Laws for Our Own Good

| March 26, 2007 | 4 Replies

Missouri legislature is about to engage in the quixotic attempt to repeal — or at least to reduce the effect of — a silly law. Missouri House Bill HB155 of the current session aims to allow motorcycle riders over 21 to feel the breeze in their hair. I’d like it even better if were coupled to a clause requiring organ donation permission, but that would be replacing one type of meddling with another.

A motorcyclist makes a great organ donor. Most are in passable health, and an accident without a helmet is much more likely to result in a slightly battered, brain-dead corpse than if she had worn a helmet. Our skulls are insufficiently evolved (or inadequately designed, if you prefer) to reliably survive a hard-surface impact even at normal running speeds, much less highway speed. If you know that you will be sending your head out there at those speeds, it’s simple sense to protect it somehow, just in case the other guy isn’t paying attention. But I don’t think it should be the business of the government to specify and require the use of such protection.

I have a motorcycle license, although I haven’t actually driven one in a decade. I did and still would wear a helmet in traffic as certainly as I reflexively strap on a seatbelt in any car. But I object to the government wasting its time enforcing those laws, and even its mass of paper to record such laws. The more laws we have, the weaker each one becomes.

So why do I call it quixotic? Because even if all of the House approves it, and all but a couple of members of the Senate, it could still be stalled into oblivion. Anyone who wants to soapbox on safety issues might take it up as a cause; for the good of the community. The small constituency of those whom the bill actually affects are not a significant political force. And the election record in our state shows the dominant influence of the pulpit over the professors. For example, the bulk of Missouri’s legislation related to massage was written for the vice squad, not the therapy community. Our secular state constitution is burdened with a clause restricting whom or how many one may marry.

But that’s a different category of laws passed for our own good. This gripe is about still-up-to-the-state helmet laws, and the federally mandated (via highway funding blackmail) speed limit and seatbelt laws.

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Category: Current Events, Health, Law

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A convoluted mind behind a curly face. A regular traveler, a science buff, and first generation American. Graying of hair, yet still verdant of mind. Lives in South St. Louis City. See his personal website for (too much) more.

Comments (4)

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  1. Erich Vieth says:

    I would let motorcycle riders ride without helmets as long as it is deemed that by doing so, they agree to the following: if they suffer head injuries, they have waived the right to receive any medical care for that injury that is funded by taxpayers. Let them enjoy the breeze in their hair at their own risk, then. But let them also put their money where their mouths are, and let them make that decision of whether or not they want to put the financial health of their families at risk so they can enjoy the breeze.

    Here are some statistics to substantiate that head injuries are more likely with non-helmeted riders.

    I commute by bicycle and I wear a helmet. I would think it absurd to not wear a helmet yet to expect the taxpayers to pick up any part of my head injury medical bills.

    I know someone who used to work in a medical facility specializing in head injuries, many of them motorcycle riders. She described the environment as depressing because so many of the riders were horrible injured, many of their former personalities barely recognizable . . .

  2. Dan Klarmann says:

    One of my classmates in premed courses worked as an EMT driver. He had a great way of walking into a room and starting motorcycle accident stories: "Did you know that a motorcycle helmet can fit entirely within a chest cavity?" for a rider-meets-bridge abutment, or "Have you ever seen someone's head sharpened like a pencil?" from a high-speed dismount.

    I was inured to the macabre well before I associated with med students, though.

    Erich: Those statistics show that the care cost for non-helmeted riders is generally higher than for helmeted, of those who are admitted for treatment. I suspect that the medical cost per accident is actually lower without helmets, because of the much higher fatality rate among non-helmet wearers. Fatalities are not examined at your link.

  3. grumpypilgrim says:

    Dan's post and comment echo my own views. Motorcycle helmets will save lives, but won't minimize healthcare costs, because dead motorcyclists incur far lower healthcare costs than do severely injured ones. It is the same reason why armies use anti-personnel land mines against their enemies: because severely injured people are more of a burden than are dead people.

    Indeed, if the goal is to reduce public healthcare costs by forcing people to wear helmets, then Erich's argument would more effectively be applied to *automobile* drivers. First, there are many more of them than there are motorcyclists, so the benefit would be greater; second, a helmet makes far more difference for survival when the person is surrounded by 4000 pounds of metal than it does when he isn't. Should we impose the same requirement on automobile drivers that Erich would impose on motorcyclists: "let them ride without helmets as long as it is deemed that by doing so, they agree to the following: if they suffer head injuries, they have waived the right to receive any medical care for that injury that is funded by taxpayers?" Good luck getting anyone to support that law.

    Erich's example of bicycle helmets is also non-analogous. On two-wheeled vehicles, helmets make a big difference in crashes below about 30 mph, because head injuries at relatively low speeds account for a high percentage of permanent disabilities. Even standing still, falling off a bicycle and smacking your head on a cement curb can cause a permanent brain injury. Conversely, at speeds above about 30 mph, head injuries are only one of many things that cause permanent disabilities, and a helmet just increases the victim's odds of surviving long enough to experience them. Accordingly, a bicyclist (who rarely travels faster than about 30 mph), gains a big benefit from wearing a helmet; but a motorcyclist (who frequently exceeds 30 mph), gains much less benefit. It is like comparing skiers and sky-divers: a helmet might help a lot if you ski into a tree, but it probably won't help much if your parachute doesn't open.

    This is not to say that I think motorcyclists should ride helmetless (I drove a motorcycle for many years and never rode without one), because motorcyclists obviously do spend considerable time traveling below 30 mph, but the arguments put forward to support mandatory helmet laws are, for the most part, bogus. If we want to save lives and reduce head injuries by mandating helmet use, then we should make helmets mandatory for car drivers, because they really could benefit from wearing them. But, of course, it is far easier for a car-driving majority to impose a helmet law on a motorcycle-driving minority than to impose one on themselves.

    This brings up a question I find much more interesting than the ones we've discussed above: *why* a car-driving majority *wants* to impose a (largely pointless) helmet law on a motorcycle-driving minority, but would never impose (an arguably beneficial) one on themselves. It seems to me it has a lot to do with the motorcyclists' image as a rebel and non-conformist, and the majority's desire (car-driving or not) to squash rebellion and non-conformity. Indeed, since accident statistics do not support the arguments in favor of mandatory helmet laws, the real reason must come from elsewhere.

  4. Un Easy says:

    I ride and I dont understand laws made up by people in offices in buildings funded by my tax money because they "think" it will keep me safe and imposing on MY personal freedom. Im old enough and have been riding motorcycles and driving enclosed type vehicles for years and I think I am able to determine what is safe and what is not as far as seat belts, air bags and helmets go. If they want to make the roads safer for every one they need to educate people "car drivers" on why they should NOT use cel phones, put on make up, read, eat and all the other things they do while weaving aross multiple lanes on their way to where ever they think they need to go in such a rush. Motorcyclists have to pay closer attention to their surroundings and have to concentrate a lot more on the task at had. We KNOW we cant sleep ,eat, read, talk on our phones, or any of that and safely operate our chosen method of transportation. If we did attempt to do these things we would surely get ran down or pulled out in front of by the above mentioned "distracted CAR DRIVERS" I agree with "grumpypilgrim" The helmet law is simply an imposition on the freedom of a growing "minority". They (car drivers) are trying to impose their idea of "safe" on a group of people (bikers) who are most likely some of the safest most responsible drivers on the road today any where.. Remember WE KNOW we dont have doors, air bags and a nice hard top to keep us off the pavement. Most of us have hit the ground at one time or the other and have no desire to do it again. So if the government and the "car drivers" want to make the roads safer… Hang up your cel phones, look before you change lanes, stop eating, reading and sleeping while you drive.. Ill be glad to give you space just dont invade mine I pay taxes the same as you and have the same rights on the road as every one else. It wont cost any one any thing if I go down if you dont hit me. I have insurance and a job Ill take care of me as long as you arent the reason I got hurt.

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