Thursday, October 30, 2014

Bike Sharing and Helmet Mandates

Seattle's new bike-sharing program, Pronto, recently launched. Currently, there are 500 bikes available to rent from 50 stations located in the neighborhoods of Capitol Hill, Belltown, South Lake Union, and the University District, among others. In fact, a Pronto station is located just steps away from the Gallagher Law Library, between William H. Gates Hall and Burke Museum of Natural History. That station has 12 docks for bikes, and, as of this writing, there are 7 bikes available to rent.
Map of Pronto bike stations
Map of Pronto stations

With the launch of Pronto, Seattle joins other cities in the United States, like Boston, Chicago, the District of Columbia, and New York City, with bike-sharing programs. However, Seattle is unique among those cities insofar as Seattle, and all of King County, require that cyclists wear helmets. Although Seattle is the first U.S. city to try to implement bike sharing while mandating helmets, cities outside of the United States have faced the same issue. For instance, Vancouver, Canada, has been engaged in a years-long and oft-delayed effort to implement bike sharing. Critics contend that the delays are largely attributable to British Columbia’s bike helmet mandate. Currently, Vancouver is anticipating a launch date in 2015. Melbourne, Australia, implemented a bike-sharing program alongside a mandatory helmet law. That system, despite an available government subsidy for users to purchase a helmet, has not had the success enjoyed by other cities with bike-sharing that do not mandate helmets. Notably, as of August 2014, no fatalities have been recorded in the United States among bike-share users since the launch of the first program in 2007.

For an in depth look at bicycle helmet statutes across the United States, see John B. Egberts et al., Bicycle Helmet Statutes: An Analysis of State Legislation, 23 J. Legal Aspects of Sport 36 (2013). In that article, the authors discovered that nine states that mandate bike helmets provided in their statutes that failure to wear a helmet would not be admissible at trial as evidence of a cyclist’s negligence. See id. at 41-42.

Image of unicyclists racing
Unicyclists racing
The Municipal Research and Services Center, which is an excellent source of Washington state city and county codes, has a subject guide on Bicycle Regulations and Operations. That subject guide includes relevant sections of the Revised Code of Washington and local government bicycle regulations, including a link to a table listing bicycle helmet requirements in Washington. Exploring local bicycle regulations on the Municipal Research and Services Center, I learned that Walla Walla's municipal code provides that a bicycle includes the term “unicycle” and “adult-size three-wheel cycle.” Walla Walla, Washington, Municipal Code § 10.19.020. Consequently, it is illegal to race unicycles on city streets in Walla Walla without a permit, which is required for "any bicycle race." Walla Walla, Washington, Municipal Code § 10.19.090.
Map image from
Unicycle race picture from

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