I’ve mentioned a couple of times how bicycle helmet laws are sometimes used for pretext stops in Dallas and elsewhere, with a disproportionate number of such stops taking place in predominately black and brown communities.
The Dallas Observer also recently noticed that helmet citations and warnings are more often issued around downtown Dallas, where one officer who patrols that area in particular seems to have a bug up his backside about helmets and bikes. The Dallas Morning News dug a little further and discovered:
Feel free to ignore Dallas’ bike helmet ordinance with impunity at White Rock Lake, in Lakewood, along the Katy Trail and on other popular biking routes.
But don that helmet downtown, where one enthusiastic police officer has apparently made enforcement of the ordinance his personal mission.
And be sure to cinch up that chin strap in poorer neighborhoods, areas with large minority populations and places identified by Dallas police as crime hot spots.
Police often use the ordinance not to safeguard the welfare of bicyclists, but in essence as a crime-fighting tool to stop and question individuals.
The Dallas City Council are apparently debating the purpose and effectiveness of their mandatory helmet law. I don’t know what local bike advocates say (and please feel free to chime in or link to your blog post about this), but the police like the law as a crime fighting tool. Minor infractions like riding bare-headed or lacking the required reflectors gives officers an excuse to stop and frisk the usual suspects.
- Dallas Morning News: With Dallas bike helmet law, rules of the ride enforced unevenly
- Dallas News Crime Blog: Policing strategies and the Dallas bicycle helmet ordinance
- Lakewood Advocate: Should Dallas repeal the bike helmet law?
- This map shows helmet citations and arrests occur almost exclusively in minority communities of Dallas.
For those tempted to dismiss this as a “Texas” thing, pretext stops versus minorities for minor bicycle infractions are a thing in California, too.
Around March of 2009 there were a series of targeted crackdowns in the popular cycling areas of Dallas (Katy/WhiteRock). My assumption is that this was primarily to legitimize the ordinance after the city was sued. (“See, we write tickets for everyone!”)
I don’t know if the advocacy organizations have made official statements about the ordinance but here is the founder of Bike Friendly Oak Cliff expressing his personal opinion against it.
Thanks for posting this story. You’re doing a better job of it than any of the Dallas blogs I’ve looked at. I can’t find any recent posts about this story on them. I ride a lot around Dallas and neighboring communities and don’t own a helmet. I’ve never been ticketed, but then again, I’m white, so who knows what else I’ve gotten away with!
Dallas should be congratulated for finally shining light on this misguided nanny-state law. Many jurisdictions use their restrictive bike laws to target people on bikes that police officers do not like.
FYI, Anonymous: The Observer, Advocate, and Morning News have been all over this story lately.
Yes, I know. Sorry I wasn’t clear. I meant the Dallas bike blogs, not the news.
How Texas….. Petroleum, the most expensive perfume in the world.