Whose Brain Is It In That Bucket?

It looks like the nanny state is alive and well, with our federal government champing at the bit to make brain-buckets mandatory nationwide:

States should require motorcycle riders to wear proper helmets, government investigators urged as part of several recommendations that seek to stem a steady rise in motorcycle deaths.

Members of the National Transportation Safety Board unanimously approved the motorcycle safety recommendations, wading into a contentious issue that has pitted motorcycle rights’ groups against safety organizations in many states.

Iowa, Illinois and New Hampshire have no helmet laws.

“The simple act of donning that helmet can begin the process of preventing that type of fatality and serious injury,” said NTSB chairman Mark V. Rosenker.

Are the number of motorcycle fatalities rising? Yes. Would many of those deaths be prevented by the use of helmets? Well, as someone who has endured two crashes, one where I watched dirt go by 3 inches away from my eye through the faceshield of a helmet, and another which was a violent 75-mph highside on the racetrack, I can definitely say that more widespread use of helmets would make crashes less likely to result in severe brain injury or death.

But that avoids a very serious question. Who’s head is it?

There is no more blatant example of the nanny state than helmet laws. Motorcycling is, by nature, a fairly dangerous activity. All the helmet laws in the world won’t change that, but the use of helmets would go a long way to improving the situation. But the question at issue is not whether it will result in fewer deaths, but rather whether individuals have the right to set their own risk tolerance, or whether it is government’s job to do it for them.

Motorcycling, for many reasons, tends to attract the sort of people who are against heavy government intervention. But they’re shooting themselves in the foot when they offer laughable arguments like the one below, rather than a principled argument to be treated like adults:

Motorcycle groups questioned the ability of helmets to provide complete protection and prevent internal injuries in a crash. They said more rider education programs are needed.

“If a truck pulls out in front of you and runs a stop sign, how is that helmet going to prevent an accident?” asked Steve Rector, state coordinator for ABATE Iowa, a motorcycle rights’ group. He also noted that motorcycle registrations and the number of miles traveled by motorcyclists have increased in recent years.

Judith Lee Stone, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, said there was “no scientific evidence that motorcycle rider training reduces crash risk and is an adequate substitute for an all-rider helmet law.”

Rider education? Yes, that helps, but there’s a bit of a saying that many of my fellow motorcyclists have: “Dress for the crash, not for the ride.” Yes, it would be nice to simply tell each other “Don’t crash”, but that often doesn’t work as well in practice as it does in theory.

But that doesn’t give the government a legitimate power to set individuals’ risk preferences for them. Riding a motorcycle without a helmet is stupid, regardless of how much “rider education” you have, but it is not the government’s job to stop you from being stupid. If that were the case, we’d have long ago stopped a lot of people from voting.

  • http://nomayo.mu.nu Stephen Macklin

    “There is no more blatant example of the nanny state than helmet laws.”

    I’d put seat belt laws up against helmet laws as a worse nanny-state intrusion.

  • Ryan Walker

    In order to ride skid lid less a legally binding signed document in which a helmetless head injury victim waives any government assistance is the answer. As a lifelong 2 wheeler I’m all for personal choice. But I don’t want to saddled with the massive cost of subsidizing the care and tube feeding of some squid who refused to take personal responsibility for their decision to leave their brain and body unprotected. Like the fine line between clever and stupid there is a fine line between nanny and ninny.

  • Bob

    If we can mandate wearing helmets because not doing so increases health costs we can outlaw smoking based on the same argument. How far are we from outlawing fast food or mandating that people eat their vegetables? Where do we stop the nanny state?

  • http://thelibertypapers.org/2005/11/22/a-bit-about-kevin/ Kevin

    In a perfect world, without government funded health care, I would agree. However, if a bill that allows people to ride motorcycles without a helmet does not include exempting helmetless riders from free government healthcare for their stupidity; I probably would not support it because all it would do is force taxpayers to bear the burden of subsidizing stupidity.

  • Joel

    Wow, you must be the only person in the world that knows that it’s “champing at the bit” and not “chomping at the bit” or worse “chomping on the bit”.

  • http://unrepentantindividual.com/ Brad Warbiany


    Thanks for recognizing that it wasn’t a typo ;-)

  • http://unrepentantindividual.com/ Brad Warbiany

    For those of you who are advocating cutting off free medical care for motorcyclists who ride without helmets, why don’t you just cut off medical care for motorcycle riders entirely?

    After all, motorcycles are not safe vehicles, helmet or not. After all, if the standard that you’re going to follow is that we shouldn’t subsidize people who willingly engage in dangerous behavior, why stop at helmets?

  • Brian Garrett

    These laws only require you to wear a helmet while on public roads. If you’re on private property you can do whatever you want. If the racetrack allowed you to ride without a helmet, that would be your choice. But they don’t give you that choice, do they? In fact, every track I’m aware of requires that you wear a helmet while riding a motorcycle, even OFF the track.

    On the road, people make mistakes and motorcyclists are injured. Somebody turns into the path of a bike, and the rider goes down. While this is certainly a horrible accident, there is no reason that the cage driver should have to deal with the consequences of a fatality if a helmet would have prevented it. My insurance rates (auto and health) would be higher without a GA helmet law, so I’m glad we have it.

    If you want to get rid of helmet laws, then I agree that car safety standards should also go. Air bags, ABS, bumpers, seat belts…all optional equipment, right? I hear the slippery slope argument, but I just don’t buy it in this case.

  • http://www.orderhotlunch.com Jeff Molby

    If you want to get rid of helmet laws, then I agree that car safety standards should also go.

    The government mandated safety standards, yes. Private industry is, of course, always free to develop its own standards.

    Air bags, ABS, bumpers, seat belts…all optional equipment, right?

    You just listed a bunch of things that were all invented by the free market. They all started out as optional components on high-end vehicles and then reached the mass market as they became cost-effective.

    The effect of government safety regulations has been minimal.

  • http://thelibertypapers.org/2005/11/22/a-bit-about-kevin/ Kevin

    For those of you who are advocating cutting off free medical care for motorcyclists who ride without helmets, why don’t you just cut off medical care for motorcycle riders entirely?

    Brad, I’m for cutting off free medical care to just about everybody.

    Cutting it off first for the willfully stupid is more popular than just ending free government health care in general.

  • http://www.ride2die.com Ron

    Check out this site.
    It’s a wake up call folks.