Safety Laws That Endanger Us

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Recently by Eric Peters: The Pros — and Cons — of Keyless Car Keys

One of the problems with “safety” laws is they amount to someone else’s cost-benefit analysis. Someone else’s favoring of more this vs. less of that. Someone else’ determination that the Pros outweigh the Cons – as they define them.

A good case in point: motorcycle helmet laws.

The practical argument is they reduce head trauma in the event the biker goes down – which is certainly true. This can’t be argued. But there is another side of the coin to consider: Not wearing a helmet may make the biker less likely to go down in the first place – and it’s just as certainly true.

The helmet-less rider can hear what is going on around him. The external world is not muffled by the helmet. This is an inherent safety advantage. For example, the rider will hear a snarling, barking dog about to try to bite his ankle much sooner than he would with a helmet on. Thus, he will be less surprised by said snarling dog – and so, less likely to be startled, lose his balance – and wreck. Just one example. There are many others.

If you don’t ride yourself and doubt that not being able to hear clearly is an issue, try driving your car around with ear plugs in sometime – which by the way is illegal, precisely because it is so unsafe. But apparently, it’s ok to put a biker’s life in jeopardy this way, because of the determination by some other person that wearing a helmet is more safe.

Even more of an advantage is the much wider field of vision that a rider without a helmet enjoys. With a full-face helmet on, the rider’s peripheral vision is significantly limited. You don’t see much to the side unless you turn your head to the side (which means you’re not able to look ahead of you while you’re doing it). But most of the things that result in a rider being killed involve things coming at the motorcycle rider from the side – such as someone in a car running a red light or a car turning into his lane because the bike is in the car driver’s blind spot (or the driver of the car is just oblivious). That extra fraction of a second’s awareness can be the difference between going down and not going down – and between life or death.

The point being, it’s not one-size-fits-all. Almost any “safety” device involves compromising something in return for the (supposed) enhancement – or exposing you to some other risk that didn’t exist previously.

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Eric Peters [send him mail] is an automotive columnist and author of Automotive Atrocities and Road Hogs (2011). Visit his website.

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