Rules of the Road

With head injuries piling up, why hasn’t Bellingham made bike helmets mandatory?

Question: I am puzzled by the “no helmet” rule for cyclists in Bellingham. Why aren’t cyclist required to wear them? The number of head injuries showing up at PeaceHealth should move the city to action.

Answer: This is one area of traffic law that is up to local government. Washington doesn’t have a statewide bicycle helmet law, but many cities in our state have passed local helmet laws.

Even across the country, no state that I know of has a universal bicycle helmet law that applies to all ages; 21 states require children to wear a helmet, with age requirements ranging from under 12 to under 18.

In regard to the “why” portion of your question, I can only speculate. I don’t know if our local government has considered an ordinance in the past; my best guess as to why riders aren’t required to wear helmets in Bellingham is that our elected officials are not convinced that it is the will of the people.

Creating a local ordinance is beyond my area of experience, but many traffic laws we have now began as ideas from citizens with a passion to improve traffic safety.

I haven’t seen the data on local head injuries; if as many are showing up at the hospital as you suggest, maybe you can be the catalyst that prompts the city to explore the idea.

Q: Could you address the rules and regulations on angle parking? In Fairhaven, big trucks seem to extend into the narrow street when they’re parked in the diagonal parking along the street.

A: The rule you’re looking for is in Washington Administrative Code 308-330-433. You’re not allowed to park a car in such a way as to leave less than 10 feet of roadway available for traffic.

The law isn’t specific to angle parking, and there are a few other situations where it would apply.

One is on narrow streets like we have in many of our residential areas. Some of these streets are so narrow that parking is only permitted on one side of the road. Parking on both sides would essentially render it a one-way street, with the direction of travel determined by whoever got there first. This law also could be considered as a means of improving parallel parking skills. I’ve seen people leave enough room between the car and the curb to park another half a car in the gap.

But mostly, this problem comes up when extra-long vehicles park in angle parking. For those of you who drive full-size crew cab pickups, delivery trucks or stretch limousines, please check before you leave your vehicle in an angle parking spot to make sure you’ve provided enough room for other cars on the road.

Road Rules is a regular column on road laws, safe driving habits and general police practices. Doug Dahl is the Target Zero Manager for the Whatcom County Traffic Safety Task Force. Target Zero is Washington’s vision to reduce traffic fatalities and serious injuries to zero by 2030. For more traffic safety information visit Ask a question.