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. I was wondering how to formulate my opinion, and read it in the form of the words from Mark T. People take risks in many activities, this debate is not limited to bikes.

  2. 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. If we want to discuss societal impact they why not make the arguement that smoking, drinking or eating unhealthy should also be legislated by our government to the point that they can tell us how many soda’s or beers we can drink in a weeks time just so we can protect ourselves from ourselves.
    I’m not going to make a joke about this man’s death, he stood up for something he believed in and died as a result of it. It’s different to ride in groups of motorcycles because you can be very close to other bikers and have to be alert to the bikes in front, around and behind you. I don’t know the circumstances of his accident but it seems very possible to me that the bikes in front of him stopped quicker that he could account for and had to swerve to avoid ramming into it or them. He also probably had bikes that were behind him that would have hit him if he had succeeded in stopping in time without swerving. He very likely thought that swerving was the best option he had.
    Again I don’t know if this was the case but I’ve seen it happen before without the terrible results that this man’s decision created.

  3. Gary Busey was the head of a campaign to repeal California’s helmet law. When he won, he went out for a celebratory helmetless ride– then skidded on a gravel patch, fractured his skull and spent a month in a coma.

  4. Yesterday I watched my neighbor take off on his BMW motorcycle wearing a tank top, shorts, and no helmet. Truly a trifecta of foolishness. Happily, he returned intact…..this time.

  5. In the hospital, we call people who ride without helmets…organ donors.

  6. OH you can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant…….cepting Alice…

    Couldn’t help myself…sorry

  7. I was hanging with a couple of EMTs once who were joking about the last guy that they’d hauled in who had been in a motorcycle accident (his girlfriend had been riding on the back and did not survive):

    “The bad news is that your penis and testicles got torn off in the accident when you went over the handlebars. The good news is that you won’t need them because your girlfriend is dead.”

    EMTs have to deal with the consequences of human stupidity every day and after a while, you learn to laugh at it or you won’t survive it as a career. I’d have loved to have heard what they were saying about this idiot after they got back to the firehouse.

  8. Drive at night on I-95 in Florida, doing 75 (10 mph above speed limit) and you will be invariably passed on the right, or left by some clown doing 95, without a helmet. Having ridden bikes in the past it always strikes me as monumentally stupid and terminally macho.

  9. Rafflaw,

    I’ve got a live version of the song where he introduces it by saying “I’ve been singing this song for 20 years. It’s amazing to me that a guy could get away with singing a song this dumb for that long.”

    It’s one of my favorites.

  10. Former Fed,
    Great Arlo Guthrie song! I believe it was on the Alice’s Restaurant album.
    When I ride my bicycle, I wear a helmet. For someone to ride a motorcycle without a helmet is just ludicrous and stupid. And there is a societal cost when someone seriously injures him or herself and has no insurance or goes beyond their coverage amount. It can be cool and liberating to ride a bike, even when you wear a helmet.

  11. Do they make you watch “Red Asphalt” before getting a motorcycle license? No seriously–you share the same roads as people in cars, you may even have a passenger on your motorcycle while you’re on those roads. What I’m saying is, if you had to go through the same classes and testing as a would-be auto driver does, wouldn’t most motorcycle drivers wear a helmet and preclude the need for a helmet law?

  12. “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 line gets drawn where the money is. Motorcycles are a relatively big business whereas skydiving and rock climbing are microscopic. In addition, relatively older people ride motorcycles and they tend to vote at a much higher rate than the relatively younger people who populate the skydiving and rock climbing worlds.

    Seems pretty obvious to my lay opinion.

  13. A.A. said:

    “But most of the near fatal injuries leave the rider in vegetative states…its a choice and I support the choice so long as it is informed.”

    Understood. But there’s a bit more involved than their informed consent here.

    How much of your household income are you willing to invest for 30 years+, in order to keep these folks alive? The long-term care for those without deep pocket coverage is often funded by . . . .?

    Somebody bright once said something to the effect that “the other guy’s civil rights end at the tip of my nose.”

    I’d suggest in this case, that the other guy’s healthcare funding, following an unnecessary injury will – at some point on our societal future – end at the tip of your pocketbook.

  14. This song (and intro by Arlo) is for that guy:

    I don’t want a pickle
    Juss wanna ride on my motorsickle

    And I don’t wanna die…

  15. I would not think of myself as a libertarian…but there is a risk associated with anything….riding a motorcycle is no different…I have ridden both ways….there are certain times that the helmet is too damn hot to use or have on your head…But most of the near fatal injuries leave the rider in vegetative states…its a choice and I support the choice so long as it is informed… but then again…I have a different perspective on life and death than most…we are all here until we are not here in this physical form….

  16. I don’t quite recall why I scribbled this note down last month:

    “You gotta love the human brain.

    What other animal’s mind makes a decision to do something so stupid, that it needs to protectively wrap itself up, in order to continue jeopardizing its own existence, instead of simply refraining from the idiocy in the first place?

    I’m no expert on the ‘Rapture’ but I suspect those wearing helmets won’t be drifting upwards.”

    Of course, in contradiction to the above thoughts, I personally hate the idea that Americans are ordered to wear helmets.

    But as long as self-inflicted head trauma continues to be the priority at ERs – which means that fellow shoots to the head of the treatment line, well past your mom or child, in most cases – then I reckon we’ll continue to try to save the witless from themselves, to the detriment of other, more sentient citizens.

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