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How Pronto plans to make bike share work even with Seattle’s helmet law

PRONTO_Helmet_FINAL (1)King County has a very rare all-ages helmet law, which will certainly complicate the launch and daily operations of Pronto Cycle Share in September. But fueled by a grant from Seattle Children’s, they are forging ahead with an ambitious and novel plan to make it work using a streamlined and simple helmet checkout and return solution.

More than 40 cities in the United States have bike share systems, but none have an all-ages helmet law like Seattle. Until this year Dallas had a similar helmet law, but they changed it to apply only to those under 18 to make way for, you guessed it, bike share.

We have suggested several times that the county Health Board should change the helmet regulation to ensure the success of bike share here, which is dependent on people making easy and affordable spontaneous trips. The need to always have a helmet with you or to spend money to check out a helmet for every trip could complicate the system enough to significantly lower usage.

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The crux of our argument is that bike share systems have proven to increase safety for all bike users in the cities where they are successful, even though system users have a relatively low helmet use rate. From a public health standpoint, the goal of any rule should be to decrease injuries, especially serious head injuries. Bike share absolutely does increase safety, but the data is inconclusive about whether adult helmet laws do the same.

PRONTO_Helmet_FINAL (1)-backWhile repealing the law is one option, there are other options. We could change the rule to apply only to those under 18, as Dallas did a few months ago. That way the law remains the same for minors, but adults (and, therefore, most bike share users) can decide for themselves. We also suggested a compromise option for people afraid to repeal it entirely: Make it a secondary offense. That way people who are otherwise biking safely and following traffic laws won’t need to worry about getting a ticket, but people who bike dangerously without a helmet run the risk of a double ticket.

However, there has been little political movement on any of these ideas, and Pronto is forging ahead into the murky waters of trying to launch a successful bike share system in a city with an adult helmet law.

But lest you point to Melbourne’s mostly failed system as evidence that it cannot work, Pronto is going well above and beyond Melbourne’s efforts by installing a helmet vending machine at all 50 stations. Helmet rental is optional. You can bring your own or flout the law and go without, though the system checkout process will make it clear that the law requires a helmet.

The cost to rent a clean helmet will be $1.50 for members or $2 for people with a day-use pass, and you will have to pay the fee each time a helmet is checked out. When users dock the bike at the end of their trip, they will scan their pass or swipe their card again and return the helmet back to the machine. If you don’t return it, congratulations! You are now the proud owner of a Pronto helmet (your card will be charged something in the neighborhood of $15 for the privilege, which is actually a pretty good deal on a helmet if you were in the market).

The returned helmets will then be collected by Pronto staff, who will also be driving around the city to rebalance bikes from full stations to empty ones. These same staff will also restock the helmet machines. The used helmets will be cleaned and inspected for damage before going back into circulation.

I did not get a chance to see the bike share helmets in person, but I did get some concept images (above). They basically look like white Bern helmets with a big P on the side (at launch they will likely look a bit differently due to the need to rush to get the system launched on time).

While this helmet solution has a lot more promise to work (assuming it functions as designed) than efforts in Melbourne, it does make using Pronto slower, more expensive and more of a hassle than systems in other cities.

You can get around the cost by bringing your own helmet, which I’m sure some people will do. But for those who don’t want to carry a helmet with them wherever they go, an extra $1.50 – $2 for every single trip will really add up over the course of a year. A year membership will cost $85 for unlimited 30-minute trips, but two helmet rentals five days a week would cost $780 in a year (obviously, users this heavy should just buy a helmet). But even if you only use bike share once a week, helmet rentals alone could cost $81, nearly as much as the membership itself.

The helmet vending solution will offer benefits over systems in other cities. For example, it will help reach people who want a helmet and would not consider using the system without one. In a city like Seattle where helmet use and promotion is far higher than most major cities in the world, this is especially important.

But it could become a serious problem for the system if most users are expected to rent helmets each time they ride. It’s easy to use the system many times throughout the course of a day, and the helmet rental (or lugging a helmet around) could be an impediment. It also adds cost and maintenance to the system, and the machines take up space in station areas that could have otherwise been used to add more docking spaces.

A UW bike share feasibility study for bike share that in part led to the creation of Pronto made it clear that the system could be at risk for reduced use if a solution is not found:

Unless a way around the helmet law in King County is discovered, the helmet requirement could dramatically reduce the number of bike-share riders by eliminating the spontaneity of bike-share use.

Is the Pronto helmet vending system enough for make the system succeed? We’ll see. The September launch of Pronto will definitely be fascinating to watch.

I’m particularly interested in how the police and our general social norms treat helmet use by system users. After all, a short bike trip to lunch halfway across the neighborhood is not an inherently dangerous activity, and I suspect many people will just forgo the helmet. Will the police make enforcement of the helmet law a priority? Will social norms ignore these helmet-free users, or will people step in to admonish them? Or will people happily don helmets and make the system flourish anyway?

We will know soon enough.

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74 responses to “How Pronto plans to make bike share work even with Seattle’s helmet law”

  1. Good writeup. But wait, $90 a year?

  2. Josh

    The solution is to go around Seattle/King County Public Health.

    Bicycles are vehicles. Vehicle equipment regulations should be uniform state-wide.

    It seems like it shouldn’t be hard to convince a majority of the Legislature to preempt the vehicle equipment regulation, including bicycle equipment.

    The right can say they’re doing it to protect individuals from the nanny state and preserve uniform rule of law; the left can point out that many, if not most, helmet citations are pretextual stops of minorities and the poor.

    1. Andres Salomon

      “Bicycles are vehicles. Vehicle equipment regulations should be uniform state-wide.”

      I disagree. Are you suggesting that people on bicycles be required to wear seat belts? Or that we should do away with seat belt laws because they’re not applicable to all vehicles (including motorcycles)?

      1. Joseph Singer

        People in cars should be required to wear helmets if we are going to take all this protection to its logical conclusion.

      2. Josh

        No, but right now, Seattle could adopt that rule themselves, and the Legislature would let them do it.

        The regulations should be uniform across the state — your equipment requirements should not change when you cross city or county lines.

      3. Josh

        The seat belt law is already uniform state-wide. It simply doesn’t apply to bicycles. But it applies to motorists, no matter which city they’re in at the time.

      4. Andres Salomon

        I see, I misunderstood your comment. I agree that vehicle regulations should not differ between counties.

    2. Josh

      If anyone else happens to agree that the Legislature is the place to go with this issue, the following text has been edited down to fit the 1000-character limit of the constituent email function at http://app.leg.wa.gov/DistrictFinder/

      The Legislature should pre-empt the field of bicycle equipment regulation, so that requirements for bicycles do not change when riders cross invisible city and county lines. Bicycles are vehicles under state law, and should be regulated by the state, not a patchwork of local rules.

      Years ago, based on flawed research, King County Public Health adopted an all-ages helmet law for bicycles in King County. It has since become clear that mandatory helmet laws have a negative public health impact.

      No member of the Public Health board wants to be on-record repealing the rule – it’s lousy policy, but has strong superficial appeal.

      The Legislature can fix this with one simple act – “In the interest of state-wide uniformity for travelers on public highways, the Legislature pre-empts the field of bicycle equipment regulation. No city, county, or other municipality shall impose any equipment requirement on the operation of bicycles beyond those established by state law.”

      What do you think?

      1. IANAL

        Well, you did ask what I think;
        First, the “flawed research” _exaggerated_ the benefit, people a whole lot more important than you will claim there is still a benefit to helmet use.

        “Negative impact” [Citation needed]; If you want to move to Copenhagen it’s fine with me, but if you are sending this letter to the Washington state legislature you’ll have to argue with people with “MD” after their name, so you’d best get your ducks in a row.
        Sure it is easy to show bicycling gets safer when more people do it, but wouldn’t be even safer yet if those more people also wore helmets? “But people won’t ride if they have to wear helmets!” You might have a point there, I hardly ever see anyone riding a bike in Seattle :) . And since many of the state legislators do not come from Seattle you might be able to make that argument (but I wouldn’t bet my life savings on it)
        I Am Not A Lawyer, but I’m not so sure that is even possible to completely override local regulations. Sure the riding on sidewalks is a state law, but they do allow cities leeway in the “business district”. Maybe for state roads the state could override local regs, but do you really want to ride down 99 without a helmet? What if the Feds tried something like that? Well, actually, I’m pretty sure they can still arrest you for selling pot.

        One shouldn’t discount the possibility of a helmet requirement becoming a state law. In Australia it is a Victoria state law that is killing the Melbourne bike share. Though I found one reference that said: “As with all other Australian states” so maybe it is a de facto national law in AU?

      2. Josh

        I never said there wasn’t a benefit to helmet *use*, there’s definitely a benefit to helmet use, I wear one myself, I encourage others to wear them.

        But the evidence of negative public health impact from mandatory helmet *laws* is pretty solid — even taking the high estimates of helmet efficacy, and the lower-end impacts on cycling participation, mandatory helmet laws kill more people with diseases of a sedentary lifestyle than they save from head injuries.

        As for the ability of cities to regulate the use of bicycles, e.g., sidewalk riding in business districts, that’s an authority specifically granted to the cities by the Legislature, and one which the Legislature could take away if it so desired.

        But I’m not suggesting any change to that power, only the ability to change equipment regulations when you cross invisible lines in the sand. I can change my riding to comply with whatever signs I see, but I can’t create a helmet out of thin air when I ride across the King County line.

        Cities don’t have their own equipment regulations for cars, can you imagine having to stop and adjust your headlights for varying codes when you cross city lines? Bicycles should simply be on an equal footing with cars in this area — uniform, state-wide rules for mandatory equipment.

    3. “It seems like it shouldn’t be hard to convince a majority of the Legislature to preempt the vehicle equipment regulation, including bicycle equipment.”

      You mean, the same Legislature that has never shown any serious concern for people traveling with anything other than a car and half of whose members openly hate Seattle?

  3. Allan

    I would be dead without a helmet. It was broken in two places. I never saw anyone go on a Cascade club ride without a helmet. 70% of bicycle deaths are people without helmets but 98% of the people I know use helmets all the time. I think the helmet law should stay as it is. The state should not have to support brain dead people, that is why we have to wear helmets and seatbelts. If we get rid of the helmet law we should also get rid of seat belts, air bags and safety glass in cars, and gee airplanes are safer than cars, why have seat belts on those. Just make everyone sign an organ donor card.

    1. Allan suggests “…we should also get rid of seat belts, air bags and safety glass in cars…”

      EXCELLENT idea! Unlike a lot of car stuff, none of those items provide one iota of protection to other road users. Perhaps motorists would slow down a bit if they were more vulnerable themselves. That’d make the roads safer for the rest of us.

    2. Ben P

      Helmets are important for going fast or fighting traffic. Cascade rides are fast. Most of the time I wear my helmet as I have to contend with hills and cars. But when I make a quick trip around the corner to pick up some pasta sauce, I don’t wear it. I also don’t wear a helmet when I jog or hike. We take reasonable safety precautions but also live or lives. Relaxed ride on a pronto is already reasonably safe. I think the helmet stations is a good thing, but the law is silly.

    3. Josh

      The efficacy of helmets and the impact of mandatory helmet laws are two entirely different questions.

      Mandatory helmet laws have two effects — increasing helmet use, and decreasing cycling.

      Cycling is already a very safe activity, so the public health benefit of increasing helmet use is fairly small. But the injuries that are prevented are quite graphic and attention-getting.

      Cycling is a very beneficial activity for health, significantly reducing all-cause premature mortality, so the public health cost of decreasing cycling is large, but very diffuse — you can’t point to any one person and say, “he died because he didn’t ride a bike.”

      So, to prevent a small number of very graphic incidents, mandatory helmet laws encourage higher deaths from heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and car accidents.

      On net, the public health impact of mandatory helmet laws is negative.

      For the math of it all, see Piet de Jong’s work out of the Department of Applied Finance and Actuarial Studies at Macquarie University,


      1. Gary

        “Mandatory helmet laws have two effects — increasing helmet use, and decreasing cycling.”

        Melbourne is the only example and there are other possible reasons that the bike share failed there.

        Just like salt doesn’t cause high blood pressure the helmet law is not the cause of people stopping to ride.

      2. Josh

        Melbourne is the only current example of bike share failing under a mandatory helmet regime, but there are plenty of examples around the world of cycling participation declining due to mandatory helmet laws, and it takes a very minimal decline in cycling (only a few percent) to exceed the health benefits of a mandatory helmet law.

      3. Barbie

        But “math is hard” (I kind of struggled through some of it but it wasn’t fun and I mostly did a lot of skimming)

        But, hey, look at that first bit before the introduction (don’t know what that is called)
        I’ll paraphrase because the original was a bit hard to parse, and I editorialized for comic effect:

        Where bicycling is safe, the reduction in bicycling due to mandatory helmet requirements is likely to have large negative health impact.
        However, if you hold my feet to the fire I’ll grudgingly admit that in palaces where bicycling is unsafe, helmet use might improve safety a little, maybe, and therefore mandatory use is maybe not so quite so Very Terrible.

        This augment may get you some traction with some apparently influential groups:
        “Our bicycling infrastructure is so great already that we don’t need to take any more parking away from cars, or spend any more money, my 8 year old loves riding down Leary way!. By the way, if we get rind of the helmet law every one will be a lot healthier!”

        Wait! Wait! Put that tar down!, take the long view for a moment, once we get rid of the helmet law and “everybody’ is riding a bike , then we’ll have a much larger constituency to lobby for better than great, after all Seattle doesn’t want to be known as the city that settled for just good enough!

        What? Cart? Horse? I don’t understand :-)

        This might help: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serenity_Prayer

    4. Get rid of cars. I suppose you also want women to wear chastity belts so as not to be raped. Victim-blaming is SO last century!

  4. Of COURSE Seattle has “helmet use…far higher than most major cities in the world.” Unlike MOST major cities in the world, Seattle’s nanny state city council wants to protect us, despite little evidence that their paternalism makes any difference at all. They’ll later use our tax dollars to subsidize the bike share system when it fails due to their policies. Perhaps they’ll emulate NYC in outlawing large soft drinks and in arresting cyclists for imagined offenses. Indeed, Seattle already sticks it to pedestrians that “jaywalk” carefully and safely (despite evidence that it is safer to cross midblock than at corners).

    1. Matthew Snyder

      Sorry if this sounds pedantic, but it’s not a “city council” issue. The “helmet law” is a provision of the King County Board of Health Code.

      The part that I haven’t seen much written about is Pronto’s role in providing the helmets. The way it’s worded, it seems like Pronto would also be liable in the event that someone is cited for not wearing a helmet, as a violation of 9.10.010 (E):

      E. No person shall rent a bicycle not powered by motor for use to another person unless the renter possesses a helmet that meets the requirements of subsection (A) of this section. (R&R No 03-05 (part), 7-18-
      2003: R&R No. 84 § 1 (part), 12-4-92).

      The fine is “only” $30, though, so you’d have to get caught more than once every 15-20 trips before it becomes financially worthwhile to rent the helmet (if you’ll humor me in framing it this way).

      1. Tom Fucoloro

        The check out process will make it clear that a helmet is required. My guess is that some lawyer will probably word it in a way that puts that liability onto you, since they told you to do it. But I’m not a lawyer, of course.

      2. IANAL

        My guess is that is precisely (ok, not that issue precisely, but liability in general) why one buys a “membership”. If one then decides, as a member of the organization, to “share” a bicycle with oneself while not in possession of a helmet, the responsibility is ones own.
        I don’t know if that will actually work, but since 9.10.010 (E): says “No person shall rent” NOT “Shall inform the renter of the rules, and let said renter deicide it they want to follow them”, it kind of has to, unless Pronto wants to have live attendants at each station.

      3. helmet scofflaw

        Just a quick correction. The fine is not $30. I have looked it up before also thought that was the going rate. Unfortunately, it is a solid $103. Source: MULKEY! Watch out for his motorcycle downtown. Seems his favorite past time is ignoring dangerous drivers while ticketing cyclists commuting to work.

      4. IANAL

        “9.15.010 Enforcement.
        C. Any person found to have committed a violation of this regulation shall be assessed a monetary penalty of thirty dollars ($30.00) for each such violation, not including applicable court costs.”

        What, $73 “court costs”? what was the actual citation that got a $103 fine?
        But also:
        “9.01.030 Local municipal ordinances.
        A. Nothing in this regulation is intended to limit the ability of local jurisdictions to adopt and enforce requirements regarding bicycle helmets. (R&R No 03-05 (part), 7-18-2003).”
        As I Am Not A Lawyer, I don’t know what that means, can Seattle adopt LESS restrictive requirements?, or does it only mean more restrictive ?
        Again, IANAL, but: “9.07.020 Bicycle not powered by motor.
        “Bicycle” means every device propelled solely by human power”
        No doubt they meant that motorcycles were covered by other regulations, but an electrically assisted bike is not a motorcycle, nor is it “solely” propelled by human power. Would it therefore be exempt from this title? Of course, one can’t ride your e-assist on the Burk Gillman or sidewalks, places one might feel safe without a helmet, so it is sort of a moot point
        But wait, SMC 11.57.300 says: “Persons operating electric-assisted bicycles and motorized foot scooters shall comply with all laws and regulations related to the use of bicycle helmets. ”
        So, 9.10.010 (E):, covers bicycle helmets, but only for “not powered by motor”, yet SMC 11.57.300 says if you have a motor, you must: “comply with all laws and regulations related to the use of bicycle helmets” !? Thank God IANAL, otherwise I’d have to kill myself.

  5. Vancouver BC is in a similar situation. Pronto has been looking north to see how they are rolling out their Bike Share with a helmet law.

    1. jay

      That sounds like something I’d say. Welcome to the pessimists club!

      From: http://vancouver.ca/streets-transportation/public-bike-share-system.aspx
      “2015 •PBS field testing of helmet distribution system, with 250 bikes at 25 stations”

      Note the “2015” and “testing”

  6. Ballardite

    The all ages helmet law needs repealed. I’ve used bike share in DC on a business trip, but I doubt that I would have if a helmet law was in place there. Too much trouble.

    The nature of bike share is that you’re moving slowly on an upright bicycle. While I would never dream of doing a fast ride on my road bike without a helmet, it just isn’t necessary for the kind of trips that are done on bike share.

    Also, the idea of making the helmet law a “second offense” or just hoping that it’s not enforced really worries me. If a motorist were to injure a cyclist without a helmet while the law is still on the books, would their liability for injury be reduced if the cyclist wasn’t wearing a helmet, even if the cyclist wasn’t at fault in the collision?

    1. Andres Salomon

      I contacted the office of King County Executive Dow Constantine a while back about what it would take to have the law repealed. Here’s their response:

      “Changing the regulation would require the approval of the King County Board of Health, a 13-member body comprised of members of the King County Council, Seattle City Council, officials of other King County cities appointed by the Sound Cities Association, health care professionals, and Public Health-Seattle & King County. Although any board member or member of the public can propose changes to regulations, the general path for proposals is through the Board Chair. King County Councilmember Joe McDermott is the current chair.

      Currently, the King County Executive’s Office is not seeking to eliminate or modify the bicycle helmet law. We are aware that helmet use requirements are seen by some as creating a barrier to people who might otherwise be interested in bicycling, but there is also a body of evidence that shows that helmets can prevent serious head injuries, especially among children. Public Health-Seattle & King County is tracking the efforts of the Seattle bicycle share program to find a way to provide helmets for users. ”

      The King County Board of Health members are listed here: http://www.kingcounty.gov/healthservices/health/BOH/members.aspx

    2. Josh

      Many, perhaps most, helmet stops are pretextual stops of people the police want some reason to talk to — biking while black, suspicious-looking teens, scruffy people in nice places, etc.

      While I don’t like the idea of relying on biased policing, it does seem plausible that Pronto riders will generally escape the profile of people the police want an excuse to stop.

      1. IANAL

        In another post http://www.seattlebikeblog.com/2014/07/25/seattle-gets-stack-of-federal-funds-for-protected-bike-lanes-downtown-on-broadway/ Tom said the Feds have given: “nearly $400,000 to help low-income residents access Pronto bike share” So, in order to keep the justice department off their backs, I’d think the police are going to have to be equal opportunity in their stops.

      2. Josh

        The Feds may be giving funds to help low-income residents access Pronto, but look at the Pronto map, and you won’t see much coverage in low-income neighborhoods. It might grow there eventually, but at launch, they’re focusing on high-propensity areas.

        Besides, one of the tools of the pretextual stop is that you’re not seriously concerned with the pretext — if the guy without a helmet isn’t really carrying drugs, you can send him on his way with a warning, not a citation.

  7. Jim

    Riding hills in Seattle on a bike not maintained by me? A helmet would be a good idea.

    Unfortunately, this adds to the cost and complexity of bikeshare. I’m very skeptical about this whole enterprise succeeding in Seattle.

  8. Virchow

    I am also inclined to think that the helmet laws are important. “Nanny State” arguments I think are a bit hypocritical unless the proponents think we as a society, working through the state, should not provide healthcare for those who are devastatingly injured and would die without intensive medical support. These laws to me are along the lines of second-hand smoke or seat belt laws.

    I am biased because I worked as an EMT in Seattle and currently haunt Harborview ED. Head injuries are TRAGIC and they are more frequent riding bikes than running (lower speed) or driving (cars engineered to protect passengers). I have met people who spend their whole lives severely disabled in disgusting Skilled Nursing Facilities due to these kinds of injuries. And its not cheap and their families are suffering, but not paying the bills.

    I think we should take this issue more seriously than “nanny state” blanket arguments.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      I agree that “nanny state” arguments are not the strongest when it comes to the helmet law. There are instances, like the seat belt law, where taking action to protect people from their own decisions is acceptable.

      But that misses the point when talking about helmet laws, especially in the context of bike share. The question we need to ask is: Does this policy reduce serious injuries? We know that a successful bike share system does, in fact, reduce serious injuries. We also know that bike share is very safe. For example, there has not been a single fatality on a Citi Bike in New York City, and very few users there wear a helmet. That’s a remarkable safety record for a giant city with such notoriously mean streets where 155 people walking or biking were killed in 2012 alone.

      In fact, doctors in Boston have even started prescribing bike share because of its health benefits. And no, Boston does not have a helmet law (though it has taken some steps to make helmets a little more accessible to system users, though nothing like plans in Seattle).

      There is little evidence that helmet laws have the same public health benefit. So if a helmet law significantly reduces the success of bike share, then that is a bad public health outcome.

      The question is not whether helmets work or even whether they are a good idea. The question is: Which set of policies will keep the most people healthy and safe?

      And no, the whole “should we pay for their healthcare if they don’t wear a helmet” argument is not valid. In fact, it’s insulting. People deserve health care, no matter their decisions.

      1. “I can’t drive 55”

        “The question is: Which set of policies will keep the most people healthy and safe?”

        Well, it is “A” question, But “The” question?, in what universe?

        If we had say, $9/gallon gasoline and lower speed limits, lots of people would be healthier and safer.

      2. Josh

        As for the cost of health care, mandatory helmet laws increase public health care spending.

        Seriously, I understand that’s counterintuitive, but the math is quite compelling. See Piet de Jong’s paper referenced above.

        The health benefits of cycling vastly outweigh the injuries. In Copenhagen, with close to zero helmet use, bicycle commuting lowers premature mortality by 40%.

        If a mandatory helmet law deters one person from bicycling to work, you’ve dramatically increased that person’s risk of an early death. It might not be a death from a head injury (though that’s a serious risk if they drive instead of biking), but you’ve increased their risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, osteoporosis, diabetes, and clinical depression, to name just a few.

      3. Virchow

        I am not sure how these things are mutually exclusive. It seems like if biking is health and wearing a helmet is healthy, biking while wearing a helmet is the most healthy. It seems like the current proposed solution is pretty good: you encourage people to use a helmet but don’t force people to rent a helmet with each bike.

        I think it should be pursued similarly to smoking week in public: lowest enforcement priority with a warning(s) first but keeping helmet use as a social norm is a worthwhile goal.

        One last thing, I think these arguments about how helmets are actually detrimental to health or cause more spending are incredulous on their face and remind me of arguments for wearing seatbelts. First of all, just because people don’t wear helmets in Copenhagen and there are fewer injuries in Copenhagen, does not mean the fewer injuries are caused by fewer helmets. I am not saying that helmets are a panacea or a replacement for sound safety infrastructure.

        This is not an either or situation. The best safety is to have safe streets and wear helmets. That seems obvious on its face and should be promoted as a matter of public policy.

      4. Tom Fucoloro

        Virchow, I think we’re getting on the same page. Changing the helmet law (or like you suggested “decriminalizing” it by making it a low enforcement priority like marijuana before legalization) to help bike share succeed is not the same as telling someone not to wear a helmet.

        What we need is for people to feel welcome to use the system however they choose to use it. If they want a helmet, that’s great! Bring your own or check one out from the machines conveniently available at each station for a small fee.

        But having the threat of a police ticket is just too much and could harm system use or make it feel more dangerous than it really is. It’s a stick for a situation where a carrot is more appropriate.

        Again, maybe Seattle will buck all trends and this won’t even be an issue. But that’s a big “maybe” with very little precedent. But Seattle bucks other helmet trends (since the helmet law went into effect, bike rates have only gone up). So I guess we’ll see soon enough how it goes.

      5. Virchow

        Agreed Tom. I have never found Seattle to be a heavy enforcer of minor offenses, and I don’t think they should start with helmets. It doesn’t seem like a priority now, so I can’t imagine it will be as SPD focuses on reform in the foreseeable future.

        But I do think that we need to understand some clear health facts and the policy consequences.
        A) One of the main risks of biking is a head injury.
        B) Head injuries are personally and financially devastating.
        C) Wearing a helmet can prevent many head injuries while riding a bike.

        D) Therefore, we should maximize helmet use to minimize devastating head injuries.

        Thanks for starting an interesting an engaging discussion Tom.

    2. Gary

      I’m with Virchow and I have a relative working at Harborview with folks with head injuries and while a bicycle helmet does not prevent all of them, it would be foolish in this city, with these drivers to start out with repealing the helmet law in hopes that the increase in the number of bicyclists from a bike share program will make it safe enough to ride without one.

      Better to start the program and watch/wait/see what actually happens. I think the major failing of this program is that it’s starting in September, the last reliably nice weather month. As a tourist I don’t tend to want to ride in the rain. And if we get a wet fall the ridership numbers are going to suck. It’s really too bad they didn’t roll this out in May so we’d have the whole summer to run with it.

      1. I started bike commuting in Febuary!

        At first glance, starting in October/November (ok, end of September if you like, but I’ll believe that when I see it) sounds like a disadvantage, but it does make comparison with Melbourne (which stated in June “Down under”) easier.
        Also, and most important, low usage means the few who do use it are more likely to find bikes, docking spaces and vending machine that aren’t empty when the want them and will then write glowing reviews. In turn, lots of people will buy annual memberships in the spring. (going on Melbourne’s experience the “numbers” are going to suck anyway, but numbers aren’t everything)

    3. Josh

      TBI from cycling is quite rare compared to motor vehicles. According to http://www.headinjuryctr-stl.org/statistics.html for example, the breakdown is

      51% – Motor Vehicle Accidents
      21% – Falls
      12% – Assaults and Violence
      10% – Sports and Recreation
      6% – Other

      This fits with my own experience of TBI residential care facility residents, most of whom were disabled by motor vehicle accidents, not bicycle accidents.

      1. Virchow

        Unless those are adjusted for amount of people participating in those activities that proves the point that TBIs are common in sports and recreation (where I presume biking is categorized).

      2. Allan

        Wrong, I don’t see a category for cyclists. Maybe some cycle accidents are recorded as motor vehicle accidents because a car is involved. Some may be recorded as falls, just fell off the bike. Still others may be sport and recreation accidents and finally some might be recorded as other. The fact of the matter is that 85% of cycling deaths are caused by head injuries. It would be better to skip bike share than to repeal helmet laws and add more dead people to the list.

      3. Andres Salomon

        Wrong. Recent data correlates bike share with a huge decrease in overall bicycle injuries AND head injuries.


        In the 5 control cities without bike share, bicycle injuries rose. The data is pointing to bike share increasing safety for everyone, with helmets being somewhat inconsequential.

        It is NOT better to skip bike share than allow people to ride helmetless, at least based on the (admittedly low amounts of) data that we currently have.

      4. Andres Salomon

        It’s also worth pointing out that we’re getting a (hopefully) safer 2nd Ave because of bike share. The city has ignored this awful stretch of bike infrastructure for years, but is suddenly going forward in a super short time period only because of bike share rollout. Are you seriously going to argue that we’ll be worse off with bike share? Dorothy Rabinowitz, is that you?

    4. Why are you blaming the victims of carcentric society? Do you want to force women to wear hijab or chastity belts so as not to be raped?

      The victims you see are just some of the huge cortege of maimed and murdered by motor vehicles.

  9. Andres Salomon

    Dear Commenters,

    Please stop conflating “You should wear a helmet” with “You should get stopped by the police and get a $100 ticket if you’re not wearing a helmet.”

    Surely you can understand how those are two very different things?

    Here’s an analogy: I don’t think people should text and walk, but I’m not willing to make it illegal to do so. The injuries caused by that typically don’t extend to anyone other than the person engaging in the behavior, it would be a huge waste of resources to enforce, and there are better ways to convince people to watch where they’re going.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      Don’t give politicians any ideas! I bet some city somewhere will try a texting and walking ban at some point…

      Remember, King County also passed a law that makes it illegal to wade more than 5 feet into a river without wearing a life jacket: http://seattletimes.com/html/dannywestneat/2015388225_danny22.html

      The walking and texting analogy is pretty good. Only quibble is that texting and walking (inattention) could be the cause of a conflict, where helmets do nothing to prevent or cause conflicts.

      Maybe the river analogy is better. If you’re wading into a calm, low river you totally don’t need a life jacket (but you can wear one if you want). And threatening people with a ticket if they don’t wear one is ridiculous. But on a serious rapid, you really better wear one.

      If you are biking fairly slowly on an upright bike to make a short trip across the neighborhood, you don’t really need a helmet (but you can wear one if you want). And threatening people with a ticket if they don’t wear one is ridiculous. But on a fast training ride or if you’re screaming down a big hill, you really better wear one.

      1. Allan

        So you want to leave it all up to rider discretion and assume everyone is intelligent enough to know when they need a helmet. I have seen ninja riders screaming down hills, even Highland Park Way dressed in black, on a black bicycle without lights and without a helmet. I have also seen people land on their head at 1 mph because they could not get their shoes unclipped. Well, that one would only have been a nasty bump on the head. If you leave helmets up to rider discretion than every protective measure ever passed such as seat belts or air bags should be up to the user, not the state. Why does the state try to stop people from smoking? Cigarettes should only cost 50 cents a pack. There are a lot of good reasons for smoking, it reduces stress, controls weight gain, helps people focus on work or problems. Maybe you could even say that Americans would weigh an average of 30 lbs less per person and would live longer with cigarettes. Therefore the state should not protect anyone from anything, than we wouldn’t have to pay tax and we would all be rich.

      2. Andres Salomon

        “If you leave helmets up to rider discretion than every protective measure ever passed such as seat belts or air bags should be up to the user, not the state. ”

        Sorry, but all protective measures are not the same, therefore your argument makes no sense. The jury is still out about whether or not helmets are truly protective. We have data that goes both ways. On the other hand, seat belt data shows a clear win for safety. One thing we do know for sure – there are much more effective ways to increase safety for people who bike than helmets.

        Also, we probably shouldn’t base our laws on stories about how you once saw this guy do this thing.

        And finally, I’d like to live in that world where not paying taxes makes me rich.

  10. Matthew Snyder

    I just can’t see this working. It has to be free with membership to rent the helmet. It just has to be free. Build it into the membership cost some other way if you have to, but you can’t make people pay $2 every time they get a bike.

    At least make it free for the daily memberships, with a small fee for the annual memberships. Or let annual members buy an “add-on” package for a one-time fee, giving them access to the helmets whenever they need one, if they don’t want to bring their own.

    Remember, tourists/short-term memberships are supposed to be what floats bike share systems like this, and those users are almost guaranteed to not have helmets with them, meaning they’re adding, what, $6 or more to their daily membership cost. If those users stay away, then the annual membership cost has to go up.

  11. Gerald

    There are 40 or so bikeshare systems in the US. Tens of millions of trips have been made on these bikes. NYC and DC are each in the 10 million trip range. There have been a total of ZERO bikeshare-related fatalities in the entire United States. Many of the riders are very inexperienced and the vast majority don’t wear a helmet. Enough said.

  12. Someone should manufacture hats with “Repeal the helmet law” written on them and then folks can start wearing those and challenge any tickets on a free-speech basis.

    Seriously Seattle, I didn’t realize you had a helmet law, and if I were you I’d be pretty embarrassed about it.

    1. It means I won’t visit your city, or at least won’t cycle in it. I’ve been to Vancouver on business trips, but the BC foam hat law means that there is no way I’ll ride a bicycle there. If they passed such crap here, I’d just disobey it (I’m a grey-haired boomer lady) but I’d feel strange about going somewhere else to do civil disobedience unless it were a mass protest.

      Except in summer, I always wear a béret!

  13. My Magic Hat

    The insanity. Does everyone at least understand that a helmet cannot and will not prevent a concussion? No?

    A concussion occurs when the brain experiences an impact against the inside of the skull. So, unless the word “helmet” is now a word for some kind of advanced surgery where your skull cavity is filled with some sort of bio-foam to stabilize the brain in the event of an impact, I’m afraid most of you guys are full of crap.

    A helmet can reduce the chance of a skull fracture. This is good. But it does not warrant an all-ages law, especially when the best available helmets are only impact-tested up to 12 mph.

    This is all moot. I’m about to go take a shower where I’ll be stepping in and out of a tub where I have a greater chance of head injury and accidental death than any other activity in my life – apart from driving my car – and I won’t be wearing a helmet.

    Seattle bike share is screwed because of this misplaced faith in styrofoam. So stupid . . .

  14. […] rides, no deaths in U.S. bike share programs | Reuters – Wow. Zero. This is why bike share is more important than an adult helmet law (even if you are in favor of […]

  15. jay

    Hey, I just found what seems to be some new information at: http://dev.prontocycleshare.com/faq The helmet rental will be for 24hours, so if one is willing to carry the helmet around with them one will not have to pay the two dollars every time one checks out a bike for a 30 minute ride. But if one does not return the helmet the purchase price is $30, still a fair price for a good helmet, but one can certainly buy a brand new helmet for less.

    1. Joseph Singer

      The point is *not* to schlep around a helmet. Otherwise people would buy their own helmets and take them with them everywhere they go. The problem *is* the helmet.

    2. Tom Fucoloro

      Ha! I guess they didn’t hide the development version of their site very well :-)

      Having the helmet available for 24 hours makes a bit more sense than having to return it every time (would also make it easier to administer). And $30 makes more sense than heavily subsidizing the helmets. This is a bike share system, not a discount helmet system. We’ll see if these rules make it through to the official site…

      1. Joseph Singer

        I’m just wondering if this system will encourage helmet law scofflaws? Personally, if I didn’t have my own bike with helmet that I always carry and used the bike share I’d say ef’ it as far as getting a helmet. I really doubt whether the cops are going to go on any helmet ticketing binge considering their levels of enforcement of present laws. Every day I see cars parked on crosswalks ($124 fine) waiting to make turns on red or pulling their vehicle’s nose 3/4 into an intersection where there is a stop sign attempting a turn or pulling through an intersection and never getting ticketed. My bet is that when the bike share goes live people are not going to use helmets.

      2. jay

        Big BrotherGoogle is watching you”

        Development site? so that’s what the dev. means, it also explains the present tense on things that haven’t happened yet.

        At places I’ve seen talk of helmet rental, 24hour rentals seems normal, but since no one really has helmet rental it is mostly just talk.
        If one doesn’t want to carry the helmet, I’m sure one would be free to return it and pay another $2 for the next trip.

        Helmets are massively subsidized in Melbourne and their bike share is just barely hanging on by the skin of it’s teeth (and public subsidy). If Pronto doesn’t want to be in the “discount helmet” business, they are probably in the wrong city.

      3. Allan

        I know for a fact that most of the stuff I buy that is made in China only costs 5% of the selling price if you are standing at the door of the factory and give a big order. The company I worked for admitted to their employees that goods and parts really only cost 10% of the retail price, but they were lying, I am sure that included administrative expenses and anything else they could tag on. That means the you could go to China a buy a container load of cheap but satisfactory helmets for about $2 each. If people can afford $85 for bike share you could give them a $5 helmet.

  16. Travis

    It kind of seems like a simple solution: DON’T CHARGE FOR HELMET RENTAL. Yes, there is a the cost of the helmets that must be recouped… but providing the helmets for free a) eliminates the excuse of not wearing a helmet and b) keeps riders safe.

    I would venture to guess that serious bikers won’t be using Pronto, they’d be riding their own bikes instead. So to me, it’s tourists, locals who have an impromptu need, etc. E.g., if I’m downtown and a friend calls me up to meet him somewhere nearby (but a bit too far to walk), I would love to be able to get a Pronto bike and ride over to meet him. I’m not going to carry a bike helmet around with me everywhere I go just in case I need to ride a bike on a whim, that is a ridiculous assumption to put on customers, and not a realistic scenario.

    If people want to use Pronto and the helmets are there to rent as part of the rental fee, riders will be happy and safe. Simple.

  17. […] order for Pronto to operate in compliance with helmet laws, each station will also have a “helmet dispensing” device and a return bin. Helmets will be available to rent for $2, will be sanitized after each use, and […]

  18. […] because of the considerable hurdle of King County’s helmet law, which could further lower ridership, HelmetHub has been selected […]

  19. […] people who aren’t wearing a helmet while they ride a bike. This will be especially true when Pronto Cycle Share launches next month, since short, spontaneous trips are important to the success of the system. Sometimes that means […]

  20. […] to rent and return helmets with their bike rentals (read about Pronto’s helmet plans in our previous report). Seattle is pioneering the rental system, but it won’t be ready until next year, Pronto said […]

  21. Karl

    I was surprised by this: “The returned helmets will then be collected by Pronto staff, who will also be driving around the city to rebalance bikes from full stations to empty ones. ”

    Somehow I would’ve expected that this would be accomplished by cargo bike, and the bikes rebalanced to the different locations by employees cycling them there. It’d be a LOT cooler if that was how they were going to do it. Having some truck/van/trailer parked outside the stations long enough to load up a bunch of bikes and helmets probably isn’t going to be real popular to the businesses and people living right there.

  22. […] a bike share system in a city with a rare all-ages helmet law previously. In fact, we’ve done so at length several […]

  23. […] Pronto planned to have helmet vending machines at each station, but there is no “commercially viable helmet-vending machine available in the […]

  24. […] We have suggested several times that King County should ditch the helmet law for adults, or at the very least make it a secondary offense so police are not stopping and ticketing people just for choosing not to wear a helmet. That’s not a good use of police resources, but Gene Balk and the Seattle Times reports that 2,500 tickets have been given for bicycle helmets since the law went into effect in Seattle in 2003. […]

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