Helmet Laws

  • August 6, 2023

If you ride a motorcycle, “the law” – that is to say, busybody people who write them  – probably requires that you wear a helmet when you ride. If you don’t, “law enforcement” – that is to say, the armed goons employed (at your expense!) by those who write “the law” will punish (that is, harm you) you for failing to obey “the law.”

But what about this “law?” (Which, interesting enough, is the “law” in almost all the state of the old Confederacy.)

It is said by those who favor such “laws” – that is, by the people who believe their opinion about your business entitles them to force their opinions on other people – that using the “law” to force motorcycle riders to wear a helmet is “safe.” It would be even “safer” to not ride the bike at all – and the principle is implicit in the “law” forcing people who ride motorcycles to wear helmets. Those who have accepted being told they must wear a helmet might want to think on that a bit. . .  .

But is it indeed “safe”to wear a helmet?

It is certainly “safe” – in a hypothetical way.

This “safe” business assumes the rider goes down. That he wrecks the bike and – in the process – his head hits the ground, a tree or some other object that. In that case, it is certainly the case that wearing a helmet is “safe.” Well, the odds are it is. Note the italics. Not all wrecks result in injury or death; that some of even many do is not the same as always and all. The same is true about car accidents – and seat belts (and air bags). They may decrease the chances (and severity) of injury – if there is an accident.

In exchange for this hypothetical benefit, people are forced by other people to buy (and wear) seatbelts in their cars and to buy cars equipped with multiple air bags that add thousands to the buy-cost of a new car and greatly increase insurance costs as well as increase the throw-away disposability of otherwise repairable cars after they are involved in accidents.

But seatbelts and air bags have the upside of not increasing the chances of accidents.

It is arguable that helmets do precisely that – by significantly decreasing the rider’s field-of-vision, which (on a bike) is a very important “safety” feature. This is easy enough to prove. It is not even necessary to ride a motorcycle in order to prove it. All that is necessary is to put on a typical “full face” helmet – not the beanie type worn by many people who ride big cruiser-type bikes as a way to conform to the “law” without totally ruining the experience – and take note of how much peripheral vision you’ve just lost.

You now have tunnel vision. Everything ahead of you. Much less to the sides of you. To compensate for this, the helmeted rider can (and should) be constantly turning his head left, then right, to see what he might otherwise miss. Especially in traffic-dense areas where there is so much going on it is easier to not see something. In a car, that might result in a fender-bender (or plastic-ripper, as new cars have flimsy, easily-damaged plastic front-and-rear-end covers. On a bike, it can result in a broken leg, wrist – or worse.

Helmet law people will chime in about now and say: That’s why people who ride ought to wear (they mean, ought to be forced ) to wear a helmet! As is always the case with people who think their opinions ought to have the force of “law,” they do not see (or give a flip about) the unintended consequences of their opinions. The forced-wearing of helmets hypothetically reduces the risk and severity of injury if the ride crashes. But the helmet the rider is forced to wear may also increase the chances he will crash. Both hypotheticals are valid – yet one has the force of law behind it.

And there is more to it than just that.

Unless the rider can afford a top-shelf helmet, it is probable the helmet is fatiguing – due to the added weight it impart to his head. Try it yourself and see. Put a lower-priced helmet (one that costs less than about $150) on your head and wear it for awhile. After awhile, it there’s a good chance your head will feel heavy (and sweaty) and that your neck will begin to ache.

Fatigue isn’t safe either. And – unlike the hypothetical benefit of wearing a helmet – it is an actual safety-reducer. One caused – ironically enough – by the wearing of the helmet.

This problem can be palliated via the purchase of a high-end, lightweight helmet. But not every rider can afford to spend $300-plus for such a one. The “law” merely requires a helmet  – just as a “mask” was required (and literally anything would do, including dirty old bandanas that “worked” about as well as a beanie-type helmet “works” in the event a rider goes down). New rides are likely to wear the helmet-equivalent of a bandana – because that’s what they can afford. They have complied with “the law.”

But is it really “safe”?

The point being that helmet wearing is one of numerous factors that might change the equation, as regards whether an accident happens – and whether (and how badly) the person is injured. The main variable being how skillfully and judiciously the person rides.

And that is properly the rider’s responsibility – as opposed busybodies’ business with regard to whether the rider wears a helmet.

. . .

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