Dallas police ticketing bicyclists without helmets

Heads up out there…we’re getting several emails about Dallas police ticketing riders for not wearing helmets. The fine is a staggering $147! Ironically, motorcyclists are allowed to ride without helmets…don’t try to find an explanation.

Sadly, this is the quickest way to lower ridership in our city. A friend of BFOC spoke to us this morning after being ticketed saying he’ll never ride his bike into work again. Not only was he not given a warning first, but apparently the officers were overly assertive.

27 comments

  1. It’s a stupid law and a waste of time, but hardly surprising that it is occasionally enforced, since it has been on the books in Dallas for over 10 years. Every couple of years someone gets a stick up their a** about it and a few tickets get written.

    I always wear mine, however, as a head injuries really suck. I’ve yet to hear a compelling argument to not wear a helmet – it’s all just vanity really.

  2. “never ride his bike into work again”

    Really?

    I would say that if you’re riding your bike to work, chances are you are on streets that warrant a helmet. Regardless of the streets on which you ride, helmets are a good idea. Please continue riding to work; just do it with a helmet.

    Yes, getting a ticket sucks, and yes, it would be lovely if we could all ride around helmet-free. That’s just not Dallas.

  3. landmanatee · ·

    Interesting, I see that of all TX towns requiring helmets, Dallas is the only one that requires helmets for all ages, not just minors.
    http://www.bhsi.org/mandator.htm

    Is this a revenue scam? I can imagine a really good investigative piece on it.

  4. Having had a helmet save my life in a bicycle crash, I’ll never ride without one.

    I’ve also heard that if a cyclist gets a no-helmet ticket, and appears in court with a helmet, the judge will dismiss it, but only on a first offense.

    And the “friend of BFOC” who got ticketed this morning and will no longer ride to work because of it should get over himself. It’s a Dallas city ordinance that cyclists wear a helmet. If he chooses not to wear one, he deserves the ticket. If he doesn’t want a ticket, wear a helmet. I’d like to know why he feels the helmet is unnecessary.

    As for why motorcyclists don’t have to wear a helmet but cyclists do, they have a much more powerful lobby than cyclists do. And the motorcycle helmet law is a state law, while the cycling helmet law is a city ordinance.

    You might be interested to know that it’s illegal for cyclists to ride on sidewalks in Dallas, too.

  5. opusthepoet · ·

    You need to read my article from yesterday on examiner.com/dallas

  6. I would love for you pro-helmet guys to point me to some studies that show their efficacy. Everything I have seen to date suggests that their is no measurable net safety benefit to wearing one, and perhaps a net negative health effect at the population level when mandatory helmet laws are imposed.

    There is of course lots of money to be made marketing and selling them, and mandatory helmet laws have been among the most effective methods used to REDUCE the number of cyclists and force a switch to cars or other modes of transit.

    In my opinion, helmet laws are going to be a bigger deterrent to growing bicycling scene in Dallas than a lack of bicycle-specific road facilities.

    Think about this. No one in Copenhagen or any of the really bike-friendly cities wears a helmet. As far as I can tell, it is not a cultural bias. It is richness of experience and good reasoning.

    http://www.howwedrive.com/2008/10/01/to-wear-or-not-to-wear-and-is-that-even-the-right-question-ian-walker-on-cycle-helmets/

    http://lobv.org/15reasons.html

    Some of the information I have

  7. @landmanatee I have heard that the 1996 Dallas helmet ordinance was actually written by a drug task force and was meant to be a tool for police to combat crack sales–presumably it gives police a legal pretense to “interact” with suspected drug dealers and their lookouts who apparently are or were commonly found working from bikes in some Dallas neighborhoods.

  8. Mr_Christopher · ·

    I don’t want to sound like an old fart, but I am an old fart so what the heck. This is like driving car and wearing a seat belt. Whether it’s uncomfortable, doesn’t look cool, offends your personal world view, is immaterial. It’s the law, if you don’t like the law go change it. Until it is changed you should budget an absurd amount of money if you get caught not wearing one. Same thing if you drive without a seat belt.

    Riding less, selling your bike, or holding your breath until you turn blue in the face only hurts yourself.

    And what is “overly assertive”? The cops witnessed a crime, handed out a ticket and were somehow “overly assertive”? There’s no ambiguity about the infraction, dude was not wearing a hat, so it would make sense they would be doing their job with a certain sense of conviction.

    Sorry to sound like and old fart, but good lord this is about as black and white of an issue as you can get.

    Chris

  9. All I know is that three times in the last 10 years, I have had stitches in my head when I walked into my LBS the day after a crash and got a new helmet.

    In every case, had I not been wearing it I would have still been in a Hospital bed with much more severe injuries.

    Personally, it is my opinion that if you ride without a helmet you get only the medical help to the extent of your hospital insurance premiums. I don’t want to have to pay because you think that helmets are just a way for “the man” to make money.

    I was not there but “Well Done to the Police”

  10. I am not anti-helmet, I’m anti-helmet law. When I ride a bike where a high speed is involved, I wear a helmet. When I’m on my British 3-speed roadster that’s not even designed to go over 12 mph, I would rather not wear one. I have 25 yrs of experience riding at a performance level, I feel I know what safety precautions to take. I also feel that a helmet law for adults gives the notion that riding a bicycle is a dangerous activity. I feel that it is not.
    I wonder if its the “real” cyclists that the law is written for?
    I see people in Dallas every day, riding to work, some w/ a tool belt strappped around their waist. Maybe on a cheap bike. Do they ever get pulled over? I would hope that the Dallas police force enforces the law w/ some descretion.

  11. Waco: All I have is a personal anecdote as to the efficacy of a helmet:

    I crashed while riding my MTB, falling 20′ at 15 mph, and landed on my head and hand. I crushed my wrist, knocked loose a fist-sized chunk of the foam of the helmet while the outer casing remained intact, and was knocked out for 5 minutes. While I have no proof that I’d have survived had I crashed w/o the helmet, I’m also not willing to find out.

    I’ll also admit that in the past 20 years, I’ve had 4 bicycle crashes, none involving cars. In all but 1 of those 4 crashes, my head hit the ground (I was wearing a helmet during all 4 crashes). I’ve already given details of one of those 3 crashes, in the other two, my head hit the ground, while the helmet didn’t. This was due to the uneven terrain where I crashed (a stream bed and the bus lane on Elm St.). So based on personal experience, I’ll only need a helmet 25% of the time when I ride. Thing is, I’m not willing to risk not having it when I need it. Regardless of any helmet law, I’ll always wear a helmet. Since it’s the law in Dallas, you should, too. If you disagree with the law, contact your city council representative and ask them to get the ordinance changed.

    Mark: Cycling isn’t dangerous in and of itself. Where and how one chooses to ride can make cycling dangerous.

    In one of the studies that Waco linked to, it mentioned that helmets were more important while riding at low speed than at high speed, which is why the author was for mandatory helmet laws for children (who ride slower), but not for adults (who ride faster).

    As for riding with a tool belt on a cheap bike, I fail to see how that’s a safety issue. The cost or value of the bike does not affect its relative safety. I’ve also heard that the DPD does use their discretion when it comes to issuing helmet tickets. One guy I know received a warning when he was stopped w/o a helmet. When he was stopped a second time, they gave him a ticket, because they knew he’d been stopped before.

  12. Scott Mc · ·

    I have to agree with Mark. When I’m riding my Fuji and going 20mph around white rock I wear a helmet. But when going to work on my commuter I maybe reach 8mph. I don’t feel the need to wear one.

  13. bikerider · ·

    I’d be for helmet laws if they actually reduced the rate of head injury, but they don’t.

    In places where there has been mandatory helmet usage mandated, ridership has decreased, overall public health has declined and the rate of head injury occurrence either stayed the same or increased.
    http://www.cycle-helmets.com/

    How are any of those results a “good” thing?
    If that’s the result of a mandatory helmet law, we’re collectively better off without it.

  14. Seemingly harmless head injury:
    http://defamer.gawker.com/5172167/natasha-richardson-reported-dead-at-45-after-skiing-accident

    BTW, I could care less if anyone else wears a helmet, but I do.

  15. howarddraper · ·

    I had a low speed accident that put me in the hospital several years ago. I wasn’t wearing a helmet, and I bruised my brain bad enough to shorten my memory window to the previous 20 minutes. All that was from landing on hardpack grass/dirt. Another 10 inches and I would be dead on the concrete.

    I wear a helmet for all speeds now, and it protects the exact part of my brain (left, near ear) that was damaged.

    I bought a fancy Giro Atmos. It cost me about 2% as much as my cumulative hospital bill. It looks badass and has 1325230823 vents, so it’s fine in the summer.

    If you live in Dallas and disagree with the law, work to change it.

  16. Kudos to everyone who wants to wear a helmet and does. I am fine with that and not anti-helmet, but rather pro-choice.

    I found the analogy to the seatbelt somewhat amusing. I don’t know of any studies that show seatbelt laws lowering the rate of automobile use nor have I every seen a Dallas driver wearing a helmet, though statistically, the risk of head injury is apparently about the same as when cycling.

    Efficacy and law aside, my bigger point was that presumably the Dallas adult helmet law may prove to be one of the biggest roadblocks to making complete streets with reasonable numbers of cyclists a reality in Dallas.

    Helmet laws reinforce the psychology of danger that now permeates cycling. It has been transformed from a quiet, friendly and civic mode of transport to an extreme sport.

    As I see it, the whole goal of “complete streets” should be to wrest our neighborhoods from stranglehold of the automobile and create friendly, livable places designed around the HUMAN. “Safe” places where folks don’t necessarily need helmets…

  17. Two more things:

    1) The photo of at the bottom of your “complete streets” post (https://bikefriendlyoc.wordpress.com/2009/03/19/complete-streets/) is great. For me it really captures the feeling of normalcy, safety, and social richness that make the great, human-centric cities of the world so wonderful.

    2) More food for thought from an article in a British medical journal (http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=1119262#id357186)

    “The inherent risks of road cycling are trivial.3 Of at least 3.5 million regular cyclists in Britain, only about 10 a year are killed in rider only accidents. This compares with about 350 people younger than 75 killed each year falling down steps or tripping. Six times as many pedestrians as cyclists are killed by motor traffic, yet travel surveys show annual mileage walked is only five times that cycled; a mile of walking must be more “dangerous” than a mile of cycling.”

    “The statistical wrangle over the effectiveness of helmets is actually a side issue; what we need people in authority to understand is that cycle helmets inevitably damage public health. Even for cyclists on Britain’s roads, the health benefits exceed the risks by a factor of 20. The health benefits of cycling are so great—and the health injuries from driving so great—that not cycling is really dangerous. By telling people that they need helmets for an activity that for a century has been regarded as “safe”—and in fact has a fine safety record—you inevitably engender the impression that cycling must have become more dangerous than driving and walking. That deters cycling. That reduces cyclists’ presence on the roads. That increases the risk of death. And if wild claims about helmets saving lives are published in the media, helmet users are bound to feel overly secure, thus compromising their one vital safety feature—a sense of caution”

  18. Alan Haworth · ·

    I got a ticket at white rock yesterday for “no helmet.”

  19. I got one on my way to the Bonnie and Clyde ride. It was Sunday near the Peal Station on Bryant. Went to court today and was told I have to go back on a Wednesday at 12:30 for Proof of Plea.

  20. I would like to determine the cumulative benefit of a helmet law, if any, and weigh it against the loss of a personal freedom.

    Waco points out an important fact that many daily activities are dangerous. Why are we only concerned with legislating a few dangerous activities while ignoring all of the others? I wonder how long it will be before laws and ordinances will attempt to address “all of the others?”

    Before supporting this, or any, law I have to ask the question, “Is this particular law or ordinance justified to impose restriction(s) on personal freedom?”

    To answer that I have to determine whether or not the restricted activity can or will violate the rights of others. For instance, does a cyclist that is not wearing a helmet violate or infringe upon the personal rights of fellow citizen? This is the minimum requirement for me to support any law like this.

    Is my personal freedom worth relinquishing because a cop wants to question drug dealers? How about in an effort to make someone in elected office feel like they are protecting people from themselves? These are not good qualifiers of a law that reaches this far in to our personal freedoms.

    How much value is placed on our personal freedom to choose how we live our lives is an important subject that people are not talking about much. I personally think that this is one of the most important topics of our time and there has never been a time in the USA where the government has been so active in the restriction of our personal freedoms.

    The helmet law is a very small example of this trend in our society but it is a part of the problem. A very big problem that is only getting worse.

  21. There is a new post on the Copenhagenize blog that references a study that seeks to quantify the cost of helmet laws impose on society:

    http://www.copenhagenize.com/2009/04/putting-price-on-bicycle-helmet-laws.html

    The paper is by Piet de Jong, Professor of Actuarial Studies at Macquarie University in Sydney. Here is a quick excerpt from the post:

    “His work suggests that Australia’s all-ages bicycle helmet laws incur a health cost to the nation of more than a half a billion dollars [AUD] every year. In other words, there is now evidence that bicycle helmet laws have a direct, negative impact on Australian health costs. They amount to $301 million a year and a total cost of $519 million when combined with the non-health costs of the law….He has further calculated that if America adopted nationwide helmet laws like those in Australia, the USA would suffer a health cost of $4.75 billion every year…”

    Just skimmed it myself at this point, but should be an interesting read.

  22. John Smith · ·

    They are now writing tickets on the Dallas Katy Trail. There are 5 cops that are roaming around and then writing the tickets at the base of the tral near the American Airlines Center!

  23. Gary Johanson · ·

    You guys are correct in stating that a helmet will ptotect you. However you are not stating what is causing the falls? Most falls occur due to the avoidance of vehicles that do not want you to have the right of way. Go spend 15 minutes at the intersection of the Katy Trail and Knox Henderson on a weekend afternoon and watch what occurs. The motorists slow down only because there is a flashing yellow light and a warning that there is a speed bump. Go do the research from the pedestrian and bike ride side and also from the vehicle side. It is setup to not work. If the city wants to make money they can write tickets all day to the vehicles that do not yield to the pedestrians and bikes but wait they only need to yield to the speed bump.
    Go around the SMU campus where the signs are perfect and no incidents ever occur.

  24. Hi Gary,

    It is interesting that you mention this. Having crossed that intersection many times both on the trail and the roadway, I made essentially the same comment on another blog.

    I never realized it, but the road users have right-of-way at that intersection, and trail users on both sides have a STOP sign. The intersection is designed to have trail users yield to road users, not the other way around.

    The stop signs are not positioned in a way to make this clear to the road users, nor is there supplemental signage that communicates this. The road humps, the lane narrowing, and the flashing yellow lights all suggest that road users should yield, even though they have right-of-way. Of course the trail users rarely if ever stop. They ignore the signage completely unless there is a car that is assumed to not be yielding…

    It is a horrible intersection, as you say, set up not to work!

  25. Yes, wearing a helmet is safer than not. But, its my head, my life, my choice.

    Educate yourself about the law and take full advantage of your day in court should you be ticketed.

    The full law: http://tinyurl.com/dallasbikeordinance

    A section pulled from the law referencing how the court will handle a first offense:

    (d) It is a defense to prosecution under Subsection (a), (b), or (c) that:

    (1) the bicycle was not being operated upon a public way at the time of the alleged offense; or

    (2) for a first offense only, the person owns or has acquired a helmet for himself or his passenger, whichever is applicable, prior to appearance in municipal court. (Ord. 22764, eff. 9/1/96)

  26. Sorry but too me its the DUMBEST LAW EVER..
    COMING SOON YOU MUST WEAR A HELMET-KNEE PADS-ELBOW PADS TO WALK AT WHITE ROCK.. OH YEAH AND ALL PETS MUST WEAR THE SAME…

    Huh that statement was stupid!!
    Just like the law!

    Its just too make $$$. Not fight crime..

    Its another example how our Gov. SUCKS!!!

  27. Just think we pay the cops to right us tickets for no helmet!

    I think its a JOKE!

    Im 42 I ride for exercise. I have never had a accident at White Rock Lake… 5years and counting.

    Too me its Big Brother grouping us all together and saying some of you idiots cant walk and chew gum at the same time. So all of you must wear helmets..
    Instead of were all Adults and its up to you to be safe..

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