Helmet Laws

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What happens when people feel "safer"? It's called risk compensation (Peltzman effect), they often take bigger risks and do dumber/riskier things. Drivers around them see the helmet and make assumptions on safety and competence, so drive closer to them. Or just that the helmet impedes vision/hearing and that increases accidents and most of all deters riding which can sometimes result in worse behaviors. What we know is that helmet laws saved some lives, and cost others -- but states taking that decision away from adults own the consequences of those actions.


OK, so there are a few people that don't mind Darwinian survival of the fittest, and allowing the stupidest elements of society to take themselves out of the gene pool. But realistically even the most jaded cynics don't really want to see others harmed, most are just talking tough.

The pitch:

  • To protect people we make a law to require people to wear helmets when they are on motorcycles. Sounds good.
  • People tell us that the law will make motorcyclists safer, and lower our insurance costs -- in fact, the "lowering insurance costs" argument is the rationalization that is made so that the freedom trampling law can exist in the first place.
  • Similar arguments are used for Bike Helmet laws.

The problem is, that there has never been any proof that the benefits outweigh the costs -- and there are many costs.

The costs:

  • When people are wearing helmets (and leathers, and so on), they are not as "naked" -- and human nature is that many will take more risks than they would otherwise because they feel safer than they really are. So forcing people to wear a helmet may encourage them to ride more dangerously.
  • While there is less head trauma when wearing a helmet, there is no proof that this reduces healthcare costs. The added torque on the neck in accident may increase neck trauma. In fact, there is a good chance that while the brain-bucket will save the head, it may increase spinal cord injuries, or increase survivability of seriously injured people (that maybe should not survive). There is probably a higher chance that you will live -- but live as a quadriplegic or a vegetable on a life support machine, which costs society far more than if you died.
  • Helmets restrict vision and hearing -- which riders use to avoid accidents. That means that if you are wearing a helmet, you are probably more likely to get in an accident in the first place.
  • Forcing a helmet reduces riding -- in case of Motorcycles, that might save lives -- but so would locking everyone in a padded cell for their own safety: that's not a free society. With Bikes it reduces riding, so they drive, or worse, walk. (There are more walking injuries per mile than driving ones).

Real quickly we can see that results of the law may be the exact opposite of everything the law was supposed to do (lower insurance costs, protect people). Even if it isn't, before you enact a law, you should have to prove the merit, which is still not done. That isn't to say that we shouldn't pass such laws, or try to make a difference (even when I personally disagree) -- but the point is that many of the consequences and costs are NOT thought out and the evidence isn't there to justify the intrusion. People are attacking symptoms of problems, and not the problems themselves.

If you want to reduce the severity of motorcycle accidents then outlaw motorcycles, or outlaw cars -- they don't mix well. In fact, if you get stupid people, or many bad drivers off the road, motorcyclists and all others would be safer. <markr>But people don't want to give up THEIR freedoms for safety of others, they want to take away OTHERS freedoms for their own good.

Those that fight these laws are not heartless callous bastards, nor extremist idiots, many are actually just trying to reason through the results, and do what is better long term for society (even if you don't agree).

Who knows more about what risks they should be able to take with their body, the rider, or someone who has never been on a motorcycle?

NOTE: There is some evidence that when you remove Helmet laws, that accidents go up. But that might show the problem. Assume that helmets increase boldness -- and then you take away the safety nets. Well people don't go back to being cautious, they ride how they rode with the helmet, which was riskier. Whereas if they never had to use a helmet, they would have learned to be more cautious, and continued to ride that way. So it doesn't show what the illiteratti pretend.
Unintended Consequences
Every action causes a reaction. Some reactions are pleasant surprises, many are negatives, some are counter productive (perverse) and make the problem worse. Since consequences matter more than intentions, we have a social obligation to plan for them (and avoid them). The phrase "unintended consequences" is used as either a wry warning against the hubristic belief that humans can control the world around them, or more often against a really bad implementation of not-so-smart ideas or implementations. Those that deny unintended consequences are denying science (reality).



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