I’ve been away from the Internets over the last 24 hours, so I don’t know whether or not anyone (libertarians especially) is talking about the motorcycle accident involving Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. It seems he may not be licensed. He definitely wasn’t wearing a helmet, which is what I focused on in the news reports.
I can’t fathom why he chose not to wear a helmet when he rode, but Pennsylvania law does not require motorcyclists to wear helmets. I’m fine with not requiring helmets, as a matter of law. It’s not the government’s role to prevent individuals from doing what most of us would consider stupid. Such is the price for liberty. However, like car insurance requirements for automobiles, it seems reasonable to impose expectations upon those who choose to ride. Requiring insurance coverage, both liability and disability, is reasonable.
The likelihood of being seriously hurt on a motorcycle is higher than other modes of transportation. Riding without a helmet is more dangerous than riding with a helmet. I’m intentionally ignoring incentives to ride more aggressively when “protected” by a helmet. It’s not possible to account for that in this space, nor is it necessary. All things equal, the first statement is true. Any change to a remaining variable is the rider’s choice. Riding with a helmet is wise. Yet, I don’t support universal helmet requirements.
When I owned a motorcycle, I always wore full protective gear. Without exception, I wore a full-face helmet, jacket, gloves, long pants, and boots. Only the helmet is required in Virginia, and only the half-shell at that. I also took a motorcycle safety class and earned a valid Class M license in Virginia. The only way to ride safer than I did was to not ride.
I don’t think I’m better than Mr. Roethlisberger because my choices seem safer than his. I evaluated what I had to lose (income, physical ability, life) and compensated as well as I could. I suspect he did the same, although we weighed the risk differently with respect to negative outcomes. He also has significantly more financial strength to meet the risk he assumed. That matters.
Right or wrong, and I bet you’ll see Mr. Roethlisberger wearing a helmet when he resumes riding sometime after his career, those decisions are better made by the individual engaging in the “dangerous” activity than by legislators. Most motorcyclists already have parents who object. If the natural set aren’t sufficient to stop them from riding stupidly, no artificial set in the state house can ever compensate. What’s next, a law requiring the Steelers to include a helmet clause in their contract with Mr. Roethlisberger, since that would be for the “public good” of their fans? Where does it stop?
Freedom must include the freedom to be dumb.