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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane County may require helmets

Public hearing scheduled on wide-reaching proposal

Spokane County commissioners will take testimony Tuesday on a proposal to require helmet use on just about anything that has wheels and isn’t a car.

The proposed ordinance would apply to bicycles with or without electric motors, even if their wheels are only 11 inches in diameter, and to tricycles with a 20-inch or larger wheel.

It also would apply to motorized foot scooters and skateboards, but not motorized wheelchairs and similar “medically related” devices.

Nonmotorized scooters, roller skates, in-line skates, skate shoes and skateboards also would require helmet use in “public areas” of the unincorporated county.

Further, any passengers – including those being towed – must wear an approved helmet. Chin straps must be “fastened securely.”

The ordinance defines public areas as any right of way – including roads, sidewalks or bicycle paths – or any county-owned and -operated property, such as parks.

An approved helmet is one that meets standards set by one of four organizations: the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, the American National Standards Institute, the Snell Foundation or the American Society for Testing and Materials.

Parents and guardians would be responsible for requiring children younger than 16 to wear helmets, but not necessarily for violations outside their view. It would be an “affirmative defense” if guardians required helmet use while children are in their presence.

Each child without a helmet is a potential fine for a parent. There’s no quantity discount if siblings all doff their helmets.

Thus, a brood of three scofflaws could rack up six penalties – three for themselves and three for the parent who didn’t make them wear their helmets. That’s a $312 smack in the wallet.

Each violation would be a Class 4 civil infraction, punishable by $52 in fines and fees. However, the proposed ordinance authorizes courts to let violators off with a warning if they get a helmet or take a helmet-safety class and have had no previous violation within a year.

Aside from riders and guardians, the ordinance would apply to race organizers and businesses that rent bicycles or other wheel-sport gear. Race organizers would have to require helmet use, and rental businesses would have to make sure customers have approved helmets and know the law.

Businesses that sell helmets for use in the unincorporated county could sell only approved models, but yard- and rummage-sale vendors would be excused.

In announcing Tuesday’s public hearing, county commissioners reserved the right to limit the ordinance to children ages 5 through 15 and to eliminate the penalty section without another hearing.

The hearing will be at 5:30 p.m. in the basement of the Public Works Building, 1026 W. Broadway Ave., next to the courthouse.

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