To my great surprise and delight, Governor Snyder repealed Michigan’s motorcycle helmet law earlier today. In fact, I might head out to my old Honda and go for a nice, long ride to celebrate – but not before I don my helmet.
Wearing a helmet makes sense. Mandating helmet use does not.
These days, we almost reflexively associate good behavior and government enforcement. Seat belts are important, which is why we require individuals to wear them. Alcohol and tobacco are bad, which is why we tax them heavily and limit distribution. Exercise is a good thing, which is why we mandate a half hour of…oh, I suppose we’re not quite to that point. Yet.
This mentality is as pervasive as it is tragic, so I wasn’t surprised to take some flack from family and friends when I advocated the repeal of the helmet law. A common counterargument was that riders who go helmet-less and lacking adequate insurance incur costs to Michigan’s taxpayers if they get injured. This may be true, but it is more an indictment of our twisted health insurance system than it is of individual liberty. Further, it sounds an awful lot like the argument for ObamaCare’s individual insurance mandate – which is why I am often surprised to hear it used by conservatives.
The motorcycle helmet law was more than just a law: it was an admission that government knew best. Like laws regarding seat belt use, tobacco consumption, and (if Michelle Obama gets her way) obesity prevention, the helmet law legitimated government’s role as a nanny looking out for our best interests rather than a protector of individual liberties. The latter type of government can be limited, at least in theory. The former cannot. Nannies know they cannot look away for a moment, because God knows what kind of trouble the children will get themselves into…
Though riders across the state are already doffing their helmets and hitting the road, this battle isn’t over. No fight against the leviathan ever truly is. Every dead or injured rider that wasn’t wearing a helmet becomes a “told you so” and an argument for the law’s reinstatement. Statistics will show the supposed “social cost” of helmet-less riding. There will be sad stories of individuals who took a poorly calculated risk and paid the price for it.
It is important to stand on principle in the face of this criticism, even if you personally oppose helmet-less riding. In the mean time, however, we should celebrate this little bit of expanded liberty and hope that maybe – just maybe – it is part of a broader push to wrest our freedoms back from the nanny state.
The helmet law is dead. Good riddance, and safe riding.