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?