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Brain-Dead Arguments for Mandatory Helmet Law

Nevada state Sen. Don Gustavson is back this legislative session with a pro-freedom bill to repeal Nevada’s mandatory motorcycle helmet law.

SB 177 would let those who ride decide…and has significantly more backing this session than in previous sessions thanks in part to election losses by some nanny-staters (bye-bye, Sen. Nolan!). Also, the potential of additional tourism from generally high-income out-of-state bikers (this ain’t yer daddy’s Hell’s Angels) who will end their boycott of Nevada once repeal takes effect.

Of course, the usual crowd of mommy-knows-besters are once again in full-throated opposition to treating adults like, well, adults. That includes Dr. John Filds, trauma director for UMC, Nevada’s only government-run hospital. But a closer look at Dr. Filds’ argument for continuing the mandatory helmet law doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

For example, Dr. Filds complained in a Las Vegas Review-Journal story on Sunday about seeing “too many mangled bodies and brains of riders who rode with and without helmets.” What? You mean there are mangled bodies and brains in motorcycle accidents even if you wear a helmet?

Why, yes there are. Which means for Dr. Filds to avoid seeing mangled bodies and brains from motorcycle accidents, requiring helmet use is useless; the only real solution is to ban motorcycles altogether, right? Is that what Dr. Filds would like to see? Hmmm.

Repealing the helmet law, Dr. Filds predicts, would mean more broken bodies “with the public footing most of the bills.”

But wait. If the public is footing most of the bills, then the problem isn’t whether or not the motorcycle rider is wearing a helmet, but whether or not the motorcycle rider has sufficient insurance. So the logical conclusion to solving the problem isn’t to make a rider wear a helmet, but to make helmetless riders carry sufficient insurance, right? Hmmm.

“These people,” Dr. Filds says, “want to exercise their rights. I want to exercise my right not to pay for their medical care. There is no such thing as unpaid medical care. You and I pay for their accidents.”

Well, actually, there’s no such thing as a “right” not to pay for someone else’s medical care. I checked the Bill of Rights, and it’s just not there. But if Dr. Filds wants to go down this “I have a right not to pay for their medical care” road, I’m game.

For example, I don’t want to have to pay for the medical care, food, clothing and housing for the fatherless children of welfare recipients because of their own reckless and bad choices in life. I mean, if you’re going to force motorcycle riders to wear a helmet so as to minimize the potential cost of their dangerous behavior to taxpayers, then by the same logic shouldn’t welfare mothers be subjected to mandatory birth control? Is that where Dr. Filds wants to take us with his argument? Hmmm.

Dr. Filds then invokes the “far greater costs than medical care” in motorcycle deaths. “Who pays to take care of the children if the rider suffers brain injuries?” the good doctor asks, adding that he used to ride motorcycles himself but stopped because it was “too risky.”

Once again, the doctor’s point isn’t really about wearing a helmet, but riding a motorcycle, period, since more helmeted motorcyclists die than un-helmeted ones. Which again raises the question as to whether or not Dr. Filds true objective is to ban motorcycles rather than force riders to wear helmets, because he really isn’t making a case for helmet use here. Hmmm.

But let’s get back to the potential cost to taxpayers.

The RJ reported that there were eight times more traumatic motorcycle accidents in 2008 and 2009 involving riders wearing helmets than those not wearing helmets. But wait. If there’s a mandatory helmet law, how can there be motorcycle helmet accidents involving riders not wearing helmets? Do you mean to tell me the law isn’t be observed and/or enforced? Say it ain’t so, Joe.

But I digress.

Let’s get back to the actual numbers. According to the RJ report, in 2008 and 2009 there were 696 motorcycle accidents involving traumatic injuries of riders wearing helmets which cost an average of $96,700 to treat. On the other hand, there were 88 such accidents involving riders not wearing helmets with an average cost of treatment being $112,500.

So the average cost of treating a helmetless rider is only $15,800 higher than treating a helmeted rider…and most riders will continue to wear helmets even if the law is repealed. So we’re really not talking about a huge amount of additional liability here.

And again, that liability could be mitigated simply by increasing the level of insurance a motorcyclists pays to ride helmetless, just as health insurance companies charge a premium for smokers. And/or the state could set up a special helmetless motorcycle license with a higher fee and earmark the additional money from those fees to a fund uninsured or underinsured motorcyclists.

So the arguments against repeal by Dr. Filds and other my-way-or-the-hiwayers just don’t hold water. This is nothing more than the government trying to control the actions of individuals which some people don’t like. Indeed, these folks consider motorcycle riding pretty much the same way many feel about drinking and smoking – that it’s a “sin” which must be controlled and regulated.

But let’s close this out with the opposite point of view.

Many riders, and they have plenty of examples to point to, believe that many accidents involving motorcycle riders are caused BECAUSE they’re wearing helmets; that the helmet impedes both their vision and their hearing; and that the weight of the helmet, while sufficient to protect against some head injuries, results in even more severe neck injuries in a collision.

So I guess the bottom line on whether or not the government should mandate helmet use comes down to a simple question of what the proper role of government is. And for direction on this issue, I defer to the late, great President Ronald Reagan, who said the following in a July 1975 interview with Reason magazine:

“I don’t believe in a government that protects us from ourselves. . . . I disagree completely when government says that because of the number of head injuries from accidents with motorcycles that he should be forced to wear a helmet. I happen to think he’s stupid if he rides a motorcycle without a helmet, but that’s one of our sacred rights – to be stupid.”

Case….closed. Let those who ride, decide.