Against helmet laws

12 01 2012

Opposition to mandatory motorcycle helmet laws seems like a stupid, treacherous hill for proponents of individual rights to die on. Helmets save lives–numerous studies of motorcycle accident fatalities bear this out.

In space, no one can hear you explain the concept of rational self-interest

As sensible as safety gear use, however, mandatory helmet laws are indefensible.

Well-intentioned paternalism drives one group of pro-helmet partisans. Their argument is that the risks of not wearing a helmet may be hard for an individual to assess, and the relative cost of imposing a helmet law is low relative to the law’s life-saving benefits. Since helmets are safe, then, why shouldn’t we mandate their use? Numerous states, including Michigan, have followed this “common sense legislation” path.

But the utility of helmets not in dispute. Rather, it’s the position that this obvious utility justifies intrusive legislation that must be reexamined.

I challenge paternalistic proponents of helmet laws to demonstrate how their argument cannot be used to justify a total nanny state. Motorcycles are undeniably more dangerous than cars–why not ban them entirely? What about rock climbing? Bungee jumping? All of these activities involve risks that, to a bureaucrat playing with statistics at least, seem “unreasonable.”

Conversely, why not mandate helmet use for bicycles? Granted, I’m sure there are proponents of mandatory bicycle helmet legislation as well–but certainly far fewer than there are motorcycle helmet law supporters. Statistics can probably be used to show that many activities you enjoy are unreasonably risky, and if you have already conceded that a paternalistic state must act to limit these risks for one activity, you have justified limitless intervention. At this point, any notion of individual liberty becomes meaningless.

There is another, more pragmatic argument advanced in favor of helmet laws (and other laws mandating safety regulations, such as seat belt and airbag use in cars): the shared cost of individual stupidity. Helmet-less riders who ride without insurance impose a real drag on our partially socialized health system.

Conservatives like this argument because it absolves them of accusations of paternalism–if the poor decisions of an individual impose costs on me, am I not justified in taking legal action to prevent this burden?

But if the real problem is the socialization of risk, we should be working to reinvent our hopelessly broken health and insurance systems. Sure, those reforms are not as expedient as enacting a helmet law, but allowing market mechanisms to hold individuals accountable for their poor choices would eliminate the need for a slate of nanny state initiatives, from anti-tobacco crusades to asinine restaurant portion control efforts.

Helmets use is a great idea, and riders in states without mandatory laws should consider buying and wearing a helmet as a small investment in one’s well-being. Many already wear helmets despite enjoying the freedom not to.

Even the most staunch proponents of mandatory helmet use must recognize that individual liberty includes the freedom to make potentially harmful decisions. Supporters would be wise to contemplate the consequences endorsing of such intrusive legislation.




One response

26 04 2012
Your Questions About How To Choose Motorcycle Helmet : ATAVENTURES

[…] Motorcycle Accident Attorney – Feds Pushing Mandatory Motorcycle Helmet Laws – Personal Injury Attorney Orange County Blog – Don SjaardaMotorcycle Helmet Laws and Recovery for InjuriesNo Motorcycle Helmet Law in IllinoisAgainst helmet laws […]

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