Big Ben and the Nanny State

By now, most will have heard that the young star quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Ben Rothlesburger, crashed his motorcycle and sustained head injuries in part because he was not wearing a helmet.  You can bet that someone in the legislature will introduce a helmet law in the next week, since most nanny-state legislation of this type usually gets passed in reaction to one high-profile incident where some legislator can grab some press.

Here is what really upset me yesterday:  Listening to a sports-talk radio station yesterday talking about this accident, I heard a number of people call in and say the following:

"I don't blame Ben for riding without a helmet -- that's legal in Pennsylvania.  I blame the state for not having a helmet law"

Wow - you don't see the death of individual responsibility highlighted any more starkly than that.  Much more on the topic here.

By the way, helmet laws are a particularly interesting bit of nanny-statism, since motorcyclers are such a small percentage of the population.  In most states where this law gets passed, the votes of people who will never ride a motorcycle and for whom the law will always be irrelevant generally overwhelms the wishes of motorcyclers themselves.  I wonder how many women who piously preach that the government can't tell us what to do with our bodies typically vote for helmet laws that tell people, uh, what they can do with their bodies.

Increasingly, you hear people justify helmet laws by saying "well, taxpayers have to pay the medical bill if someone gets hurt riding without a helmet."  I addressed this argument that public health care justifies total control of our lives in this post on health care as a Trojan horse for fascism.  (and here)


  1. JoshK:

    Maybe someone will pass a law outlawing accidents and then we'll finally be OK.

  2. dearieme:

    Motorcycling helmets are compulsory in the UK, with an exception made for Sikhs, to allow them to wear the turban. Similarly, Sikh policemen may wear turbans instead of police helmets.

  3. JD:

    Wow, what a timely post! Consider what Peter King at has already written!

    "And while we're at it, how dumb does Pennsylvania look for not making helmets mandatory? I heard a state legislator on the radio this morning say that this accident wouldn't cause him to change his mind. It's about human rights, he said. Riders should not be forced to wear a helmet.

    I've got one for you, Mr. Politician. Let's repeal seat-belt laws, and gun laws, and minimum drinking ages, and let's just let America be the Wild, Wild West. Do what you want, when you want.

    Laws are made to protect people, even when they think they don't need protecting. Wearing a helmet while riding a motorcycle is about as basic as one can get in terms of human safety. It's irresponsible to argue the other side." --From the above link.

  4. nick d:

    I ride a motorcycle regularly, and, while its required in california, I would still wear one if not required, my own personal choice. I just never understood why other people need to tell me to do it. What about pro-choice... or are they suddenly pro-life now? I'M SO CONFUSED! :)

    Many bikers skate by the law and wear those beanie helmets.. in fact, our own governator was in an low-speed accident wearing one.. didn't seem to help much.

  5. DannyNoonan:

    Helmet laws are ridiculous. But even more ridiculous is a law in my home state that was pushed through by the anti-helmet-law crowd. In a civil suit, the fact that the motorcycle rider was not wearing a helmet can not be factored in when figuring contributory negligence. So if you are in a collision with a motorcyclist and he becomes brain-dead because he wasn't wearing a helmet, you'll have to pay more in total and your precentage of fault will be calculated the same as if he had been a responsible person. If people are willing to accept the consequences of their cations, they should be willing to accept all of the consequences.

  6. Craig L:

    Pennsylavania apparently had a helmet law, and repealed in in 2003.

  7. Michael C:

    Welcome to the "civil cold war" - Ain't 'democracy' grand?

    I've been riding a motorcycle since I was 15 (I'm 46 now). I wear a helmet by choice. Nothing, and I mean *nothing*, made me more furious than California passing the mandatory helmet law. Same happened when Calif. enacted the mandatory seatbelt law.

    And yes, the 'social cost' (health care) argument is a trojan horse for fascism - he who pays the piper calls the tune. I can't wait 'till we have totally socialized health care, and they start rationing care in order to cust costs - the aging baby-boomers (who are, in the main, the ones begging for someone else to pay their medical costs) will be the first ones to be euthanized in order to save a few $$$.

    Be careful what you wish, you just might get it.

  8. Victor P:

    As far as Ben is concerned, he was in fact riding illeagaly in Pa. if he had no helmet.
    Ben was riding with a learner's permit, which, by the way, was expired. You must be over 21 with 2 years expirience as a fully licensed rider to ride with out a helmet. No one with a learners permit is allowed to ride without a helmet, regardless of age.
    Two counts on Ben:
    1) Driving without a license
    2) Riding without a helmet

  9. honestpartisan:

    Taxpayers paying for health care is part of it but not all. If someone is uninsured and they end in the emergency room, the hospital will bill them for a large amount of money that they usually can't afford. If people can't pay, the hospital will likely sell the debt at a discount to a collection agency and raise costs for the insured to pay for the loss. (Hospital bills are a major reason why people file bankruptcy). That's part of the reason why countries with universal health coverage have lower costs per capita then the U.S.

    Counterbalancing everyone's interest in not seeing this happen with the interest a motorcycle rider has in not wearing a helmet, it's hard for me to see why the latter should prevail.

  10. Greg:

    Imagine a world where each risky activity had an insurance charge associated with it. Ride without a helmet? Sure, if you pay a few pennies to cover health care costs that derived from injuries a helmet would have prevented or mitigated.

  11. Michael C:

    >Counterbalancing everyone's interest in not seeing this happen with the interest a motorcycle rider has in not wearing a helmet, it's hard for me to see why the latter should prevail.

    Because, in order to enforce a 'law' requiring a motorcycle rider to wear a helmet, you must ultimately threaten the motorcyclist with death if he or she refuses to comply.

    The latter should prevail because we should not live in a society that 'chooses' to pick up the tab for other people's folly / misfortune, and then - tell them what they can and cannot do at gunpoint, in order to contain costs. Insanity!

    Sadly, people forget that the state can do nothing without the power of the gun behind it - as if it is some benevolent force, that can influence behavior without first threatening violence in order to get its way.