Camas passes helmet ordinance

Cyclists, skaters must protect heads while in public spaces

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Camas Police Chief Mitch Lackey (right) discusses his department's third annual free bike helmet program in July 2017, while 14-year-old Hayden Stinchfield, who suffered injuries during a bicycling accident in 2017, looks on. (Kelly Moyer/Post-Record files)

Planning to cycle or skate in the city of Camas? Better grab that helmet.

The city of Camas passed a new helmet ordinance this week requiring all cyclists and skaters — including skateboarders, scooter riders, unicyclists and rollerbladers — to wear a helmet while rolling in a public area.

Police can now stop people biking or skating without a helmet and issue a warning or citation.

Camas Mayor Scott Higgins said at a Feb. 20 Camas City Council meeting that the ordinance was not meant to be punitive.

“This is truly an educational tool,” Higgins said.

The council had opened a public hearing on the helmet law on Feb. 20, but had to postpone that discussion after a winter snowstorm caused an early end to the February meeting. The council members came back to the helmet ordinance Monday night, at their regular March 5 meeting.

Two councilors said that, while they support people wearing helmets while biking or skating, they had qualms about the proposed ordinance.

“Why are we creating this law?” asked City Councilman Don Chaney, adding that he couldn’t remember city leaders passing an ordinance that seemingly had little enthusiasm for or against at the community level. “We’ve heard from one supporter and one opponent … there is low public interest in this.”

Chaney also said he was worried about the city’s liability after hearing from City Administrator Pete Capell that the city’s Washington Cities Insurance Authority (WCIA) representative had cautioned the city councilors that, with the ordinance in place, Camas could be liable if a police officer gave a warning to someone not wearing a helmet and that person went on to injure themselves.

“I would like to see that WCIA opinion in writing before voting on this,” Chaney said Monday. “I’m uncomfortable with this … and I can’t support this ordinance tonight.”

The council’s newest member, attorney Deanna Rusch, said she had changed her mind after hearing Capell describe the WCIA representative’s concerns about liability.

On Monday, both Chaney and Rusch voted against the ordinance, which eventually passed 5-2.

Ed Fischer, owner of Camas Bike and Sport, brought the issue to the council’s attention last year and showed up at the Feb. 20 meeting to support the new helmet law.

Carrying two bike helmets that he said had saved his life, Fischer urged the council members to vote yes on the ordinance.

“I’ve seen a lot in regards to helmets saving lives,” he said at the Feb. 20 meeting. “You never know when (an accident) is going to happen. And it’s a lot cheaper to buy a new helmet than it is a head.”

Fischer said he thought the ordinance would be a good educational tool and would help parents understand that they and their children are required to wear a helmet when biking or skating on public property, such as a road or sidewalk.

“This is purely a chance to educate people more than anything else,” Fischer said. “Parents, with guidance of the ordinance, can say, ‘Hey, this is what we need to do.'”

Fischer added that he hopes helmets become like seat belts in cars, with everyone just putting them on without really thinking about it.

Camas Police Chief Mitch Lackey said the issue wasn’t a top priority for him, but that it’s something that comes up every couple of years in Camas.

“There are pros and cons, but you’ll find few people who think it’s bad to wear a helmet,” Lackey said Monday.

The ordinance he helped draft for the council’s consideration was based on the city of Vancouver’s helmet ordinance.

The new law requires all people riding bicycles, in-line skates, roller skates, scooters, unicycles or skateboards in or on a public area within the city of Camas to wear a protective helmet with a neck or chin-strap securely fastened while the cycle or skates are in motion. Parents or guardians are responsible for children under the age of 16 wearing their helmets while cycling or skating. People are exempt if wearing a helmet violates their religious beliefs.

Police can issue a warning or fine of up to $50 when they see people violating the helmet ordinance. Camas police have a limited supply of free helmets for families who cannot afford to buy new helmets or replace their damaged helmets.