paving planned

Another section of Wellesley Avenue will be paved and traffic islands will be installed this week. Wellesley from Milton to Belt streets is closed and will reopen Friday. Wellesley from Belt to Ash streets is reduced to one lane in each direction.

Five Mile-Strong intersection closed

The intersection of Five Mile and Strong roads will be closed for paving Tuesday, 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Southbound motorists will be detoured to Johannsen Road to Cedar Road.; northbound traffic will be detoured to Cedar Road.; eastbound traffic will be detoured to Indian Trail Road.

Spokane Valley projects:

• Fancher Road between Broadway and Trent avenues is reduced to one lane at night until Wednesday.

• The west half of the Indiana Avenue/Sullivan Road intersection is closed through Aug. 20 around the clock for resurfacing and to add a new turn lane from Indiana onto southbound Sullivan. After today, access to Indiana east of Sullivan will also be available from Barker Road, then east on Mission and along the new Indiana extension.

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