New York Man Rides in Protest of Helmet Law and Dies After Crashing Motorcycle Without Helmet

This week, Philip Contos, 55, joined a group of motorcyclists to protest New York’s helmet law by riding bareheaded. He became a symbol of a different kind when he crashed and died after hitting his head on the roadway.

The accident occurred near Syracuse and the doctors believe he would have survived with a helmet.

Helmet laws have long been controversial with libertarians who believe people should be allowed to make these decisions for themselves. The reason the issue is so prominent is that the failure to wear helmets does not injure third parties. As tragically shown by Contos, it is the biker who bears the full cost. Of course, it is often argued that society has to bear the costs of persons injured in such accidents when insurance will not cover their expenses. Yet there are a variety of dangerous activities from skydiving to rock climbing that also have externalized costs. Moreover, if social cost is the reason to limit such choices, where does society draw the line? The fear is that externalized social cost is an excuse for nanny state legislation. On the other hand, riding without a helmet seems really idiotic (though I must confess that I am pretty risk-adverse and find motorcycles pretty incomprehensible). Of course, Contos knew those risks and decided to drive without a helmet.

What do you think?

Source: Syracuse

Jonathan Turley

38 thoughts on “New York Man Rides in Protest of Helmet Law and Dies After Crashing Motorcycle Without Helmet”

  1. Where should we draw the line? Here:

    If you endanger your own safety and refuse to take minimum precautions to protect yourself, you forfeit the right of rescue or protection of society.

    You ride a motorcycle without a helmet? Pick up your own brain from the road and call a taxi for yourself. Nobody should call an ambulance for such idiots.

    You drive a car without a seatbelt? If you go through the windshield, get back in your car and drive yourself to the hospital.

    You wander in the desert and get lost, or go skiing in back country and get caught in an avalanche? Search and rescue are no longer obligated to save you, or you pay the costs yourself after being rescued.

    Ambulances are now required to treat LAST anyone who didn’t wear a helmet, seatbelt or other safety device, if there are multiple victims. If the idiot is the only victim, the responders are not required to drive faster than the speed limit nor use sirens and lights.

    And most importantly, any idiots who don’t take safety precautions forfeit the right to make insurance claims for any such injuries, as well as forfeit the right to sue others.

    If “libertarians” are so big on personal responsibility, they shouldn’t have ANY trouble with the things I’m saying.

  2. I’d nominate the guy for a Darwin award, except he was 55. If he died childless it wasn’t for lack of opportunity.

    He’s done us a favor since he won’t be collecting Social Security or tapping Medicare.

    Not so the brain-damaged survivors of motorcycle accidents. For those who want to ride helmetless, I say fine, with this proviso: they have to get a special license which requires them to make a knowing waiver of certain rights, after viewing a film about brain damage. The waiver: if while riding helmetless you suffer brain damage, once your insurance or assets run out, we let you die. Wanna be a die-hard libertarian? Fine, but accept the consequences.

  3. AlanDownunder,

    I’m definitely not a Libertarian. The slippery slope of your argument would have us ban all who eat fast food because it’s proven to cause obesity and that adds extra cost to society. The problem with banning things is not their rationales, but the human ability to rationalize just about anything others do based on their own prejudices.

  4. dahweed I would love to talk about those other issues but I think even issues like the seat belts and helmet laws are important too because it’s issues that get people to stand up for their rights where for some reason alot of people seem to be ok with the Patriot Act, Guantanamo and the drug laws.
    I understand the arguement about the financial burden that can be imposed by injuries from riding without helmets but if we legislate that then what if next we’ll move onto how we eat and then onto how we all excercise or how much sleep we all get. I would argue that each of these choices that we make cause a much bigger financial burden than people who ride without helmets.
    I didn’t intend to come off so rigid in my replies but wanted to try and get everyone to really think about the issue and I’ve learned that we as a people need to stick up for our rights or we will lose them and we’ve lost so many here lately in recent history.

  5. “I appreciate the fact that he was standing up for his rights.”

    he’s just propped up now, he’s not actually standing

    kinda like “weekend at bernies” but with even less humor

  6. I think probably most everyone agrees to this point: “Our law should not be intended to protect people from themselves, but from others who would harm them.” The difficulty is, as noted by others, that others can be “harmed” financially. So, when free choices by some land them in expensive, un- or under-insured medical care situations, who bears the burden? The rest of society. That’s where it gets tangled… Here’s a proposed solution: on issues such as helmets and seatbelts, the punishment should be a hefty fine, but not loss of license or other punishments. That allows people to make the choice on a purely economic level, since that’s where the potential harm is, and puts a little money back in the public coffers. I’m a motorcycle rider who sometimes does and sometimes doesn’t wear a helmet, but I generally try to make a reasoned choice in that regard. I also live in a country where the helmet law exists but is not enforced. If it were, I’d probably be more religious about wearing it.

    I do find it a little humorous, though, that people get so hot under the collar about “erosion of freedoms” when talking about seatbelts and helmets. I mean, let’s be honest. These are issues of convenience, not freedom. You want to talk freedom? Let’s discuss the PATRIOT Act, Guantanamo, drug laws, etc.

  7. Hey, mark T & Mike S

    Your “others who would harm them” include clowns who stubbornly needlessly and wantonly harm us by inflating our public taxes and our private taxes (health insurance premiums). “Libertarian” clowns.

  8. Mike S
    “Our law should not be intended to protect people from themselves, but from others who would harm them.”

    Amen brother!

    HenMan I got the sarcasm. 🙂

  9. Mark T-

    I will defend to the death my God-given right to fly through my windshield and get squashed like a bug on the radiator of a Peterbilt.

  10. “But it’s a choice I should be able to make on my own without interferrence from the government.”

    Mark T.,

    I agree with you. I’m no longer a cigarette smoker and without going into details my habit (3.5 packs a day) almost killed me. I’m smoke free now, have no desire to try it again, even once (as if that’s possible) and hate the smell of cigarette and cigar smoke. Yet I’m opposed to banning tobacco use, feel the high taxation is a burden on the poor and believe people should be able to smoke in places that want to allow it.

    Our law should not be intended to protect people from themselves, but from others who would harm them.

  11. I live in Ohio and back in I think 1993 they wanted to pass a seat belt law, well that issue was a big controversy back then and the only way the state got it to pass was to say that no one could be pulled over just because they weren’t wearing a seat belt and had to be pulled over for something else first. Nine years go by and the law changes with no controversy and now people can be pulled over just because they were observed not wearing a seat belt.
    It’s scary how fast we are losing our rights in the post 9/11 world and it seems most people are ok with that but it does give me hope when I see people standing up for their rights and as unfortunate as it is that this man lost his life I appreciate the fact that he was standing up for his rights.

  12. Mike S. But it’s a choice I should be able to make on my own without interferrence from the government. The U.S is getting more and more into peoples lives and we need to stand up to it.
    I went riding today ( to save gas) but wore a helmut because I was going to be on the highway.
    Today we are discussing helmet laws but with the way things are going it could easily be something else tomorrow, take for example parents who are being charged with child abuse because they have a child that is overweight. I watched either the Doctors or the Dr. Oz show that spoke on that subject and the episode had interviewed three mothers and one of the mothers had come under fire for letting one of her two sons over eat and she was criticized for buying him McDonald’s and other junk food (the other son is skinny and athletic). In the episode the professional guests expressed that the mother was wrong to let her obese son get that way. My point on the subject is do you think this mother should be charged with child abuse because of her obese son? The logic expressed on this blog here would suggest that he is going to cost the taxpayers money someday. A point I’m going to make is if you think yes she should be charged then why not charge her for child abuse of both sons because just because the other one is skinny he is also eating the McDonald’s and junk food and clogging his arteries and other risk health issues that will one day put a burden on the taxpayers.
    The main point I am trying to make is that I think we all do risky behaviours that someone else could complain about and that could affect our health and pocket book whether it’s eating junk food, driving faster than the speed limit, going to long without enough sleep which could impair our thought process or sleeping with someone without using protection. I’m sure I could keep going but I hope that I’ve made a point.
    I think people should be allowed to make their own life choice decisions without government interferrence as long as they know the risks and are willing to take those risks because if we don’t stop government interferrence then where will the government interferrence stop?

  13. “I believe it should be an individual choice. I survived a motorcycle accident 27 years ago because I had a helmet on but I don’t always wear one. Being on a motorcycle feeling the wind in your face gives me a feeling of freedom.”

    Mark T.,

    I understand the feeling, having learned to ride myself at Sturgis in 1977. It should be ones’ choice to wear a helmet. to be honest with you though, I think being helmetless is a very bad choice.

  14. I am all in favor of people being able to hurt or kill themselves. I ride a bike and would never think of riding in traffic at 20 mph without a helmet. If a grown man thinks riding without a helmet is ok, go ahead, just sign the organ donor card.

  15. They should be given stickers on their licenses: I don’t wear helmets. That way if they go to the ER with head injuries they have to pay for treatment out of pocket. I bet libertarians would support that (until they got injured and realized they couldn’t pay).
    I am all for that idea. Let stupid people die.

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