Wednesday, August 27, 2014
Unequal Rights Under The Law
Washington state is a leader in the arena of civil rights. We are proud of our laws to protect the individuals right; to privacy, to use medical and recreational marijauna, to same sex marriage, to be free from social 'profiling', and more. Yet we continue to deny motorcyclists the basic right to choose for themselves what is the proper level of protection while riding a motorcycle. Why?
One of the things that has always seems so odd to me about the governments claim of the 'public burden' motorcyclists are to society when injured after a crash, is the vastly more burdensome effects of other activities that the government condones. In Washington state (according to the CDC) motorcyclists traumatic medical expenses are only 14% of all such expenses. While 69% of that 'burden' comes from occupants of automobiles and light trucks. Yet we don't hear about the soccer moms medical expenses being a public burden.
Both alcohol and tobacco have a much greater impact financially on society than motorcyclists who do not wear a helmet. Yet there are no real efforts to eliminate those risks to health because it is considered an individuals right to smoke or drink. The mind set seems to be, if you consume alcohol or smoke, you are basically only hurting yourself. Unless your doing so affects others in a negative way, you have the right to drink and smoke, and law enforcement will leave you alone.
Obviously, it is not the risky behavior that is what the government is trying to limit. Or the ill effects of such risky behavior. If it truly was, there would be a much more strident effort to restrict drinking, smoking, and illicit drug use than there is. Here in Washington, it is illegal to smoke a cigarette inside a bar, or other public building. To legally smoke a cigarette in public, you have to be more than 25 feet from a door or window that can be opened. While this may make it somewhat inconvenient to have a smoke while you are at the bar, it doesn't alter the your risk while doing so.
But that is just what happens when motorcyclists are forced to wear helmets. The concept is that if you crash, the helmet helps to reduce the risk of brain injury. According to some studies, it may actually depend on the style of helmet whether your risk of traumatic brain injury decreases or increases. If you wear a "full face" helmet with a 'rigid' face bar, you are actually at a higher risk of skull fracture and fatal brain injury than with other types of helmets. However that isnt part of the testing for a DOT helmet. So these helmets that have actually been shown to carry with them a markedly higher rate of fatal skull fractures and brain injuries are perfectly compliant with DOT standards.
The government does not mandate that helmets be able to survive impacts of more than 13.4 MPH. That's the speed a helmet reaches while falling from 6 feet. That is the highest speed that DOT mandates a helmet to be able to withstand. It is widely acknowledged, even by experts and authors of many of the major studies on the subject, that as helmet impact speeds increase their effectiveness decreases. Also, as impact speeds begin to exceed 13.4 mph, the motorcyclist becomes ever more greatly at risk for neck and spinal injuries.
The people who choose to smoke cigarettes or consume alcohol causing severe and long term damage to their bodies by doing so, are not forced by the state to use devices that would reduce the damage caused by their risky behavior. Yet motorcyclists are forced to wear a unnatural weight on their head that the government admits is only 37% effective. This same device upon the heads of motorcyclists has been shown to be a key factor in both traumatic skull and neck injuries during crashes. So whay are we forced to wear them?
This unequal treatment under law would seem to violate the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution. By mandating that one group must forego their right to decide for themselves what risks are acceptable, while not doing so for a much larger group in society is not equal justice under the law. By applying the 'public burden' argument to motorcyclists; forcing us to wear devices that have been shown to be only marginally effective and have a high testing failure rate, while the government allows the larger groups risky behavior to be a far greater burden to society without violating those individuals rights to partake in that risky behavior, the government continues to violate the Civil Rights of motorcyclists in the state.
Motorcycling is an inherently dangerous activity, or so the government would have you believe. So dangerous in fact, that the rights of the individual motorcyclists in the state must be disregarded, and all of them forced to wear a device that can just as easily cause death and injury as protect them. The basic right of a person to be able to decide for themselves whether they feel comfortable with the possible risks the helmet carries with it in relationship to the possible benefits of using it has been stripped by the state.
This is a question of civil liberties. Does an individual have the right to choose for themselves what risks they wish to take with their own bodies? Does an individual have the right to choose the level of protection they feel is proper for their activity? Or, does the State have the right to mandate the individuals choices for self-protection, even if the individual finds that mandate to be ineffective or possibly harmful?
Does the State have the right to inflict its committee established concept of 'acceptable risk' upon its individual citizens? Does the State have the right to claim it is only denying certain individuals rights under the premise of "social burden", while doing nothing to restrict others who have a markedly greater level of "burden" to the state? If the answer is no, than I beg you to support the efforts to repeal the 'mandatory' helmet law in Washington state. Give the individual back the right to decide for themselves the level of risk they are willing to accept for themselves each time they go for a ride. That doesn't mean motorcyclists have to stop wearing helmets. It only means we get to decide when and where to wear them, or not.
Catch you on the road sometime...