I’ve tried several times to make clear my point of view regarding helmets, on both practical as well as philosophical grounds. Do they “work”? Well, let’s define what “works” means before we try to answer that question!
They don’t “work” at all – if the rider doesn’t go down. This is not a trivial objection. Note that it is fundamentally the same objection of the not-sick to being told they must wear a Face Diaper . . . on the basis of the assertion that they might be sick.
A helmet by itself – as is all the law generally requires – only “works” to protect the head – in a limited way.
The rest of the rider’s body – assuming all he’s wearing besides the helmet (and his ordinary street clothes) remains unprotected. Certainly, the head is the seat of cognitive function, without which the rest of the body doesn’t function. But helmet-wearing doesn’t prevent spinal cord injuries, compound fractures or other blunt-force trauma to the body, which can be crippled for life even if the helmet did protect the rider’s brain.
And that is uncertain, as wearing a helmet does not immunize the rider’s brain from devastating injury, depending upon the severity of the impact. They merely serve to keep the skull intact, making the body more presentable for viewing in the Slumber Room.
Some helmets – perfectly legal, in terms of meeting the letter of the law – are useless even for that. I refer here to the “beanie” type that provide head protection comparable to the protection afforded by a third of a life-vest. Or a Face Diaper worn under one’s chin.
Helmets can also fail to “work” – at all.
In fact, they have. As seatbelts in cars sometimes fail to “work.” Whether they fail to “work” infrequently in no way impugns the point – the fact – that sometimes, the helmet cracks or comes off or for some other reason doesn’t work. Just as seatbelts in cars sometimes do not prevent injury/death and in some cases even have been the contributing/exacerbating factor.
This is factually inarguable.
It is also inarguable that wearing a helmet restricts the rider’s field-of-view and general situational awareness, which arguably – ironically – renders the rider more likely to need the protection afforded by wearing the helmet. And if all he is wearing is the helmet, he is arguably more likely to end up hurt – possibly badly – precisely on account of his vision and situational awareness having been diminished by the helmet.
It is interesting to speculate on the arbitrariness of must-wear-a-helmet but ok (legal) to not wear anything else laws. If the issue at hand is really – fundamentally – about “safety,” as those in favor of such laws insist then why is the law so flippant with regard to that very thing, with the exception of the rider’s head?
Well, something is better than nothing. That’s the usual argument. But it’s an obviously arbitrary one as well as an obtuse one that’s akin to a law requiring that every restaurant worker wash their left hand after using the bathroom.
That, too, “works” – maybe.
And there is an important difference in that the restaurant worker is handling your food while the the rider’s head (and body) are his. Legalities aside, it is wrong (morally) for the restaurant worker who handles other people’s food to not wash his hands. “Maybe” doesn’t enter it, even though it is true that maybe the food he handles with is unwashed hands won’t have his fecal matter for seasoning.
The restaurant worker has an obligation to take steps to assure they don’t eat it.
No such obligation – morally – can be said to exist with regard to whether a given rider decides to wear a helmet because it is his head (as well as the rest of him). He may or may not be injured and the injury may (or may not) be worse on account of his deciding to wear the helmet – but it is certain that whatever decision he takes, it will not (because it cannot) have any effect on the heads of others.
Others may be saddened by whatever injury might occur – and rue that it may have been worse, due to the rider’s not having worn the helmet when the injury happened – but if that is to be the legal standard justifying the mandatory wearing of helmets, then what of the feelings of sadness that attend obesity-induced heart disease, diabetes and so on in other people we care about? There are innumerable such generators of sadness as regards the vicissitudes of life. But should other people’s feelings about these vicissitudes justify legal prohibitions?
If yes, then to what degree? Why should riding motorcycles be allowed at all – given that you might be more hurt – even killed – while riding, even if wearing everything (i.e., a helmet and full gear, including boots, gloves and a riding suit with protective armor).
Who shall decide?
The better question is: Who has the right to decide?
If it is the state, then it has been implicitly accepted – as a matter of principle (and precedent) that the state has the moral right to decide not just that but many other things besides. Including such things as whether everyone must wear a Face Diaper – and be “vaccinated.”
And keep in mind that it is not the “state” that will decide but rather other people – the people who hold offices and write laws. What gives these other people the right to make such decisions for other people, contrary to the will of those other people? Absent the fact of any harms caused to other people?
The answer depends on whom one believes has rights, in the first place. If it is each of us, then it is only us – as regards questions such as these. Legal prohibitions on personal decisions that do not, as such, materially cause harm to others are an unnatural assertion of parenting rights over other adults, who are regarded as children by those attempting to parent them.
This is both a degradation as well as a danger in that – as regards the latter – it fosters a dangerous delusion that it is right to attempt to parent other adults. However well-meant, in the end, it causes the people doing the parenting to believe they are the parents of other adults, whom they increasingly regard as theirs to parent.
There is no emancipation from such parents, either.
And that’s a danger far greater than that attending a rider’s decision to not wear a helmet.
. . .
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