Most Dallas City Council members favor changing a city ordinance that requires cyclists to wear helmets on city streets.
Council will vote next week on whether to repeal the bike helmet ordinance outright, change it to require helmets only for people 16 and younger or keep the ordinance as is.
Only one Council member, Vonciel Jones Hill of South Oak Cliff, spoke directly against any change in the ordinance during a briefing on the topic Wednesday.
Hill says the ordinance helps bike riders make a choice for safety.
“Because we are an automobile city, we need to make every move possible to make sure people make the right decisions,” she said. “I do not believe requiring helmets will discourage bicycle use in any way.”
The city’s bicycle task force and then the City Council’s quality of life committee suggested changing the ordinance to make bike-share programs feasible in Dallas. In other words, specifically because the bike helmet law discourages bike use.
A story in the Dallas Morning News this week points out what most cyclists in Dallas already know: There is only one cop that regularly hands out no-helmet tickets in Dallas. The ordinance is applied unevenly, and it’s used not as a way to enforce safety but as probable cause for police to question suspicious-looking or bothersome people on bikes.
Dallas uses the helmet ordinance “as a criminal tool rather than as a way of protecting the public,” Councilman Phillip Kingston said.
The job of police “is not to make sure everyone is wearing their helmets,” Kingston said. “Their job is to stop crime, and that’s how they’re using this ordinance.”
He added that there is no evidence to correlate a reduction in serious injuries or fatalities related to cycling and helmet ordinances.
“If it’s a public safety issue, that changes the conversation,” he said. “But these ordinances simply do not have an affect on public safety.”
Kingston favors nixing the ordinance outright.
Most other Council members, including Jennifer Gates, Lee Kleinman, Carolyn Davis, Scott Griggs, Rick Callahan and Sandy Greyson said they would support a change in the ordinance so that only children 16 and younger would be required to wear helmets.
Children’s Medical Center argues against changing the ordinance because about 93 patients enter their trauma center every year from bicycle-related injuries. About 75 percent of those cases involve children not wearing helmets (despite the ordinance requiring it).
A Washington, D.C. group called Safe Kids Worldwide sent a letter to City Council arguing that accidents are the leading cause of death in children, but it offers no proof that a helmet ordinance reduces such fatalities. The letter does argue that parents should wear helmets as an example for children, a case with which everyone on City Council seems to agree.