When Dallas City Council members first entertained the idea of doing away with the city's 18-year-old bike helmet requirement two weeks ago, they left promising to give the proposal "strong consideration."
At this morning's meeting of the Quality of Life committee, it became clear that they will do way more than that. The helmet mandate, for adults at least, is doomed.
All seven council members present said they were in favor of repealing the ordinance for ages 18 and up. They should have no trouble scrounging up the one additional vote they need for a council majority.
Lee Kleinman and Philip Kingston pushed for full repeal, and Sandy Greyson said she would consider it, but given repeated statements from others about the need to protect children suggested that will be a much tougher, probably impossible, sell.
The most surprising takeaway from this morning was just how little support the helmet ordinance enjoys. It was originally passed back in 1996 at the urging of the public health community, who argued it was needed to prevent serious head injuries.
That role was filled at today's committee hearing by Shelli Stephens-Stidham, director of Parkland Hospital's Injury Prevention Center of Greater Dallas, but her testimony was tepid and noncommittal.
She cited statistics showing that traumatic brain injuries are the leading cause of death in cycling accidents, and that helmets are extremely effective at preventing traumatic brain injuries, especially in kids, but she had trouble crafting a convincing argument that helmet mandates work. She referenced a study that concluded that such mandates increased helmet usage and reduced traumatic brain injuries, but she acknowledged when pressed that the research is a couple of decades old and was extremely limited in scope, looking at a single municipality in a relatively brief period immediately following the adoption of a helmet requirement.
When Kingston pressed her to weigh in on the essential issue before the city council -- whether the public health benefit of the helmet ordinance outweighs the benefit of increased cycling that would come from repeal -- she demurred, offering statistics on the number of Dallas-ares kids who died in bike crashes in the Dallas area between 2006 and 2011 (10) but no firm opinion. Nor did Stephens-Stidham have a rebuttal when Kingston cited a year-old study -- "Helmet legislation and admissions to hospital for cycling related head injuries in Canadian provinces and territories" -- finding no appreciable public health benefit for bike helmet mandates.
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More forceful was Bike Texas Executive Director Robin Stallings, who came out strongly against helmet laws for both kids and adults.
"Education and role modeling is going to get more helmets on heads than mandatory helmet laws."
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.