On the Front Lines of Building the Nanny State

Paula Brown is on the front lines of building the nanny state.  Her son and his friend built a bicycle ramp out of rocks and old boards in the street in front of Ms. Brown's house.  The youthful construction couldn't stand the stresses involved, and the boy's friend suffered a nasty crash, sending him to the hospital with multiple broken bones.  Ms. Brown, who was present in the house as the boys built their jury-rigged Evil Knievel ramp, believes that the government needs to be doing more:

"We've got good drinking and driving laws here, but why no helmet laws?" asked Paula Brown, Cam's mother.

The Browns moved to Scottsdale in August from Vancouver, where helmets are required for bikes, skateboards and scooters.

"We make our kids wear helmets for anything on wheels," Brown said.

Tammy Blackwell, Tristan's mother, also would support a helmet law
for kids. "My husband and I went out and bought helmets for ourselves
because of this."...

She complains that, since Scottsdale doesn't have a rule, peer-group pressure is more compelling to kids than common sense.

Evidently the city's modest signs recommending helmet use and the
more existential, "Skate at Your Own Risk" aren't making a dent.

The real logic gap in this story is that the kid who was hurt was wearing a bike helmet at the time.  So the severe injuries involved had nothing to do with helmet wearing, and everything to do with the lack of adult supervision by Ms. Brown.


  1. NASCAR Wife:

    Did the kid have any head injuries? No. Then I fail to see how a helmet would have prevented a broken arm or collar bone. When I was a kid, parents didn't buy their kids helmets. Theytold them not to do anything stupid. If you did something stupid you suffered the consequences. I fell off my bike and hit my head - once. I have a scar to this day. But after that, everytime I fell, the thought going through my mind was "Keep your head up, keep your head up."

    Parents need to take some responsability and pay attention to what their kis are doing. Don't expect the government to make up for your lack of interest in your childs well being.

  2. Ed:

    Even if going helmetless wasn't a basic human right, it turns out bicycle helmets may be detrimental to public health:

    Scientific American even reported that "Helmets attract cars to cyclists"

  3. morganovich:

    it's a wonder she isn't suing the city for failing to inspect the ramp for safety...

    helmet laws have lots of unanticipated consequences. while helmets almost certainly reduce the number of cycling fatalities, the result on overall injuries, perversely is to cause them to increase. the same is true of air bags in cars. fatalities drop, but accidents increase.

    the economics of this is straightforward if looked at from the correct angle:

    risk is a commodity. people have a certain tolerance/preference for it. if we do something to reduce the risk of an activity (add an air bag) this reduced the price of risk. lower price yield increased demand, so we drive more or drive more quickly/aggressively.

    one of my econ professors in college had done a bunch of work on this "airbags cause crashes" phenomenon. his advice was that if you wanted to slow drivers down, replace the air bag with a spear point. now see if anyone will go over 20 mph...

    bike helmets have the same risk issues as airbags. you will not reduce injury by requiring helmets.

    to reduce injury, you need to change risk preferences, not risk pricing. that can only be done through education be it either the "let's talk about this son" version or the always memorable pavlovian "ow, that hurt" version.

    as deaths are cheap and medical care for serious injuries is not, a government seeking to minimize health care costs ought to ban helmets, not mandate them.

    i wonder if any of them even comprehend this.

    there really ought to be a basic economic literacy test to hold public office. (or at the very least a testing requirement with scores published) "no politician left behind" has a nice ring to it...

  4. franco:

    Morganovich - Excellent post

  5. mostly cajun:

    Louisiana has had bicycle helmet laws in place for kids for several years now. They are ignored in a wholesale fashion. It's bad law. It should be ignored.

    For all the "it's for the children" sophistry in the legislature, they seem to forget that a bunch of ten-year-old kids are going to be reluctant to don helmets in the 90+ degree summers of the Gulf Coast. One would expect, based on the legislative argument, that our hospitals would be overfull of scofflaw kids with head injuries from such reckless behavior, but such is not the case.

    Just as well legislate against climbing trees without harness, ascenders, pitons and a belaying line...

    "the law is an ass..."


  6. Rob:

    Great post Morganovich.
    I've never thought about it like that before - the unintended consequences of the nanny state.

    I find a correlation in wearing helmets at skate parks. People there do not wear a helmet to be safe, they wear one so that they can take more risk.

    Another way to put it might be to call these 'risk enablers'. When Gov't does it, we can call it a 'safety net'

  7. BlacquesJacquesShellacques:

    Assuming, hopefully, that she's from Vancouver BC and not Vancouver Washington, I say excellent, the Canadian brain drain has reversed itself, and we are now exporting our fat headed lefties rather than importing American draft dodging, commie, ratbas...

    Well, enough said.