GUEST VIEW: Helmets, seatbelts and personal liberty


By Daily News • Last Updated 1:32 pm on Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Lou Kitchenmaster

As the summer driving season heats up, there has been much recent debate concerning the new law which allows Michigan motorcyclists to go helmetless under certain conditions. Opponents have labeled it as a bad idea which will cost all Michigan taxpayers in the long run, while proponents contend that the old law was an infringement of personal freedom.

Pure logic and statistical evidence clearly projects that more cyclists will now suffer serious head injuries and fatalities and that Michigan catastrophic claims costs, in general, will surely rise.
According to U.S. government figures from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, we are 37 times less likely to die in a car accident than a motorcycle accident. Under the new recently enacted law, at least four Michigan helmetless-motorcycle deaths were recorded prior to this past Memorial Day. A lot more will come.

Yet, the heart of this issue, along with the seatbelt law, calls to the fore the role of government in our personal lives. We all understand and accept the necessity of having laws for promoting and maintaining an orderly, civil and reasonably safe society. Since we’re already required to wear seatbelts, why not helmets (again) for all motorcyclists in our fervent quest to protect us from ourselves, and why not enact a law requiring that all auto occupants wear helmets? Yes, we can sensibly presume that lives would be saved and medical costs reduced.

While we’re at it, why not legislate that all bicyclists and pedestrians at street crossings be required to wear helmets? That would also promote the public good. Most logically, perhaps, let’s require that all eligible Medicaid recipients be required to follow mandatory health guidelines which would limit them to one meal per week at the fast-food restaurants, no soft drinks, certainly no “mac and cheese” at the family dining table, while additionally requiring that they engage in vigorous exercise for 30 minutes per day at least four days per week. For good measure, let’s impose a two-hour TV/computer/phone limit each day on everybody, to boot. All of this would forcefully improve one’s personal health, while arguably reducing long-term medical costs to Michigan taxpayers.

A little too extreme and far out, you say? For sure but, hopefully, you’re getting my point. Unfortunately, most of us sorely minimize one major factor: violation of personal liberty. Should the state really have to power and latitude to enact laws which are designed to protect us from ourselves?
One of history’s most advanced and respected  thinkers was English philosopher John Stuart Mill, noted in part for his 1859 essay, “On Liberty.” According to Mill, enacting laws to protect one from oneself is a clear infringement of liberty and one’s freedom to act should be absolute when it doesn’t infringe on or damage anyone else.

“The only freedom which deserves the name, is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to attain it,” says Mill.

A practical solution to the helmet and seatbelt issues would be for the state to put responsibility where it really belongs: on each individual. So perhaps it’s also time to also rescind the (adult) seatbelt law and legislate, at the same time, that any motorist who is  injured and verified not wearing a seatbelt will be ineligible for any state medical payments. Ditto helmetless cyclists. Taxpayers’ wallets will then be better protected as buckling up — head-to-waist — suddenly becomes a lot more popular.

Lou Kitchenmaster is a Stanton-area resident.

The opinions expressed in the Guest View do not necessarily represent the opinions of The Daily News.

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