What are the Bicycle Helmet Laws for Seattle and Washington State?

Currently, there is no Washington state law requiring bicyclists to wear a protective bicycle helmet. That means that the decision to set and enforce bicycle helmet laws is left up to the local cities and counties on an individual basis. King County and the city of Seattle require do bicyclists to wear helmets while riding in public.

King County first established a law requiring bicyclists of all ages to wear helmets in 1993. However, that law did not apply within city of Seattle until it was later updated in 2003. Today, all bicyclists within King County (including the city of Seattle) are required to wear a protective helmet while they are riding.

While some helmet laws throughout Washington state only apply to people of certain ages (for example, the city of Poulsbo's helmet law only applies to those under the age of 18), King County's helmet law applies to everyone who rides a bicycle.

Washington State Localities Requiring Bicycle Helmet Use

Below is a table listing all of the localities in Washington state that currently have active laws requiring helmet use among bicyclists, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT): 

Locality Who Is Affected Effective Date
Aberdeen All ages 2001
Bainbridge Island All ages 2001
Bremerton All ages 2000
DuPont All ages 2008
Eatonville All ages 1996
Fircrest All ages 1995
Gig Harbor All ages 1996
Kent All ages 1999
King County All ages 1993 (Updated in 2003)
Lakewood All ages 1996
Milton All ages 1997
Orting Under 17 Years Old 1997
Pierce County (unincorporated) All ages 1994
Port Angeles All ages 1994
Port Orchard All ages 2004
Poulsbo Under 18 Years Old 1995
Puyallup All ages 1994
Renton All ages 1999
Spokane All ages 2004
Steilacoom All ages 1995
Tacoma All ages 1994
University Place All ages 1996
Vancouver All ages 2008
All Military Installations All ages N/A

Penalty for Not Wearing a Helmet in Seattle or King County

The violation for not wearing a bicycle helmet is a civil infraction (ticket) and the base fine is $30. There are additional court costs of $51 added to the base fine amount, so the total is $81. All law enforcement officers have the authority to enforce this code -- police officers, sheriff's deputies, state patrol troopers, and so on.

In addition to the financial costs, a bicyclist's failure to wear a helmet can come at an even greater cost. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 91 percent of bicyclists who were killed in collisions in 2009 were not wearing helmets at the time of the crash. The CDC says there were approximately 800 bicyclist fatalities in 2010 and another 515,000 bicycle accident-related injuries. Overall, it is estimated that the indirect financial costs for injuries to unhelmeted bicyclists is approximately $2.3 billion each year.

Chris Davis
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Christopher M. Davis is principal attorney and founder of Davis Law Group, P.S. in Seattle, WA.