Commissioner might dump mandatory helmet law

Kitsap County Commissioner Jan Angel, after sifting through an avalanche of constituent-based criticism, decided she isn’t in favor of a possible helmet ordinance in Kitsap after all.

“It would be an ordinance that just can’t be enforced,” Angel said. “That’s what I’ve heard from people. I like to do shoe-leather advertising and straw polls whenever possible on issues, and that’s what I’ve heard.”

Angel said the South Kitsap community reacted strongly after Kitsap County Health District Director Dr. Scott Lindquist provided the county with a model helmet ordinance in early November during a regular Board of Health meeting.

The county’s civil prosecutors were tasked at the time with reviewing the language, which would require bicycle riders of all ages to wear a helmet for safety.

It’s up to county commissioners, however, to officially propose a helmet ordinance for a public hearing. Officials originally anticipated a proposal sometime after the new year.

Angel jumped ahead in favor of putting it forward for a public hearing when the helmet ordinance was first discussed, and that part hasn’t changed.

Angel said she always wants to hear from the public.

Now there may no longer be legislative support for the proposal.

New CK commissioner Patty Lent, also a Republican, said she isn’t in favor of such a measure, although she believes it’s well-intentioned and based on community safety concerns.

“I don’t see how we have the staff to enforce such a measure,” Lent has said. “I would still like to help educate the public about the benefits of wearing a helmet, but I wouldn’t want to crowd our agenda with ordinances we can’t enforce.”

That leaves only NK commissioner Chris Endresen, a Democrat, in favor of the ordinance.

Angel said she’s debated the topic for some time, since it also touches her personally.

“I am very close to this issue,” Angel said. “I lost a brother-in-law decades ago because he was not wearing a helmet on a motorcycle. That just sticks in your mind, and you wonder if he would have lived if he had been wearing a helmet.”

To Angel, a countywide helmet ordinance — the cities of Bainbridge Island, Poulsbo and Bremerton already have their own — is a safety issue, but not one that can be governed.

“When you’re elected to represent the people, it’s up to you to ferret out what they’re thinking,” Angel said. “I really struggled with this one.”

Angel, as well as Lent, would like to see residents encouraged to use helmets through educational programs, possibly through the Kitsap County Health District.

“I would also like to see people who can’t necessarily afford them receive access to helmets,” Angel said.

The Mary Bridge Health Center in the Harlow Building at Harrison Hospital Silverdale offers helmets and fittings for $5 for both children and adults.

The Naval Hospital Health Promotions Department also runs its own helmet program and the Helmets for Youth Foundation, which works only within school settings, provides resources to low-income families. Bicyclists who want to obtain a helmet or need help obtaining helmets can call their local police or fire stations for assistance as well. Policies vary by community.

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