Why we need helmet laws
This is a reprint from the last time we went through this. Abe Froman is not allowed to reply.
WHY WE NEED HELMET LAWS
The most contentious and emotional debate among American motorcyclists is the one over helmet laws. Should society, working through a democratically elected state legislature, require motorcyclists to wear an approved safety helmet?
The US Supreme Court has made many decisions about which rights US citizens have which government may not abridge. Such rights include reproduction, interstate travel, right to contract, right to work, etc. Although these rights are not mentioned in the US Constitution, they are nevertheless protected, since the Ninth Amendment of the Bill Of Rights says that rights not "enumerated" in other parts of the constitution are still rights.
But, just because a person does a thing does not make it a right. Homosexual sodomy, for instance, although it affects nobody except the er, pitcher and catcher, is illegal in many states, since the Supreme Court did not hold such a practice as a "right" like other rights.
So what makes a right a right? The concurring opinion in Griswold v. Connecticut tries to determine "which rights are fundamental..." To do this, Justices Warren, Goldberg and Brennan say courts must "look to the traditions and collective conscience of our people to determine whether a principle is so rooted there as to be ranked as fundamental." Once the right is recognized, the court should then decide if that right is "of such a character that it cannot be denied without violating those fundamental principles of liberty and justice which lie at the base of all our civil and political institutions..."
So we are faced with a two-tiered determination. First, the action in question must be rooted in the collective mind of our society as being fundamental. That is, a reasonable, average American (whoever THAT is) must agree, totally, that it is a fundamental right to do this thing. Next, this right cannot be denied without being an egregious attack on personal liberty.
That's why states cannot force welfare mothers to be sterilized. No reasonable person would feel that the right to reproduce is not a basic human right, and limiting that right would be outrageous. Can you imagine having to get a "sex license" from your city hall? Or requiring obese people to present ration card to their grocery clerks? Such notions are repugnant to anybody with even a small amount of respect for other's rights.
Let's apply this motorcycling without a helmet. Is feeling the wind in your thinning scalp at 70 MPH a right rooted in our collective mind? Would a reasonable person, without a moment's hesitation, agree that you have a right to endanger your thin (and not to copious) skull like that?
But lets say this mythical reasonable man did such a thing. Does limiting this right outrage our sensibilities, or notions of freedom? It sure does for some people. But not enough to universally overturn helmet laws, or even the majority of the people it affects, i.e. motorcyclists. Even in states without helmet laws, over half the riders wear helmets. Presumably, if helmet laws outrageously infringed on personal liberty, there would be a massive outcry from motorcyclists of every ilk, as well as the public at large.
Continuing to play devil's advocate, let's say going helmetless IS a fundamental right. Can a state infringe on a fundamental right? The answer is yes, if the state has a compelling interest.
Here is the heart of the debate. One side says helmet laws don't do a thing for the state, and the other side says they save the state money and save human lives. Who has the heavier burden of proof?
I would say the anti-helmet law people do. If the state can save even $10,000 (to pick a random number) by requiring helmets, I would say that that is compelling enough to override the right of motorcyclists to go helmet less. Can ABATE honestly say helmet laws don't save states even a minimal amount of money? Even anti-helmet law websites acknowledge fewer head injuries in helmet law states. I would say even a realitively small amount of savings negates a person's almst indetectible right to feel that breeze on the pate.
But pro-helmet advocates have an easier job. The "right" we are sacrificing is not one exercised by reasonable people. Would you really rather smack your head hard on something without a helmet? If you posed that question to 100 people, how many would prefer it au naturel? It's just not reasonable to say it's better to not wear the minumum of head protection.
There's a second argument the anti-helmet folks use. If we let them take away this "right", they will keep restricting other rights until we can't ride motorcycles at all. Like appeasing Hitler, the "safety nazis" will just have their appetites for biker rights stoked, and hunger for even more. Funny how much this sounds like NRA rhetoric, no?
This argument operates on an assumption that I think is hard to prove. The assumption is that the "safety nazis" have an agenda to totally eliminate motorcycling. I have not seen any convincing proof of that. Has any state ever banned motorcycles? Have there been bills in Congress to eliminate motorcycles? Is there any official DOT, EPA or CalTrans advocating elimination of the motorcycle? Wouldn't motorcycles have been banned a long time ago if that was the case?
The only agenda "safety nazis" have is to reduce injury and death. (Those self-serving bastards!) That's their job. And they are pretty good at it- whether it's helmets or education, motorcycle fatalities per mile traveled has declined since the 1970's. And they understand the law enough to realize that eliminating motorcycles completely would probably come closer to infringing on the kind of rights implicated under the Ninth Amendment.
Rather than "open the door" for more regulation, I feel helmet laws comfort the public at large who, lets face it, have to pay the costs of our enjoyment, whether through hearing our loud pipes, (you know you got 'em!) sport bikes crossing the double yellow lines at them (I know you do it every week!), or paying for increased fire and police protection.(what, you've never gotten an ambulance ride? I've got "frequent flier" miles!) With helmet laws in place, people can look at motorcyclists and say, "well, it's crazy to ride those things, but at least they have helmets on."
If the question comes down to either helmets or motorcycle, I'll pick the motorcycle. I know it's rough to have your life-style choice on display without letting people see your face, but if that's the cost of being left pretty much alone by society, then I'll happily wear my helmet.
Helmet laws are good because they do not abridge any substantial right, save at least money if not lives, and keep society off the backs of motorcyclists. How can any rational person be against it? I don't know, but I'm sure I'll hear all kinds of reasons.