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Originally published Friday, June 22, 2012 at 4:14 PM

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Milton, Wash., turns wrong way in repeal of bicycle helmet law

The Seattle Times editorial page disagrees with the decision of Milton, Wash., to repeal its law requiring bicycle riders to wear helmets.

Seattle Times Editorial

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THE town of Milton, which straddles the line between King and Pierce counties, was given national attention Tuesday by The New York Times for repealing its bicycle-helmet ordinance. The repeal is unfortunate, and we urge other jurisdictions not to follow it.

Milton has only 12 police officers to control crime, and town officials decided not to waste their time chasing bicycle riders. Its insurance consultant then warned that if it kept the law and a cyclist were injured, he might sue the town for not enforcing it against him. In a town with a general-fund budget of less than $4 million, one lawsuit like that would be a financial typhoon.

Clearly, such a lawsuit would be abusive. But strange things happen in courts of law, so keeping the ordinance probably does pose a risk.

But there is also a benefit. The law saves lives whether it is enforced or not. In the matter of bicycle helmets, "people police themselves," said state Rep. Katrina Asay, R-Milton, who was mayor for most of the years the town had the ordinance.

A helmet law makes it easier for parents to say, "You have to wear one." If adults have to wear one also — and in Milton, they did — it increases compliance among the kids.

Helmets work. A bicycle rider gets more protection from a helmet than a motorcycle rider does.

Between 2000 and 2009, King County had a 62 percent decrease in child-injury deaths — double the national rate of improvement. Some of that was because of the child booster-seat law, restrictions on teen drivers' licenses and other efforts.

But part of it, says Tony Gomez, injury-prevention officer for Public Health of Seattle and King County, has been the countywide ordinance that all bicycle riders wear helmets.

The enforcement effort was not so big. Last year, Seattle Police wrote about 450 tickets. That's not much more than one ticket a day in a city of 608,000 people. The proportionate effort in Milton, population 7,000, would be one ticket every two and a half months.

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