A Colorado bicyclist’s case that has put a spotlight on helmet laws and how they are used to unfairly punish people with disabilities is drawing attention to a problem that has been under the radar for decades.
A Denver judge on Wednesday said bicyclists who wear helmets in certain areas should be considered impaired.
The ruling by Denver District Judge Jennifer Stapleton is one of a growing number of cases that have exposed the ways in which bicyclists and their advocates are punished when they wear helmets, and it is a sign that the courts are starting to take the issue seriously.
The bicyclist, whose name has not been released, was riding north on a bike path in July 2015 when he collided with a vehicle and killed a pedestrian who was crossing a street.
The pedestrian was wearing a helmet.
Staplette said the bicyclist was riding in a protected lane, which means there is no space between the bike path and a traffic signal.
She said the crash was “unintentional.”
The bicyclist and the pedestrian were both wearing helmets, she said.
The bicyclists were also using their bicycles to cross a sidewalk.
She also said the cyclist’s helmet was a bicycle helmet.
Stapleton said the helmet law in Colorado, as written, doesn’t cover all types of bicycle helmets.
She said the law is too broad.
“The helmet law, as it stands now, covers all types, including helmets for kids,” she said at a hearing Wednesday.
The law also does not cover helmets worn by women, she noted, and “we’re talking about a bicyclist that is the age of majority in this state.”
Staplin said the state’s law doesn’t address the “disability spectrum,” but that it does address people who have disabilities.
She noted that in addition to children, adults are protected by the law, but it doesn’t apply to “those people who are more likely to be on the roadway and in a crosswalk and the crosswalk is not clearly marked.”
She said there are “reasonable accommodations” for children and adults who wear a helmet, but that those accommodations have not been fully tested.
The accident attorney, who is not named in the lawsuit, argued that the law has been interpreted unfairly, particularly when it applies to children.
Stacleton agreed, saying she was “very concerned” about the impact on children who are most vulnerable.
“That child who is the most vulnerable is the one who is least likely to have a chance to develop into a responsible, responsible citizen,” she told the judge.
Stavins said it is not clear how much time would have elapsed for a cyclist to be safely in the crosswalks without a helmet on and how much more time would be required to be safe.
“In my judgment, a bicyclists ability to safely operate in that crosswalk, given the speed at which he or she was moving, is diminished by the lack of helmet,” Staplyn said.
The judge said she has been watching the case closely.
The lawsuit was filed in March by the advocacy group Bicycle Colorado.
The group argues that helmets should not be considered an exemption from the law and that children should not have to go through the expense of paying for helmets.
The case will go to trial in July.