« Selection Bias | Main | Before and After »

June 19, 2006

Some People a Helmet Wouldn't Help

155-1-lg.jpg

What happens when a state repeals its motorcycle helmet law? Guess:

A Florida Today analysis of federal motorcycle crash statistics found "unhelmeted" deaths in Florida rose from 22 in 1998 and 1999, the years before the helmet law repeal, to 250 in 2004, the most recent year of available data.

The article notes motorcycle registrations are also up in the state since the law was repealed, but they're up 87 percent, not 1000 percent, so as raw numbers and as a per capita number (or a per decaptia number, as the case may be), "unhelmeted" deaths are up.

This isn't what bothers me, really. What bothers me is the following quote:

But Merritt Island motorcyclist and helmet law opponent Dave Carroll said the helmet law debate is misguided.
"What causes most of the crashes is cars," he said. "Usually, it's the car driver turning left at an intersection and causing an accident because they didn't see us coming."

You know what? If someone believes they shouldn't have to wear a motorcycle helmet because the accident is someone else's fault, the fact is I don't want that person to wear a helmet. Because that person is clearly too damn stupid to live. For the rest of you, I'll merely remind you of what you no doubt already know, which is that your brains will splatter themselves across the pavement just as readily when the accident is someone else's fault as they will when it is yours. You don't wear a motorcycle helmet because you're a moron on the road. You wear a helmet because everyone else is.

I don't really care if Florida reinstates its motorcycle helmet law; I think overall people would be safer and somewhat less dead if there was one, but if there's not it's no skin off my nose (and cheek, and forehead and jaw). The way I see motorcycle helmets is that they are just one of life's stealth IQ tests, and when I see someone driving a motorcycle without one I know I'm dealing with someone who one of three things: A moron, delusional ("I'm too good a driver to get in an accident"), or a delightful optimist concerning the driving skills of every other single person on the road. I am none of those, myself, but it is always good to know when someone else is, and that they advertise themselves so clearly as being so.

(The picture at the top, incidentally, comes from here. It's what happens when you go 155mph on your bike and then hit a car. To be fair, even a helmet won't help you then.)

Posted by john at June 19, 2006 03:02 PM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.scalzi.com/mt2/mt-tb.cgi/3886

Comments

Cathy | June 19, 2006 04:08 PM

You know, I used to think that helmets were a personal option until I worked for Social Security in Denver for a while. Far too many cases of driving without a helmet applying for benefits because they'd be a vegomatic in some nursing home for the next 10 years until an infection killed them off. Not any way to go through life and expensive for the taxpayers to boot.

Anonymous | June 19, 2006 04:09 PM

Actually, the unhelmeted stat is misleading. Without a law, fewer are going to wear helmets, so fewer of those who die are going to have helmets on.

From the article:
"Total motorcycle deaths in the state have increased 67 percent"

Compared to the 87% increase in registration, it's not clear that helmets are helping.


As to your point, yea, I think that situations not under your control (usually the car's fault) is exactly when you'd want the most protection, since you could do everything right and still get hit.

PeterP | June 19, 2006 04:16 PM

Agreed. We have a term for the sort of fool that rides down the road in a t-shirt, shorts, and no helmet: squids

I've just recently started riding, and never get on the thing without a full helmet, gloves, jacket with CE approved armor, jeans and boots. And even then I feel vaguely guilty for not having true riders pants. There are far too many inexperienced riders with bikes capable of easily breaking 100mph, combined with idiot drivers too busy talking on their cell phones while changing lanes and drinking Starbucks in their 2 ton SUV's to even countenance a world in which wearing a helmet would be optional.

Darwin at work, I guess...

Dave | June 19, 2006 04:17 PM


It should be noted that helmetless motorcycle driving actually has offsetting positive social effects, in as much as it's a great source of donor organs (hence the emergency room slang "donorcycle"). The morons involved tend to be young and otherwise healthy, end up less smooshed than auto accident victims, and die in noisy ways on fast roads, making for quick ambulance acquisition of the various leftover parts.

I have no real point here, but being cheerfully grisly was way more fun than statistical coding.

Chris Byrne | June 19, 2006 04:23 PM

I have no problem with someone wanting to be an orgon donor in waiting, so long as I in no way (including in my insurance rates, and public health costs) have to pay for them, or for their family or kids.

At that point they are just thinning the herd a bit, and as I referred to, providing a wonderful source of healthy transplant material.

Of course we live in America in 2006 so that's completely unrealistic.

I'm a rider, have been on dirt for almost 25 years, and on street for almost 15 years. I NEVER ride without a helmet. I was stupid enough to leave my helmet in my friends room on time and had a serious accident riding back to his place. It is only through the actions of an especially benevolent god that it didnt kill me.

If we could legally completely write off anyone who had a head or upper spine injury when they werent wearing a helmet I'd say no helmet laws ever; that's the libertarian in me.

As long as we can't do that, then I at least see some justification for them.

Dave Pittman | June 19, 2006 04:24 PM

Not that I have the data to back this up other than the word of several riders (I'm no motorcycle rider nor do I have any yearning for that kind of speed or "freedom") but I have heard that the usual trend when helmet laws are repealed (as they were here in PA) is that fatalities increase but accidents as a whole decrease due to the riders' reclaiming a huge chunk of hearing and peripheral vision. I wonder if the Florida numbers would echo this or not. If so, which way would you go? More fender benders and paralysis or skull-sized paintball impacts?

John Scalzi | June 19, 2006 04:27 PM

Anonymous:

"Actually, the unhelmeted stat is misleading."

Actually, the stat is not misleading in the slightest. There are 10 times as many "unhelmeted" deaths now than there were when there was when there was a helmet law. The stat for overall motorcycle deaths is an entirely separate conversation and not germane to what I am writing about right now.

The comment that "it's not clear that helmets are helping" is pretty damn stupid in my opinion, unless you're going to try to suggest that every motorcycle death in Florida attributed to some motorcyclist not wearing a helmet would have happened anyway, had the motorcyclist been wearing a helmet. This seems deeply unlikely to me.

Rather more likely is that if there were a helmet law, the number of total motorcycle deaths would be down, despite the increase in registrations.

Dave Pittman: I don't know whether that "death vs. injury" thing is true, although I'd be willing to believe some riders feel their senses are constrained with a helmet. My feeling about that is that the solution is probably a better-designed helmet as opposed to riding without one entirely.

John H | June 19, 2006 04:43 PM

As Ron White says, "You can't fix stupid..."

kevinDwhite | June 19, 2006 04:43 PM

You've neglected to note a few other positive effects of helmets. Open casket funerals. It's much more difficult for families to work through their grief when they're not able to view the body without vomiting.

Helmets also make post-accident cleanup just a little bit easier. This cuts down on the time cellphone wielding SUV drivers spend stuck in traffic.

Jas | June 19, 2006 04:43 PM

Not to pile on, but yes, there's not much dumber than riding a motorcycle helmetless.

In a similar vein, we have a special name for those that wear a helmet, and a t-shirt and shorts to go with it: "eye donor" - there's just no other reason to be so protective of their head, and their head alone.

Interestingly, this is the first time I've heard the argument for helmet laws based on the cost of keeping people on life support after they've gone and scrambled their brains but not quite offed themselves...

Stan | June 19, 2006 04:45 PM

(I was anonymous earlier forgot to fill in.)

My point was a statistical one, the article picked a very misleading data point to illustrate a point it wanted to make without examining the data. It's merely a case of unequal sample sizes and changes is in sample size over time. From the article, it seems that an unhelmeted death is merely a death in which the rider is not wearing a helmet, fewer helmets means more unhelmeted deaths regardless of any benefits.

The article is very sparse on data. But from it, you can't conclude that helmets save lives.* Prior to the helmet law repeal, the majority of riders probably wore helmets, so it's totally unsurprising that only 22 of the 259 deaths were helmetless; the helmeted are drawing from a much larger sample. From the data given, there's no way to conclude that the rate of fatalities was higher for those without helmets.

Once the law was repealed, the sample of those without helmets increased dramatically. So, it's not surprising that the portion of those who died that weren't weraring helmets increased as well. Helmetless deaths went from a proportion of less that 10% of all riders to a little over half. Does that reflect the porportion of helmetless drivers as a whole? I don't know.

The only data given on total riders or total rider hours is registrations. The rate of fatalities rose slower than the rate of registrations, which suggests that death rate among riders has decreased with the helmet repeal. But it's hard to tell with such poor data.

*My point isn't that helmetless are useless, just that there was no evidence for helmet benefits in the article.

Chang | June 19, 2006 04:49 PM

Funnily enough I was listening tot he radio other day (may have been Air America) and a nurse from Florida was saying they call motorcycle riders "organ donors' in Emergency Rooms there.

Did someone else write that earlier? If so

rhiannon_s | June 19, 2006 04:54 PM

Actually I'm all in favour of making helmets (for motorcyclists and regual cyclists) non compulsory, and for decriminalising driving without a seatbelt too. Of course I believe when those laws get passed, organ donations should become compulsory.

John Scalzi | June 19, 2006 05:07 PM

Stan:

"The article is very sparse on data. But from it, you can't conclude that helmets save lives."

You can, however, quite reasonably conclude that not having a helmet contributes manifestly to not having a life. Because these people are dead by the determination of the State of Florida, because they weren't wearing a helmet. Would some of them have died if they were helmet? Possibly, but probably not all all of them (and possibly not most of them), but the point is moot, as not wearing a helmet killed them first.

Once again, Stan, you're trying to make a point that has little or nothing to do with the point I'm trying to make.

On a second reading, this sounds crankier than I actually am. My point is that we're looking at the same data and seeing two different things, both of which may be true, but are separate arguments.

Diatryma | June 19, 2006 05:16 PM

I don't think helmets and seatbelts are quite equivalent; once a motorcyclist is at the helmet-necessary stage, he or she has pretty much lost control, but even after a seatbelt is needed, one can still do a bit to keep the car from hitting anything else.

I read a murder mystery once in which the motive was that a famous doctor was using his biker friends as potential donors-- he worked tirelessly to repeal helmet laws and was always right there when someone crashed, doing his best to keep the heart going (and organs good) under the guise of first aid and CPR.

clvrmnky | June 19, 2006 05:24 PM

There is a fair amount of evidence that many _car drivers_ should be wearing helmets while driving (or, maybe, 5-point harnesses). Even when adjusted per capita there are a surprising amount of head injuries for car drivers vs. motorcycle drivers. A fair number of motorcycle accidents involve people *not* landing on their heads (or getting a smack in the head from their own vehicle, which is common enough for when head injuries *do* take place) but are accidents where minor to major injuries involving skin, bones and nerves occur.

Those larger SUVs and "lifestyle" 4x4s are especially bad at giving people head injuries, especially at modest speeds. Apparently, there is just more to hit your head on inside the cab, and crash tests are often used to see how well mandated safety equipment works, not how an ill-placed seat and door jamb can bash in your noggin.

It turns out we bounce around quite a bit inside our tin cans, resulting in many eggs being scrambled.

I certainly don't recommend getting on a bike without a serious attempt at protective garb, but the last time I looked there are often as many serious injuries, especially to the head and neck, for someone who drives in a cage. Driving a closed vehicle is dangerous, and for many of the same reasons driving a motorcycle is dangerous.

To me, one of the more interesting aspects of safety equipment is how injuries change when new rules and equipment are introduced. Often the addition of new equipment (either voluntary or mandated) doesn't lower the number of injuries, but rather causes the type and scope of injuries to change. Since most are designed to increase survivability, I guess this is fair enough.

One is more likely to survive a motorcycle crash nowadays, but there now there is a fair chance of ending up in traction for a few months, or crippled for life.

Similar sorts of trends can be observed in professional sports, as well, when various equipment changes are made in a particular league.

John H | June 19, 2006 05:35 PM

There is a good reason why NASCAR now requires head and neck restraint (such as the HANS device). The five-point harness keeps the body from moving in a collision, but the head was free to snap forward. What ultimately killed Dale Earnhardt was the momentum of his head snapping his spinal cord in two...

Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little | June 19, 2006 05:46 PM

As a writer, I take Stan's point that it's obnoxious when an article does not present the correct assortment of facts to logically support its argument. It's extremely painful to watch a sloppy writer make a total hash out of your cause.

As someone who likes to stay alive and would like others to do the same, I take John Scalzi's point that the article's argument nevertheless is a damn good one: Wear your helmets, boys and girls!

Quoth clvrmnky: To me, one of the more interesting aspects of safety equipment is how injuries change when new rules and equipment are introduced.

...Anyone else remember the short story "A Nice Morning Drive," I think it was called? (Bonus if you didn't just go looking for it because of its connection to Rush's "Red Barchetta".) A hypothetical future story positing that as autos become more indestructable, it becomes more and more unsafe to drive older vehicles on the highway because of the tendency of teens in the newer vehicle to play bumper cars?

will shetterly | June 19, 2006 05:51 PM

There's an old bit of advice for bikers who wonder how much money to spend on a helmet: "Get a $10 helmet if you've got a $10 brain." So, no helmet--

Something Libertarian Party types don't get is that the streets belong to the people, so the people are entitled to regulate their use. No one will stop you from riding helmetless on your own highway.

I wouldn't mind this as much if being helmetless automatically made you an organ donor. But there's another aspect to helmets that some folks miss: Putting one on reminds you that you're doing something dangerous. Bikers are not always the innocent parties in accidents.

Bill Marcy | June 19, 2006 05:57 PM

Florida? Deaths? Govenor Bush?

I blame GW!

John Scalzi | June 19, 2006 05:58 PM

Bill Marcy, you nutbag liberal!

Wickedpinto | June 19, 2006 06:07 PM

I used to know a lot of people who loved motorcycles and hated helmets. (they aren't dead, yet, some are, but not all of them) The one thing they all had in common, everyone of them had stories about doing 100mph plus on city streets.

I like the repeal of the helmet law, so that then I can identify the idiots who are turning themselves into a small ballistic device built out of human flesh and japanese machinery, and I get the hell away from them so that they can kill themselves on something other than my car.

Jack Cross | June 19, 2006 06:27 PM

You can outlaw ANYTHING by making it a safty issue, where does it stop? You have to wear a seatbelt, you have to wear a helmet on a motorcycle and kids have to wear them on bicycles, you can't smoke, you (soon) can't eat fast food, the goverment has learned to make you agree with losing your RIGHTS. Yes it's stupid to ride a motorcycle without a helmet, but its just a stupid to allow the goverment to take over/rule your entire life.

Joe Hass | June 19, 2006 06:33 PM

I am anti-helmet and anti--seat belt law under the standard of personal choice (i.e. it is not the responsibility of government to regulate personal behaviors that do not affect other people unless there is an extenuating circumstance (e.g. a minor)).

That being said, I live in a state (Michigan) where I, as an automotive insurance policy holder (mandated by law as an vehicle owner), must pay into the Michigan Catastrophic Claims Association pool. This association reimburses insurers for their costs for personal injury as a result of an accident, with no limit on the total benefit (Michigan state law requires it). In 2006, the amount that I have to pay to cover the jackass that decided it'd be hysterically funny to ride helmet-less, only to have that pesky moving car come right into his path is $137.33 per year per policy.

So you know what? If I have to pay your health bills for being reckless, then I get to tell you (though the laws of my state) to reduce my exposure to your risk. My long-standing argument to helmet law opponents: you can have me on your side the moment you convince the state to drop the unlimited benefit law.

Usually, that shuts 'em up.

dan | June 19, 2006 07:35 PM

as a motorcyclist, i think helmet laws should be repealed.

also as a motorcyclist, i would wear my helmet. most of the time. there are certainly some rides, out on the open road, where i would love to go helmetless. but i've been in too many close calls (and one was enough) to think it's a good idea to tool around town without the brain bucket.

that being said, that whole roethlisberger this was annoying because if he didn't have a full-face helmet, he still would have most of the injuries he sustained. and they seriously didn't need to keep mentioning he didn't have a helmet on... even in the ESPN bottom-line thinger.

also: we should outlaw those friggin' huge land-yachts because they make people drive worse, since they know they won't get hurt when they cause an accident.

Madeline F | June 19, 2006 07:57 PM

I wouldn't mind having helmet laws repealed. A motorcycle helmet really is a great way to block out a big chunk of your senses. Thus, helmetless riders would have lessened chances of smashing into me.

Me, I'd use the big stick of government to force car manufacturers to lose this ugly "high butt" trend of the last 10 years... Everyone's missing a huge chunk of the action to the rear because the trunk is in the way, no one can see through the car to a problem developing ahead because the trunk is in the way. SUVs would have to comply to visibility laws, too. Birds would sing, and the sun would shine, and ponies would be FedExed to every doorstep...

Joemedic | June 19, 2006 08:35 PM

Having no helmet laws makes my job as a paramedic/firefighter that much easier. We have a term for motorcycle wrecks without helmets--"DRT", also known as "Dead Right There." The body becomes part of a potential crime scene and I can get back to doing the "granny shuffle"--shipping people back and forth from nursing homes.

As far as helmets laws go, I really don't care one way or the other--people will always find another stupid way to kill themselves in a graphic manner.

MWT | June 19, 2006 08:38 PM

"Me, I'd use the big stick of government to force car manufacturers to lose this ugly "high butt" trend of the last 10 years... Everyone's missing a huge chunk of the action to the rear because the trunk is in the way, no one can see through the car to a problem developing ahead because the trunk is in the way."

Amen to that! I'm not very tall. The last time I went car shopping I had to look pretty hard to find one where I can see out the back while in the driver seat (without extra cushions).

Bill Marcy | June 19, 2006 08:44 PM

Anything that culls humanity a bit is a-ok by me, a litle bleach in the gene pool helps us all in the end. No helmet? No problem!

Bobarino | June 19, 2006 09:00 PM

Good on you, Joe Hass. You make a great argument.

Unfortunately, while many of us in other states end up paying for the helmetless stupidity of others, we don't have an easy way of estimating what it costs each taxpayer every year. I wonder if anyone's calculated the amount per state.

And I've always figured that any repeal of a helmet law should be named the Hey, I May Need A Kidney Act.

Dane | June 19, 2006 09:03 PM

Don't wear a helmet to save your life...wear it to protect the guy who will have to endure cleaning you up off the roadway. No one deserves that kind of stress on the job. You might not survive either way but atleast it is all contained in an easy to carry bucket when you loose your head while wearing a helmet.

Dan | June 19, 2006 09:17 PM

I live in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. So, thanks to Harley Davidson, the odds that this state will ever get a helmet law are pretty slim.

The thing is, we have seatbelt laws, and I don't think those two things should be mutually exclusive. I mean, if someone's not required to wear a helmet to save their life, why the hell should we be forced to wear seatbelts for the same, damn reason?

jess | June 19, 2006 09:22 PM

Ahhh darwinism! I wonder what rationale the lawmakers used to repeal the law (I mean really what has anyone to gain from driving a motorcycle sans helmet? Other then a loss of grey matter. Or maybe it was street cred)

Ulrika | June 19, 2006 09:23 PM

Motorcycle helmets: if you don't wear one, you don't need one.

Jim Wright | June 19, 2006 09:41 PM

I live in Alaska, no helmet laws, very bad roads, very large wildlife that tends to step out in front of you without warning. Big biker population in the summer. Every time I pass one of these helmetless idiots I am reminded of the phrase in Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle's _Oath of Fealty_, "Think of it as evolution in action!"

Clearmoon | June 19, 2006 10:43 PM

Wickedpinto: ...the goverment has learned to make you agree with losing your RIGHTS. Yes it's stupid to ride a motorcycle without a helmet, but its just a stupid to allow the goverment to take over/rule your entire life.

What cracks me up is that the authorities can ticket you for not wearing a seatbelt in a CAR (100s of pounds of metal, airbags, etc. around you, when there is such a thing as a motorcycle that's perfectly legal to operate on the same road, helmet aside!!

mythago | June 20, 2006 12:24 AM

Where in the Bill of Rights is the part about how Congress shall make no law restricting the freedom of motorized-vehicle owners to eschew safety gear?

Jon H | June 20, 2006 01:18 AM

clvrmnky writes: "Those larger SUVs and "lifestyle" 4x4s are especially bad at giving people head injuries, especially at modest speeds. Apparently, there is just more to hit your head on inside the cab, and crash tests are often used to see how well mandated safety equipment works, not how an ill-placed seat and door jamb can bash in your noggin."

I think SUV's give head injuries to the people in the *other* car, because the bumper of the SUV hits so high on the other car (if the other car isn't also an SUV.)

Another thought is that the SUV injuries would include rollovers, and maybe the umpteen passengers in the back of the SUV aren't belted in.

Madeline F | June 20, 2006 01:30 AM

mythago: Articles 9 and 10. "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people," and "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

PaintedJaguar | June 20, 2006 01:41 AM

"A motorcycle helmet really is a great way to block out a big chunk of your senses"

Perhaps. But then there is my neighbor who owns a big Honda cruiser. Like many of these bikes, it has a built-in stereo (for frack's sake!), with open air speakers. And note also that many of the helmetless seem to prefer Harleys. You may not know this, but there is no mechanical reason for a Harley to be so loud. In fact, the Harley engineers spend a good bit of time figuring out how to build an engine that is efficient and powerful but still noisy enough to produce that "Harley sound".

"I have no problem with someone wanting to be an orgon donor in waiting, so long as I in no way (including in my insurance rates, and public health costs) have to pay for them, or for their family or kids."

I appreciate the sentiment, but I find it quite alarming that this line of thinking has gained so much traction during recent years. Seems like a greased chute towards a world in which you can have just as much freedom as you can afford... and no more. Plus, as a practical matter I don't think it pays to try and eliminate every single "unworthy" beneficiary of a safety net. You wind up with something like the U.S. health insurance non-system, where a huge portion of the available funds is spent on administration and enforcement. Twice as expensive and half as effective.

"You can outlaw ANYTHING by making it a safty issue, where does it stop? You have to wear a seatbelt, you have to wear a helmet on a motorcycle and kids have to wear them on bicycles, you can't smoke, you (soon) can't eat fast food [...]"

Mmm-hm. Except for the smoking thing of course. You CAN smoke, you know. It's just that in a lot of places you're no longer allowed to force everyone else to do so too. If that means getting your fix is less convenient, tough cookies.

John Scalzi | June 20, 2006 05:30 AM

Madeline F:

"mythago: Articles 9 and 10."

You mean to say, Amendments 9 and 10; also, as a practical matter, there's not a thing in either Amendment that suggests Congress could not make a national motorcycle helmet law, only that if Congress doesn't, individuals have a right to make a helmet determination themselves (in the absence of a state or local law on the matter).

Bill Marcy | June 20, 2006 07:16 AM

PaintedJaguar,

That 'Harley Sound' really is a safety feature, I kid you not, the louder the bike, the easier it is to notice.

Car drivers are so oblivious to start with, every little bit helps.

Boinkie | June 20, 2006 08:25 AM

You know, it doesn't take much of a bump to break your skull. Helmets save lives if you hit your head.

And it's not always due to a driver.
One terrible accident I treated was when a deer jumped out in front of a cycle and was hit.
We flew him out, but I don't think he made it.

And to those who say, well, it's my life...I remind them...maybe they won't be killed, only severely brain damaged.

John H | June 20, 2006 08:51 AM

We flew him out, but I don't think he made it.

The cyclist, or the deer?

Madeline F: The preamble to the Constitution also states as one of its purposes to 'provide for the general welfare' of the people. One could interpret that to mean the federal government has an interest in enforcing certain safety standards. It's why such agencies as the FDA and EPA exist...

Jonathan Arnold | June 20, 2006 09:00 AM

Personally, I could never see how you could ride a motorcycle without a helmet. I always wear a certified full-faced helmet. While wearing it, I have been pelted in the face by many different flying objects, including june bugs the size of golf balls, and all kinds of debris thrown out of car windows, like cigarette butts. I've ridden down country roads where we had to stop every couple of minutes to wipe the bugs off of our face shields. I can't imagine how much worse all of these incidents would have been had I not been wearing my full-faced helmet.

And anyone who says they can't see well enough with these helmets on isn't paying enough attention to the road. I never got into problems with it. The only time I was ever in an accident, a small car came out of nowhere and ran a red light, hitting me broadside. But of course I was wearing full regalia - boots, jeans, leather jacket, and helmet. After smashing the windshield with my helmet, I rolled off the car, nothing more wrong with me than a sprained ankle. And I actually blame myself, because on a motorcycle you lose all accidents, so I prided myself on avoiding them. Unfortunately, this was in the beginning of the riding season, so my survival instincts weren't honed razor sharp yet. Normally, I would have never have started through a green light without double checking even more.

Dave | June 20, 2006 09:43 AM

Madeline F: The preamble to the Constitution also states as one of its purposes to 'provide for the general welfare' of the people. One could interpret that to mean the federal government has an interest in enforcing certain safety standards.

One could, but in doing so one would be giving the federal government carte blanche to do just about whatever it wanted. "Promote the general welfare" is too broad a term to allow for any restrictions, if it were viewed as an enabling clause, rather than an intention and promise.

It's why such agencies as the FDA and EPA exist...

From a constitutional point of view, they exist to regulate interstate commerce, and indeed a decision yesterday affirmed that the EPA has very limited scope over purely intrastate environmental concerns.

John H | June 20, 2006 10:07 AM

"Promote the general welfare" is too broad a term to allow for any restrictions, if it were viewed as an enabling clause, rather than an intention and promise.

The clause itself doesn't empower the government, true. But it's a clear affirmation of the intention of the federal government to set safety standards and enforce them through regulation.

From a constitutional point of view, they exist to regulate interstate commerce, and indeed a decision yesterday affirmed that the EPA has very limited scope over purely intrastate environmental concerns.

Yes. But they do so by imposing standards such as food labeling and exposure limits for public safety. I suppose there are those cases where something is manufactured within a state, for sale only in that state, which would therefore not be subject to federal regulation. But most of the time interstate commerce comes into play, or at least may come into play, and therefore the federal regulations do apply.

kevin r | June 20, 2006 10:09 AM

Sure you'd have to be a dumbass to ride a motorcycle without a helmet, but if we wanted to ticket everyone who acted like a dumbass, well, we'd need a whole lot more cops, for one.

Phil-Z | June 20, 2006 10:27 AM

OK, since no one else brought up the "slippery slope" argument ...
How much possible cost does a risk need to have before you would have the govenment step in?
How about this?
http://www.guardian.co.uk/frontpage/story/0,,1800745,00.html
Seems like a big bucks, or pounds in this case, risk, that's absolutely preventable. Does the govt step in? Or are these folks allowed to be "stupid"? After all "we" are the ones paying the tab!

Q | June 20, 2006 11:24 AM

The government already licenses people to operate vehicles, on the assumption that said operation will be in line with minimum safety standards, therefore including the provision that seatbelts and/or helmets be worn while operating is not really that big of a leap... I don't require a permit or license to eat, therefore the government can not reasonably make the extension and tell me I can't eat cili-cheese fries should I so choose... same goes for smoking, the government does not say someone can't smoke, it simply says you can't smoke in X location, and it is based on protecting the health of those nearby, who do not consciously make the choice to put thmeselves at risk as the smoker does. Clearly a "rights of one ends where the rights of another begins" kind of thing...

Phil-Z | June 20, 2006 12:45 PM

Q, are you stoned?


If so, (and even if not) you might find this funny.

http://cgi.ebay.com/Ben-Roethlisberger-Replica-Motorcycle-Helmet_W0QQcmdZViewItemQQcategoryZ25211QQihZ005QQitemZ8828346114QQrdZ1

I should add that I wear a helmet when I ride a bicycle, and was damn glad I had one on when I wrecked my one and only motorcycle on my 21st birthday. I've noticed that my head is too close to the door pillar of my car, and am thinking seriously about getting side air bags on my next car. That would keep me from bashing my skull, but the downside is it makes it very dangerous to cut the car open if I have a wreck and it's not deployed.

The thing is, I'd rather it be my choice.

alex | June 20, 2006 12:45 PM

The problem with arguing for helmet use with the "I'm not paying ofr your stupidity" arguement is that the justification can be easily extended to categories of behavior that you might not wish to have regulated.

Smoking kills a lot more people than motorcycles do.

Should we let overweight people eat whatever they want?

You, personally, would probably live longer if you exercised more. Why should society let you drive everywhere?

How much freedom are you willing to sell for $137.33 per year?

Madeline F | June 20, 2006 01:39 PM

John Scalzi: You mean to say, Amendments 9 and 10;

I bow to your editing fu. And yeah, seems likely that Congress could make a national helmet law; but until they do, seems best not to deny or disparage the right to be stupid about helmets which is retained by the people (or, apparently, the states).

Re: "promote the general welfare"
John H: But it's a clear affirmation of the intention of the federal government to set safety standards and enforce them through regulation.

You could as easily say it's a clear affirmation of the intention of the federal government to provide the maximum amount of individual freedom. Different people care more about different types of "general welfare."

John H: I suppose there are those cases where something is manufactured within a state, for sale only in that state, which would therefore not be subject to federal regulation.

It's kind of a tangent, but I often hear libertarians talking about how the interstate commerce clause has been expanded to apply the federal government to any possible economic transaction. A la, "As early as 1942, the Supreme Court ruled in Wickard vs. Filburn that our economy was so interconnected that the Congress could, under the Commerce Clause, tell a man how much wheat he was allowed to grow on his own land, for his own comsumption -- because any wheat he grew and ate on his own was wheat he failed to buy off the market."

Buck | June 20, 2006 01:46 PM

As a fellow Michigander, I agree with Joe Hass, and resent having to pay for someone else's freedom to be reckless.

I propose that all motorcycles must be insured with something like a $20 million medical follow-up policy. If you want to feel the wind blow through your hair, and don't mind risking a few decades drooling while someone changes your diaper for that privilege, go for it. And ayone who cracks up and is uninsured- just drag them to the side of the road and let the buzzards and raccoons clean up that mess.

Seriously, why not extend that to other aspects of living? Instead of legislating "good" behavior, why not make people pay upfront for "bad" bahavior? Tax cigarettes, junk food, etc. and use that money to pay for the healthcare fallout.

Fibian | June 20, 2006 02:07 PM

John Scalzi: social Darwinist. Who knew? But don't jump all over me, I agree.

John Scalzi | June 20, 2006 02:19 PM

Fibian:

"John Scalzi: social Darwinist. Who knew?"

I don't think I've ever been accused of not being a proponent of letting the stupid self-weed themselves out of the gene pool.

Phil-Z | June 20, 2006 03:00 PM

Buck,
What about all the money the risk takers save us on the back end of the deal when they die young and don't collect soc sec? Save social security, teach a kid,to smoke!

Tripp | June 20, 2006 03:21 PM

Sheesh whatta buncha wet nurses.

Here we go again looking for ways to divide people. Okay, all in favor of helmet laws to the left, all opposed step to the right.

You on the left may call yourselves prudent and safe and may call the others reckless and stupid. You on the right may call yourself adventurous and fun and may call the others wet nurses and nervous nellies.

Someday we are going to find that which pile we fall into is determined by a gene or genes which regulate the uptake of adrenalin.

Nervous nellies are too sensitive and daredevils are not sensitive enough.

Me I lean towards the daredevil side. What is life without kicks?

Hey, I've reproduced. I've repaid my debt to society. I want to go out with a bang instead of a wimper.

I wish everyone got their choice.

Tripp | June 20, 2006 03:32 PM

alex,

How much freedom are you willing to sell for $137.33 per year?

Very good question. Near as I can tell most people are not willing to pay a single cent for another's pleasure or freedom. That's leaving off family and friends. And, in some cases, kids. But hardly anyone would give a single cent to give pleasure to a man they don't know. Most everyone would donate for a kid, and some men would donate to a woman, but nobody would donate to a man.

That's human nature.

Other Stephen | June 20, 2006 04:45 PM

Tripp, you Rock!

You are one of the few actual Adults I see posting here; responsible for your own actions and blaming no one for their results. I've always enjoyed your posts.

Too bad no one who doesn't already agree with you will listen. I swear I've never seen anyone change their opinion on anything on this site.

Bill Marcy | June 20, 2006 04:59 PM

John needs to add a + or - mod button so that we can see how other people feel about individual posts.

Maybe he can setup the slashdot (freshmeat) software for self moderation...

John Scalzi | June 20, 2006 05:02 PM

Nah. This is an egalitarian sort of place: None of you get a vote.

Bill Marcy | June 20, 2006 05:39 PM

Ah, wise one, we all get a vote no matter. Just by participating we are voting, but if we were able to mold the community, it would be another piece in the book marketing puzzle. No?

Kero aka Kevin | June 20, 2006 05:56 PM

Tripp:

Good Lord, that's the dumbest thing I've heard in a while. If you don't want to wear a helmet then by all means don't, it is your life and you sound like you are more than willing to accept the consequences. Be it a ticket or worse. Good on ya! You're a peach!

Don't try to make it out like you are better than those who think your live fast die young leave a scarred corpse philosophy is full of crap though. If everyone took responsibility for their actions then there could be relatively few controls on those actions. That's not the case though so to save the general populace from paying medical bills or higher insurance for under insured thrill seeking idiots a few laws have been passed limiting some freedoms. Deal with it. Then again, you accept responsibility for your actions so again, do whatever you want.

Why should I pay one cent for someone else's pleasure? I don't expect anyone else to pay for mine, then again I accept responsibility for my actions as well. I pay enough for their safety and well being, they can foot the bill for their own pleasure. I wouldn't think you would be begging for other people's money since you are a responsible adult.

clvrmnky | June 20, 2006 10:38 PM

I think SUV's give head injuries to the people in the *other* car, because the bumper of the SUV hits so high on the other car (if the other car isn't also an SUV.)

Jon H.: While this may be true, the report I'm alluding to was done by the insurance business. It specifically looked at low-speed crashes and attendant repair costs, and higher speed near head-on collisions (the most common kind at highway speeds) and passenger injuries.

At low speeds (parking lot speeds), collisions would cause much higher repair costs than expected, and in some case the vehicle would be undrivable. Common collisions at moderate to high highway and city speeds caused a surprising amount of injuries, mostly to the head and upper body, even for those passengers wearing all the required safety equipment. This was not about the car hitting someone and giving them a head injury: it was about drivers and passengers bouncing off the hard bits inside some cab designs.

The irony is that many people felt they were safer in these larger cars (really, we would have called them "trucks" in the 70s) even though many larger car and suburban truck designs tested worse in an accident for the passengers than other cars. The irony deepens when some models, already so hard to park for many drivers, were apparently undriveable even after a small "fender bender".

The wide-spread use of airbags and shoulder harnesses have really reduced head injuries sustained while driving, but it turns out that some cars are still quite dangerous for your noggin. Some of the manufacturers have used the crash test footage in their commercials to tout how well they do with these sorts of collision, I notice, complete with slow-mo images of dummies *not* smashing their heads on door pillars and such.

Be careful with your head. It's where you keep all your stuff!

Wickedpinto | June 21, 2006 04:26 AM

Clearmoon:
Wickedpinto: ...the goverment has learned to make you agree with losing your RIGHTS. Yes it's stupid to ride a .....


You totaly threw me off, I was running on no sleep, and I actually thought I had said that, though it doesn't seem like anything I would ever say, at first, then I realized that you actually meant Jack Cross. Credit where it's due.

Q | June 21, 2006 07:26 AM

Stoned? Hardly.

I was responding to the slippery slopers who think the next step beyond helmet and seatbelt laws are laws defining what you can eat... I was simply giving my take as to why those two propositions are completely different...

Tripp | June 21, 2006 10:09 AM

Kero aka Kevin.

Why should I pay one cent for someone else's pleasure?

Very good question. I could suggest concepts such as compassion, generosity and nobility, but I'm sure none of these would mean anything to a selfish snot like you.

How about this fun thought experiment: Imagine you had no kin at all and few friends. Imagine you and you alone had the choice to sacrifice yourself for the well-being of the human race. If you did not sacrifice yourself you'd lead your normal life but the rest of humanity would miss out on pleasure, perhaps even die.

Would you do it?

Your snotty easy answer is already given in your initial question: Why should I pay one cent for someone else's pleasure?

You wouldn't pay one cent to say nothing of giving your life.

At least you are honest. If you believe in God I wonder what you will tell your maker when you die?

Put another way - while it is possible to live one's life as a self-centered selfish prick it is also possible to do much more.

Other Stephen | June 21, 2006 10:16 AM

Kero Quotes Tripp:
"Tripp:

Good Lord, that's the dumbest thing I've heard in a while. ...

... Don't try to make it out like you are better than those who think your live fast die young leave a scarred corpse philosophy is full of crap though."

Kero, I don't think you get it. Of course Tripp is going to make like his way is better. If he didn't think so, he wouldn't base his choices on it. Tripp is honest enough to admit that he has a point of view and that of course he thinks it is the best. Hooray for honesty; it's much better than making like you are for humanity as a whole. Nobody really is. Tripp's uniqueness here is in that he only makes decisions for himself.

P.S. When I say "you" above I really mean "one" so don't think I'm contrasting you with Tripp. Personally I don't know if you push your view on others or not. I just know that Tripp doesn't and I congratulate him for it. I personally agree with him, but the beauty is that if I didn't, his view would affect me in no way whatsoever.

John H | June 21, 2006 10:54 AM

Tripp and Other Stephen: Neither of you seem to understand Kero aka Kevin's point. It's one thing to celebrate personal freedom and taking responsibility for ones actions. I agree that this is a great philosophy to live by.

Unfortunately, there are too many in our country who jump all over the bandwagon for the personal freedom part, but not so much for the taking responsibility part.

If you want to push yourself to some extreme where you may end up dead, go for it. Just make sure you have the means to pay for your extended stay in the ICU if something goes wrong.

Kero aka Kevin | June 21, 2006 10:55 AM

Tripp:

Look up the word pleasure sometime. Re-read the part where I say I pay enough for their safty and well being. I will gladly buy someone lunch if they are hungry, and my taxes do just that. However, I'm not going to by someone a night with a call girl out of the goodness of my heart. If you will let me know and I'll tell you how you can send me the money.

Don't talk to me about selfish. You say you have bred already so I assume that means you have a wife and family. You are not alone in the world. So your devil may care attitude toward your own safty is the most selfish position I can imagine. I have seen what happens when someone dies doing something they love and leaves a wife behind. She just says over and over 'he was doing what he loved' as she cries and cries and tries to figure out how what do with her suddenly empty life.

So think again who the self centered prick is, the one who won't pay for someone to get pleasure or the one who doesn't care about the feelings of the people he risks leaving behind every time he acts irresponsibly with his own safty.

Tripp | June 21, 2006 10:57 AM

Other Stephen,

Tripp, you Rock! You are one of the few actual Adults I see posting here; responsible for your own actions and blaming no one for their results. I've always enjoyed your posts.

Thanks, but you know that is only the first part of it, and the part many people (I mean YOU, you wacky libertarians!) seem to get stuck on.

The next step is showing compassion and generosity towards others. Even if you eschew any kind of religion "I've got mine and to Hell with you" is not a very fulfilling life philosophy.

But we've had decades of Melon-Scaiffe-financed papers convincing us that selfishness is a goddamn virtue so I can understand why some people get stuck.

I've been fortunate that I've benefited from a great amount of generosity in my life to get where I am today. Starting with my parents there were some teachers, coaches, mentors, and even a few evil corporations. Each of these gave to me when they didn't have to.

But one must be generous because it is the right thing to do and not for any other reason. Yeah, it feels good, and it pays off, and a very few times it gives some recognition, but we should all struggle to do the right things simply because they are right and for no other reason.

Other Stephen | June 21, 2006 11:21 AM

Tripp:

I often speak abstractly and seldom about my specific beliefs, so I'm not surprised that I didn't give the whole picture of my personal philosophy. I completely agree about the second step. It's hard for me to get that across sometimes though, because many people want to talk about general principles and I tend to think more about specific cases.

Just because I think that you can't force people to be considerate of others or generous does not mean that I support libertarian or Randian concepts of the glorification of selfishness. While I don't think that the state should mandate altruism, I require it of those close to me. I just think it's a personal matter.

I think there's an artificial debate created by the fact that what one advocates as public policy is not always correctly identified as separate from private policy. I am not religiously in favor of free trade, but I've never seen an effective system for dealing with the darker side of capitalism. I guess I just don't think that humans have it in them to govern themselves fairly. Fairness and justice have too often been the rallying cry of hypocrits who want others to share so that they can continue to grab everything in reach. The Watchers need Watchers, and those Watchers need more Watchers, and so on ad infinitum.

I've already written too much. I guess all I want to say is that I don't have any dogma or cause, so I don't want to look like I have a Libertarian agenda. Beyond that I can't really express the range of my opinions except to say that what I believe and what I think should be enforced publicly are not the same thing.

Other Stephen | June 21, 2006 11:27 AM

One more thing I forgot to say. I also think that when you force good behavior on people you just take away their responsibility for themselves. Then you get people who follow all the rules but take advantage of any loophole they can find. I prefer people who have learned on their own how to treat their fellow man and do so out of empathy and concern for the consequences of their actions, rather than fear of punishment. Of course there are cases (like murder) where you can't just hope that people do the right thing, but in many cases I think that your peers should be the ones that pull you back in line if you're a jerk, not the state. I think that does a much better job of helping the individual to develop a moral compass. Again though, generalities are always at least partially wrong.

Bill Marcy | June 21, 2006 01:27 PM

What would Hemingway do?

John Scalzi | June 21, 2006 02:35 PM

Do we really want to be taking safety tips from a man who swallowed a shotgun?

Other Stephen | June 21, 2006 03:12 PM

Bill Maher:
"Feelings are more important than facts. Sensitivity is more important than truth. Children are more important than people. Committment is more important than individuality. And safety is more important than fun."

Not saying I agree with Maher, but there are those that would rather suck the pipe than be bored. Here's a flamewar starter: Hunter S. Thompson. (Neither a hunter, not a thompson. He's like butter. Tawk amongst youselves.)

Bill Marcy | June 21, 2006 06:02 PM

John, you don't think he learned a valubable lesson on trigger discipline?

Patrick | June 21, 2006 08:32 PM

I haven't read the comments, so this may have been mentioned already. But you should care about whether there's a helmet law because it changes your own risks as a driver.

Lets say you cause an accident. This happens at times.

If the accident is, say, a collision at 25 mph with a car, odds are no one will be seriously injured, and the cars will not be totaled. You will get sued (or your insurance company will pay out without a lawsuit being necessary) for the costs of the other guy's car, as well as whatever physical injuries he may have suffered. Odds are, they won't be too high.

Lets put the guy on a motorcycle. Now his motorcycle is completely trashed, and his leg is busted because it got squished between your bumper and his bike. Guess what! You're still liable for his medicals because the accident was your fault. Its just that the medicals will be much much higher.

Now take his helmet away. He's dead. Enjoy paying for THAT.

This is why other people's helmets are your business.

Tripp | June 22, 2006 11:32 AM

Patrick,

Nice scenario - not true in MN though. We've got "no-fault" insurance for the medical. Each driver is responsible for his/her own medical injuries regardless of fault.

In your scenario I'd imagine that at the trial your insurance lawyer would argue the motorcycle driver was to blame for not wearing a helmet.

In MN the liability for motorcycle helmet-less deaths are factored into the motorcycle insurance.

Josh Jasper | June 22, 2006 11:53 PM

Any first world resident who's not living sub poverty *already* lives off of the sweat of countless third world laborers who will almost certaily never get the chance to have a comprable life.

These coddled darlings are *always* the ones who protest the loudest when others take 'advantage' of them by having social programs.

How dare we pay for that ignorant asshole who forgot to follow $imporant saftey tip?!

I hope none of you are ever put into a situation where your life depends on the charity of someone like you, becuase that's what life in the third world is like - usualy short, and unhappy if you're really poor, and epxloited bt people who will certainly let you die in a ditch rather than pay to keep you alive.

Wickedpinto | June 23, 2006 12:08 AM

Bill Maher: "Feelings are more important than facts. Sensitivity is more important than truth. Children are more important than people. Committment is more important than individuality. And safety is more important than fun."

Not saying I agree with Maher, but there are those that would rather suck the pipe than be bored. Here's a flamewar starter: Hunter S. Thompson. (Neither a hunter, not a thompson. He's like butter. Tawk amongst youselves.)


Posted by: Other Stephen

Stephen? Maher said that sarcasticly, pointing out how we have become a culture of the weak and selfish.

"the children" dictate the actions of the adults rather than the other way around.

"freedom" is subjugated to an undefined requirement of "commitment"

"fun" (an aspect of freedom) is enslaved by the cultural demands of nanny like state enforced "safety"

Those are, in some cases Conservative, and in others libertarian, and in no way Liberal opinions.

Maher, isn't a COMPLETE lunatic, he's just a rotten arrogant Prick when it comes to his own opinion.

Other Stephen | June 23, 2006 03:26 PM

Wickedpinto:

I know exactly how Maher meant the quote; that's why I used it. Some people are willing to sacrifice certain amounts of freedom in exchange for security. Some people are not as willing.

I meant the quote to contrast with the question whether you would take safety tips from someone who swallowed a shotgun, asked previously. Some people might, if they agreed with the person's reason for using the shotgun. It is overly glib to act as if safety is worth any amount of effort no matter the cost. It's equally bad to play badass and claim complete personal responsibility unless you live alone on an island.

Josh Jasper:
I agree with you and wish more people had your perspective. I do think though that any American has to temper their moral outrage with self-reflection. I am often tempted to complain about my soft and lazy peers, until I think about the fact that I'm one of them and that it is exceedingly difficult to give up the luxury that we have become accustomed to. People in the 3rd world are no more noble (by nature) than we are. They simply don't have the choice to be pampered. Your viewpoint would be well taken by those who currently debate immigration policy. The fact is that if we didn't enforce our borders, we would have to *share*. That's the unstated premise that drives that debate. No one wants to admit that we keep a higher standard of living by keeping our wealth to ourselves.

The only solution that works for me is to chalk it all up to human nature and try to live my own life as closely to my principles as possible. Mandated solutions don't seem to work and I don't think people will ever really change.

Josh Jasper | June 24, 2006 11:55 AM

Mandated solutions certainly work. The helmet law is a point in case, as are well designed social programs, like public innoculations, and to a lesser extent, work training programs and public education.

MZ | June 26, 2006 05:33 PM

"Car drivers are so oblivious to start with, every little bit helps."

Ha!.......Why do bikers always act as if they've never driven an auto. When driving an auto, are you also one of the "oblivious"?

Annalee Flower Horne | June 27, 2006 04:11 AM

What I'd like to see? A law that says "You may either wear a helmet or a bandana/sash with the words 'ORGAN DONOR' clearly printed on it in block lettering in a contrasting font. Either is acceptable to the state."

I'm sort of with the 'if you don't wear one you don't need one' folks, but a flipside to the 'it makes paramedic's jobs easier' argument is that it makes First Responder's jobs harder. We're only allowed to declare people dead at the scene if rigor mortis or dependent lividity have already set in, if it's a mass-casualty incident and the person cannot breathe on their own, or if they have an 'injury inconsistant with life,' such as decapitation or an I-beam through the chest. We technically have to try to revive someone who's cracked their head open by taking a spill off a bike (unless half their head is gone or something). Performing CPR on corpses blows (no pun intended), and it's a waste of time we could be spending helping the living.

christine berdeguez | April 26, 2007 09:53 PM

I am a resident of South Carolina. They do nothave a "Helmet Law", that require motorcyclist to wear their helmet. I am very much disturbed by this. I almost lost my newphew, because he did not have a helmet on at the time of an accident. If automoble drives have to wear their seat belts, I think that helmets should be worn. It really make me wonder what are the law makers thinking? There need to be some radicals to come forth in these not helmet law states and demand that helmets be worn...........
PADD---( Parents Against Drunk Drivers)

michael | April 27, 2007 04:28 AM

I like the no helmet law in pa. I live there and ride a cbr 1000. It should be your choice if you want to have one on. Like for me if im going out to act stupid i dress for that. If im just going for a cruz i hate having to put the thing on so i dont. Alot of the accidents that happen and kill people would happen either way helmet or no helmet. So all im trying to say is its your choice.

sg | May 16, 2007 02:21 PM

i say that it is your choice if you want to wear a helmet or not.....i dont think people have the right to look down on those who choose not to wear one...people only look at all the accidents that have happened....i bet half of those people who died on a motorcycle that didn't wear a helmet were doing something stupid....

Post a comment.

Comments are moderated to stop spam; if your comment goes into moderation, it may take a couple of hours to be released. Please read this for my comment moderation policies.
Preview will not show paragraph breaks. Trust me, they're there.
The proprietor generally responds to commenters in kind. If you're polite, he'll be polite. If you're a jackass, he'll be a jackass. If you are ignorant, he may correct you.
When in doubt, read the comment thread rules.




Remember Me?

(you may use HTML tags for style)