MELBOURNE, Fla. - Motorcycle fatalities involving riders without helmets have soared in the nearly six years since Gov. Jeb Bush repealed the state's mandatory helmet law, a newspaper reported. A Florida Today analysis found that "unhelmeted" deaths in Florida rose from 22 in 1998 and 1999, the years before the helmet law repeal, to 250 in 2004, the most recent year data is available.
I would write an essay, dripping with irony, showing that not every law of the "nanny state" is meddling by "know it alls." The gears were turning: I would propose a modification to the Florida law that mandated that those who chose to risk their lives by riding with no protection have abrogated any right to benefits derived from being a member of society. If they were to be found unconscious at the scene of an accident, with no sign of wearing a helmet, you simply leave him there. No emergency room paid for by taxpayers; and no life support if in a coma.
Then, being on a roll, I was going to go just a bit further. If they were young, as most of these cyclers are, and hadn't even started to contribute to the tax rolls, why not recoup the government's investment in their education from their survivors. All those years in high school and maybe even subsidized college were spent with the anticipation of some social payback from the recipients for the next generation. If they chose to throw their lives away, they owe us.
But as I got into this article, there was a bit of a glitch. Here's what it said
Total motorcycle deaths in the state have increased 67 percent, from 259 in 2000 to 432 in 2004, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics. Records also show that motorcycle registrations have increased 87 percent in Florida since Bush repealed the law July 1, 2000.
Any epidemiologists in the audience? It looks like although there has been a major increase in unhelmeted deaths after repeal of the helmet wearing mandate, based on the ratio of increased registrations to increased deaths, the overall motorcycle fatality rate is lower. If vastly greater numbers of people are riding without helmets, even if a lower percentage of them are dying, in absolute numbers their deaths would, as the headline reads, "soar."
Could it be that this law, that is squarely in the spirit of the liberal ethos, happens to be harmful? Could it be that the gain of peripheral vision from eliminating the helmet requirement actually lowered the death rate for cyclists? Without a lot more data I can't be sure; but the headlines of the original article in Forida Today, the A.P and my local conservative San Diego Union Tribune certainly distort the story.
Is this a hit for Democrats? No way! Rather than sticking with a policy that turns out to be wrong, we want to learn from our mistakes and evaluate our predilections. At times good intentions don't work out that way, and should be reconsidered. That's why of all the subjects I could be spending my time on, I chose this one.