editorials are just as little likely to tighten motorcycle safety as
the legislature is likely to improve education: The intentions are
admirable, but the decisional brushstrokes are too coarse to be
may indeed save some lives; however, the increased inertia of head
turning, the impaired auditory sensations, and the shrunk peripheral
vision may also increase the likelihood of accidents. I have great
sympathy for the view that automobile drivers cause most accidents
involving motorcycles, my one and only accident having been caused
by a young student-driver who thought that the red light required
speeding up instead of stopping, and whose guiding Mom was too busy
chatting with others in the car to admonish the driver otherwise.
But such a determination of guilt is little helpful when I have to
live with my own injuries afterwards. The goal here is accident
avoidance, not guilt diminishment by slapping some helmets on other
people’s heads or some guilt on other people’s conscience.
the question is how best to avoid accidents. And that question is
not answered by intermittent cries of “Helmet!” and “No
helmet!” We must evolve some greater sophistication here.
could simply assert that helmetless riding is a victimless crime
just as seatbelt-less driving would be a victimless crime. In other
words, if I decide to ride helmetless, I am the only person affected
by that decision because I am the only likely victim if the decision
were to have been the wrong one. Traditionally, our society has no
right to limit by law what is in my private domain. Victimless crime
is decidedly in the private domain. I make decisions about my life,
not everyone else.
cost, however, victimizes all others also by my exercise of faulty
judgment, my opponents will be quick to argue. And yet, this
reflection does generally not enter into what we think about what we
eat—obesity claiming many lives, what we drink—alcohol claiming
as many lives, what we smoke—tobacco having been established
solidly of taking lives, and what we believe—religions and
ideologies having caused many wrong-minded deaths. Also those sundry
ways may be erroneous and yet we respect the privacy of
decision-making here. Besides, the high cost of emergency rooms, as
recently stated by another letter to the editor of the NewsJournal,
derives from our society’s shirking its responsibility of
providing affordable health-care to all, not from an onslaught of
helmetlessly injured motorcyclists.
all the uncertainties about the benefit of helmets, I would conclude
that only the individual rider may be able to decide what works best
for him or her. What risks individuals take in his or her life is
obviously not the decision of the society the individual lives in.
Surely we do not want to forbid parachuting, hang-gliding, Bunji
jumping, etc. merely because to some of us these activities look
awfully dangerous? Risk-taking behavior for pleasure has a firmly
established tradition in our culture, else roller-coasters would
have gone the way of the dodo long ago. If I should indulge myself
here with a slippery slope, I might argue that ultimately that kind
of thinking is likely to lead to safe couches with virtual-reality
hook-ups, the safest kind of environment one is likely to find
we can do, however, as a society is to make sure that risk-takers
are fully informed. Motorcycle-safety experts Risto Kaivola of
Finland and H. Ecker of Austria suggest a close analysis of each
accident to determine causation and circumstances (http://www.msf-usa.org/imsc/proceedings/a-Kortesuo-FatalMotorcycleAccidentsinFinland1986-1995.pdf
And we have a pattern to follow here. With every plane crash, the
folks from the National Transportation Safety Board [NTSB] get busy
analyzing each detail that may have led to the crash. I suspect that
aviation has such an excellent safety record precisely because such
exhaustive analyses. I submit that what is right for the wealthy
with planes is also right for the middle class with other vehicles.
fact, if we were to go general with such an analysis for each crash
on our roads, we might have found out much earlier about the BIC-lighter
condition of the Pinto, about the Bridgestone-Firestone tire
splitting, and about the rollovers of the SUV-trucks. If such
thorough analyses determine that careless driving of automobiles is
at fault with motorcycle accidents, then we should probably tighten
the standards of vehicle licenses and of the examinations that lead
to them. If such analyses point to a weakness in the design of
vehicles or safety equipment, then those standards must be tweaked.
But these shouting matches about helmets are silly in the extreme
without such thorough analyses.