One Dallas Biker Takes His Fight Against City's Helmet Law to Federal Court
Paul Woodfield had already spent years fighting Dallas's bike helmet law in county court, when the city decided to drop the original ticket he'd been given on a bare-domed ride around White Rock Lake back in 2007. With no ticket to fight, the Fifth Court of Appeals dismissed his three-year-old lawsuit back in January, figuring Woodfield didn't have much left to complain about anymore.
So when a cop called him out for riding without his helmet back in March, Woodfield wasn't about to shy away from another scrap.
"She told me I have to wear my helmet, and I told her, 'No, I don't have to wear my helmet.' She said, The city law requires you to.' I said, 'Well state law says I don't have to, and I'm not going to wear one,'" Woodfield recalls. "So she said, 'Pull over.'"
Armed with a new $25 ticket, Woodfield's got himself another fight: he filed suit yesterday, in federal court this time, against the holy trifecta of the City of Dallas, Dallas County and the State of Texas. (Jump for the full text of the suit.)
Over the phone this morning, we reached Woodfield -- a dispatcher for Southwest Airlines who's representing himself in court -- to find out why he was jumping into another long legal battle. Helmet laws are contentious enough -- a rarity in the normally calm waters of the local bike community -- but Woodfield's beef with the 1996 city ordinance is less about safety and more about the legal nitty-gritty.
"In part I'm mad because I was ticketed for basically just minding my own business and enjoying myself. But the council -- it's just over-reached itself," Woodfield says. "They've gone and dabbled in areas that they have no authority to be in," he says, and "they have to be reined in."
Most of all, though, there's the issue of whether or not the city, strictly speaking, is allowed to pass a helmet law without state law to back it up.
When it comes to bike safety gear, the Texas transportation code requires reflectors and lights -- but not helmets -- also says cities can't make additional requirements conflicting with state law. Legislators considered giving cities the right to enact local bike helmet laws in 2001, but as Woodfield's suit points out, that proposal never made it into law.
A ruling in state district court put a hold on tickets for riding without a helmet, but cops began handing out the tickets again in October last year.
Woodfield's also concerned that the bike law is ostensibly about safety, but says it's being used as an excuse to pull over suspicious-looking bikers. Nor, he says, has the city followed through making sure bike shops around Dallas post a notice about the helmet law.
So far, he figures, he's dropped as much as $1,500 into the fight (he's representing himself in court), but "in terms of time, who knows?" Far as he knows, Woodfield is the only guy in the country suing over a municipal bike law.
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