DALLAS — The City of Dallas is pedaling down the path to rolling back its bicycle helmet ordinance.
Members of the City Council’s Quality of Life and Environment Committee recommended Monday that the full Council consider two options:
- abolish entirely the requirement that all riders wear a helmet, or
- make the requirement apply only to those under 17
The discussion about whether Dallas should retain its mandatory bike helmet ordinance is a result of the city’s renewed push to increase bicycle ridership, and to get self-service bicycle rental programs off the ground.
The prevailing sentiment is that the 18-year-old ordinance has outlived its usefulness and would conflict with rental programs. After all, most people who would rent a bike probably aren’t carrying a bike helmet with them — and no one really wants to use a communal helmet.
“People should wear helmets,” said Council member Philip Kingston. “Go ahead and put your helmet on, but when we’re trying to get people onto bikes we don’t need to be using a criminal ordinance in order to make that happen.”
Representatives of cycling organizations told Council members that they do want people to wear helmets, but they believe the way to go about doing it is through education and role-modeling — not laws.
“It’s probably more dangerous to sit in front of your TV eating a bag of chips all the time than riding a bicycle without a helmet,” said Robin Stallings, executive director of BikeTexas. Her organization bills itself as the largest bicycle safety education program in North America.
He cautioned against the unintended consequences of a minors-only helmet requirement. He said it has the potential to make young people think that wearing a helmets is only for little kids.
“Getting parents to role-model helmets is going to be the most important and effective way to get kids to do it,” Stallings said.
Shelli Stephens-Stidham, director of the Injury Prevention Center of Greater Dallas, sounded a cautionary note.
“Bicycle helmets are 88 to 89 percent effective in preventing bicycle-related traumatic brain injuries,” she said. “For kids, bicycle helmet laws and ordinances increase kids wearing bicycle helmets, and also decrease bicycle-related traumatic brain injuries.”
The feeling among Council members was that adults can make decisions about when they need to wear a helmet for themselves.
“I’ll probably wear my helmet in cycling events," said Council member Rick Callahan. "It probably makes good sense. As far as leisure riding around White Rock Lake, I really don’t want to wear my helmet; there’s just too much 'nannygate' telling us what we need to do and not to do.”
Kingston and council member Lee Kleinman backed full repeal of the helmet ordinance. Callahan and Council members Adam Medrano, Carolyn Davis and Dwaine Caraway all voice support for a minors-only requirement.
Council member Sandy Greyson said she’s still trying to decide whether to back full repeal or a minors-only requirement.
Out at White Rock Lake, riders seemed oblivious to the debate. Some riders leisurely pedaled without a helmet. Most riders, like Harlan Moon, wore their helmets.
“There’s no way in the world that I would get on a bike without a helmet,” Moon said. “When you go down, your head is not as hard as the concrete. These helmets are the best thing to do. Don’t leave home without it. Never ride without it.”