On Seatbelts and Helmets

I believe there is little doubt that it is foolhardy to be in an automobile without wearing seatbelts, or to ride a motorcycle without wearing a helmet. Someone inevitably claims that it is better to be thrown clear of the wreckage than to be trapped inside. But ask any race car driver — they who witness crashes all the time and may have even been in several — if they would dare take to the track without making use of their extensive belting systems.

I believe it would be nice if we had the right to drive automobiles without wearing seatbelts, and to ride motorcycles without wearing helmets. These acts, while dangerous to the actor, don’t pose any real threat to others. If the person who crashes into my car isn’t wearing their seatbelt, it doesn’t change my likelihood of injury to my body. It does, however, greatly increase the danger to my wallet, and that’s where I draw the line.

The economist Walter E. Williams, in a column titled Click it or ticket makes this conclusion:

“Some might argue, but falsely so, that the problem with people exercising their liberty to drive without seatbelts, ride motorcycles without helmets or eat in unhealthy ways is that if they become injured or sick, society will be burdened with higher health-care costs. That’s not a problem of liberty but one of socialism.

There’s no liberty-based argument for forcing one person to care for the needs of another. Under socialism, one is obliged to care for another. A parent-child relationship emerges between the citizen and the government. That was not the vision of our Founders.”

He is correct that those who are injured often receive care that they don’t pay for themselves, either out-of-pocket or through their insurance carriers. Therefore, the rest of society pays. That reduces the liberty of others because they have to pay so that a few can enjoy their rights. Dr. Williams makes the call in favor of the rights of the seatbeltless, while I argue in favor of those who pay. Not wearing seatbelts or wearing a helmet is a small gratification. Having to pay the healthcare costs — and they are huge — to support those small liberties is oppressive. Until we can limit the economic damage of not wearing seatbelts or wearing helmets to those who cause it, I support laws requiring their use.

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