Milton ditches bike helmet law, says rules created liability

May 31, 2012

No helmet laws, no liability — at least that’s the way the city of Milton sees it.

For insurance reasons, the Milton City Council last week repealed the section of city code, in place since 1997, that mandated people riding bicycles, skateboards, scooters and roller skates in public places wear helmets.

"We want to stress personal responsibility and expect people to use the skate park at their own risk," says City Administrator Subir Mukerjee. 

With a law requiring the use of helmets going practically unenforced, the city believed it was exposed to liability lawsuits in their parks departments.

Police Chief Bill Rhoads estimated officers issued roughly 15 no-helmet tickets in the past year. Rhoads also told The Tacoma News Tribune that with city resources stretched thin, helmet enforcement is “a real drain.”

“We strongly recommend people wear helmets,” Mayor Debra Perry told the Tribune. “We strongly advise that people keep themselves safe.”

The city plans to construct a new sign recommending that Milltown Commons Skate Park participants use their best discretion and safely skate at their own risk.

Local paper defends the law

Calling it “bizarre logic” the editorial writers for the Tribune defended keeping the law there and elsewhere:

“… even a spottily enforced ordinance has some value. At a minimum, it serves to communicate public expectations. Oddly enough, there are people who obey the law just because they believe in obeying the law. We don’t doubt the legal acumen of the people who are anticipating Milton’s litigation risks, but in this case, the law’s an ass.

"The Legislature could help by a) passing a statewide helmet law, and b) providing legal cover so municipalities aren’t punished for their good deeds. A city should not have to throw its safety regulations out the window if it’s short on funding for law enforcement.”

Have to wear 'em elsewhere

Tacoma, Puyallup, unincorporated Pierce and King counties, do require helmets.

Those seen in violation of this law in Tacoma, officials said, are looking at a fine with a maximum penalty of $25.

“The law is in place but it is up to the discretion of an officer to enforce the law,” says the City of Tacoma’s Community Relations Manager Rob McNair.

According to McNair the city of Tacoma doesn't plan to follow in Milton's track by repealing it's helmet policy any time soon.