Helmet Laws and Needless deaths

Yahoo News reports the death of a motorcyclist during a protest ride against New York’s helmet laws. While it is certainly tempting to simply cite this as a case of someone “asking for it” and getting it, consider the specifics of this case: Philip Contos was riding without a helmet at this place and at this time specifically because he was protesting against the state. Whether or not he normally wore a helmet, even, is irrelevant. He would not have been riding there and then if not for the state. The sad truth is that protesting laws against risky behavior unfortunately requires actually engaging in risky behavior. I, a nonsmoker, despise anti-smoking laws. How could I protest against these laws, however? By engaging in the banned behavior is the most obvious way. So, too, with helmet laws.  At minimum, Contos’s death, whenever it would have happened, would not have happened at that time at that place, under those circumstances, except for the meddling of the busybodies who claim the right to decide what is best for a 55 year old man.

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  • In a town in Argentina happened something worst. Two boys were riding a motorbike, and the police started to chase them because they weren’t wearing a helmet (we have a helmet law, of course). During the motorbike was boxed in by the police car causing the death of a 16 and a 17 year old who were on the bike.

    If there weren’t those paternalistic laws, those young boys would have been alive today.

  • Wouldn’t this argument work exactly the same backwards? Couldn’t we say that, whatever the motorcyclist’s reasons for riding on that particular street, on that particular time, the contributing factor for the poor man’s death was not because the state denied him the right to ride on public roads without a helmet (you can ride without a helmet anywhere else if you want to), but because he wasn’t wearing the helmet that the state compelled him to?
    The law doesn’t insist that you ride a motorcycle, only that you wear a helmet while doing so on public roads. This is fair enough:
    Motorcycle riding is dangerous. Nearly every motorcyclist comes off at some time or another, and the resulting head-injuries are almost always severe. In the old days, before helmet laws, there was much less traffic and much fewer motorcyclists and the bikes were not nearly as powerful. If there were no helmet laws, severe and debilitating head injuries would be vastly more common, with huge costs to medical resources (at the expense of more responsible people) and to the tax-payer, if the person becomes disabled and reliant on the care of others.
    Perhaps if we could have a contract system – enforced without mercy – where one can sign an agreement that, if they suffer a brain injury without wearing a helmet, they will receive no ongoing medical care, compensation or pension of any kind in the public system – then for such individuals the helmet would be optional. Why weren’t they protesting for that?
    Until then – don’t be stupid, wear a helmet. The law’s there for a good reason.