April 8, 2010
Explore how the personal freedom to ride without a motorcycle helmet may create problems for others.
I’d like to continue the topic of risk I started in the last blog because when I saw my doctor on Tuesday she said that one of her patients,who had taken Zicam Nasal Gel [which was withdrawn from the market] for a cold, not only lost the sense of smell, but taste as well. Not completely unable to taste food, but enough so that she has lost the weight she very much wanted to lose.
Not my kind of diet!
Therefore, I thought again about the matter of who should protect us from risk. Is it the government and regulatory bodies or personal decisions based on complete evidence available? And this made me think about motorcycle and bicycle helmets. It is a topic that has long fascinated me because I believe everyone should wear one — I once fell against a car when riding a bike and my helmet got a dent, but my head didn’t. Yet I wonder to what degree government should control our choices. Should we be allowed to kill ourselves?
Here is my reasoning: On the face of it, it would seem that government can become a nanny state when we are unwilling to protect ourselves. For example, there was the man who sued the manufacturer because there wasn’t a warning on the box in which his power saw was delivered that said “you shouldn’t sit on the end of the branch you intend to cut off as you’re working.” I believe it’s true, but don’t quote me on it. In any case, there are many such examples of law suits by people injured by their own stupidity — and then winning. McDonald’s hot coffee case is a prime example.
As for helmets, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, twenty states require all riders to have one. Twenty-seven restrict helmet requirements to some riders. Three states do not have a helmet law. According to that same organization:
Based on studies of the effects of states’ enactment, repeal, or weakening of universal helmet laws, use approached 100 percent when all motorcyclists were required to wear helmets, compared with about 50 percent when there was no helmet law or a law applying only to some riders.
So apparently requiring helmets does make a difference.
Wondering what are the Libertarian views on this subject, I came across one by the American Journal of Public Health titled “Paternalism & Its Discontents: Motorcycle Helmet Laws, Libertarian Values, and Public Health” by Marian Moser Jones, MPH and Ronald Bayer, PhD.
The history of motorcycle helmet legislation in the United States reflects the extent to which concerns about individual liberties have shaped the public health debate. Despite overwhelming epidemiological evidence that motorcycle helmet laws reduce fatalities and serious injuries, only 20 states currently require all riders to wear helmets. During the past 3 decades, federal government efforts to push states toward enactment of universal helmet laws have faltered, and motorcyclists’ advocacy groups have been successful at repealing state helmet laws. This history raises questions about the possibilities for articulating an ethics of public health that would call upon government to protect citizens from their own choices that result in needless morbidity and suffering.
I don’t want us to become a nanny state that can unintentionally cause people to assume someone else will keep them out of trouble and take care of them when they stumble into difficulties. On the other hand, consider this scenario: A man without insurance and without a helmet is severely injured in a motorcycle accident. We don’t allow him to lie on the ground while passersby take a collection to pay for a ride to a hospital. Rather, the ambulance comes and he is treated, even though the money will come out of my insurance payment, my taxes, and community services if he needs long-term care.
If you are asking me to take care of you, I believe I have a right to ask you to take care of yourself as well as you can.
ASK YOURSELF THIS QUESTION:
- Should I have to pay for the freedom of other people to feel the wind in their hair?