Commentary: Michigan helmet law repeal, bad idea?

Mar 29, 2012

Like everybody else, I am a great believer in freedom. I want the freedom to read, write, and say whatever I want.

I want to freedom to marry or live with or hang out with whomever I choose, and I want everyone else to have these freedoms too. However, there are some things we shouldn’t be free to do. I don’t have the right to cut down a tree in a state park.

Nor do I have the right to build a factory on my street . Years ago, the famous Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes noted that “the right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins.“

In other words, we don’t have the right to cause others harm, or cost the taxpayers money for no good reason.

But both houses of the Michigan Legislature have now voted to do precisely that. Yesterday, the state senate followed the house, and repealed the law requiring motorcyclists to wear helmets.

Unless Governor Snyder vetoes this, a lot of people are likely to be killed, and there will be even more incapacitating injuries. And that will mean higher health care costs for all of us. That’s not just my gut feeling. The Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning forecasts an additional thirty deaths and one hundred and twenty-seven incapacitating injuries every year if this repeal isn’t vetoed.

The Insurance Institute of Michigan and Triple A think repealing the helmet law is insane,  But the liquor lobby wants it. A spokesman for the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association said we need to repeal the helmet law so bikers will buy more booze in our state.

Gary Hoffman, a partner in a Kalamazoo ad agency, dashed off a letter to the governor yesterday. He used to live on his motorcycle, and rode it to college. He said when the law requiring helmets was passed, peer pressure from fellow bikers made him protest it too. But secretly, he liked the law. “I did not feel safe flying through the air at sixty miles an hour with no protection at all,” he said.

Then came the accident. He slipped off the road into gravel, and ran into a sign. He woke up in the middle of the road. His helmet was all chipped up. His bike was badly damaged, but his head was fine. “PLEASE DO NOT SIGN THE HELMET LAW,” he wrote. “The ONLY thing that saved my life was that helmet. If we did not have the law I’d be DEAD.”

And, he added. “You will be costing the state millions of dollars in medical and other expenses.” He asks, how can the state continue to mandate a seatbelt law if they don’t keep the helmet law?

Hoffmann notes that driving is a privilege, not a constitutional right.  Governor Snyder has said public health is a priority. He sent the state a special message on health last September. If he signs this bill, he will make a mockery of his own policies.

Some of the senators who voted to repeal the helmet law yesterday also oppose President Obama’s health care plan, because it forces people to buy health insurance. Instead, they think people should pay for other people’s easily preventable accidents.

Does that really make any sense?