January 14, 1997
We believe that the United States was founded upon the concept of individual liberty, freedom consistent with the reasonable demands of an ordered society.
The courts have held through the years that government, constituted for the benefit of society, may only interfere with an individual's liberty when it has a compelling interest in doing so. That the government, or other citizens of the country, may not agree with one's actions, or may even find them distasteful, or puzzling, or even foolish is not adequate grounds to interfere with those actions unless they harm others.
Before the government passes a law restricting individual freedom it should be certain of two things. First it must be clear that there is a problem requiring resolution by law, and second, it should be certain that the proposed law would resolve the problem. The law should be no more restrictive than absolutely necessary to achieve the needed result. Most especially, no one should be deprived of liberty simply for the profit of another, or to indulge someone's impulse to meddle, or because of what "everybody knows" is true or obvious. Neither an individual nor a group should be deprived of freedom of any sort through law based contradictory, ambiguous, or uncertain evidence.
We find that laws requiring helmet use by adults fail every aspect of the test.
Examine the question. What compelling interest has the government in regulating our manner of dress while riding, thus depriving us of our freedom to do so?
It has none.
There has been no showing at all of a compelling societal need that can be resolved by requiring motorcyclists to wear helmets. Some have tried to make a case justifying this deprivation of individual choice by saying that motorcyclists who don't wear helmets suffer head injuries, the treatment of which result in a fiscal burden on society.
The voices supporting this position are loud, but the evidence is nonexistent. To the extent that any has been offered it is at best flawed, and at worst specious. Much has been made of the old Harborview Hospital "study" of the alleged problem, and many faulty conclusions drawn from it. At the least, it should be pointed out that Harborview's own figures show that injured motorcyclists paid 11% more of their own medical bills than did all other patients. Also, the study made no breakout of the costs of treatment for head injuries specifically, the only thing possibly to be addressed by a helmet law.
So the helmet law fails the first test of fairness: it has not been shown that there is a problem to be addressed. Nevertheless, let us address the second prong of the test: will a helmet law address the problem?
The answer to this too is no.
The evidence in favor of helmet use is ambiguous at best. While all sorts of statistics about accidents can be derived, only one matters in this context: it is the ratio of deaths and serious injuries to the number of accidents overall. When one compares states that have helmet laws to similar states which do not, there is no statistically significant difference. To the extent there is any difference at all it is slanted slightly in favor of states that do not require helmets.
There are differences of opinion about the usefulness of helmets, and they are based largely on emotion. Doctors for example, by their very nature are appalled by what they believe is pointless carnage: they are willing to restrict our freedom for their peace of mind. Insurance executives are outraged at every dollar they pay out, and are more than willing to sacrifice our freedom to safeguard their money. In both cases though, the reaction is emotional, not rational. As a question of first impression one's reaction is to say that helmets must help since they are harder than one's own head. For whatever reason, the evidence does not clearly support that position.
Furthermore, even assuming for the sake of argument that a helmet law helps, it is discriminatory if applied only to motorcyclists. The gravest, and most frequent serious injuries in automobile accidents are to the head, and treatment costs for motorists are as high as for motorcyclists.
So helmets laws fail the fairness test in every respect. There has been no compelling need proven; they have not been shown to resolve a problem; they exist to calm the emotions and cater to the meddling whims of a few small groups who believe they know what is best for us, and they are applied discriminatorily.
That being the case, each individual involved in the sport should be free to reach his own decision on the matter. His freedom of choice should not be sacrificed at some else's altar of belief. Laws requiring helmet use by individuals capable of making informed, rational decisions should be rescinded immediately.
We ask that you keep the foregoing in mind during this and future sessions. Apply these tests when examining proposed legislation, whether it deals with motorcyclists, or gun owners, or parachutists, or skiers, or any other individuals taking part in activities perceived by the general public as hazardous or enigmatic.
Thank you.The Members of ABATE, Eastside