Helmet Laws and Organ Donations

motorcycle-helmetTyler Cowen passes along a paper [PDF] which finds that “every death of a helmetless motorcyclist prevents or delays as many as 0.33 deaths among individuals on organ transplant waiting lists.” The study is titled “Donorcycles:  Do Motorcycle Helmet Laws Reduce Organ Donations?”

On balance, I oppose helmet and seatbelt laws on the grounds that the negative externalities imposed by the reckless behavior in question doesn’t outweigh the loss of individual liberty, given how rare serious crashes are.   The organ donation issue obviously moves the needle further in that direction. For those unconcerned about liberty, of course, saving 0.33 lives at the cost of 1.00 lives is a bad tradeoff.

Regardless, however, the “Donorcycles” concept would be a good one for one of those PSAs that networks are required to air in exchange for use of the public airwaves.  A satirical ad wherein those who chose to ride without a helmet are thanked for their generosity in helping meet the demands for organs might well be an effective tool for persuading people to change their behavior.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Our Paul says:

    Tongue in cheek I hope, for your argument of individual liberty outweighing seat belt laws is open to reductio ad absurdum:

    …(Latin: “reduction to the absurd”) is an argument to refute a proposition (or set of propositions), by showing that it leads to a logically absurd consequence. That is, the proposition is shown by proper inspection to be simply untenable within the rules of logic, because it necessarily leads to a self-contradictory consequence.

    I will leave it to better minds than my rum sodden brain to construct the syllogism…

  2. James Joyner says:

    Most propositions can be taken to extremes. I’d say that “the negative externalities imposed by the reckless behavior in question doesn’t outweigh the loss of individual liberty, given how rare serious crashes are” is actually relatively immune.

  3. giantslor says:

    So James, I guess it’s obvious which part of “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” you think is disposable. When did liberty become the end-all value which must be upheld at all costs, even to the detriment of other values — like life? I’m a fan of freedom, but I’m also a fan of life, justice, and other important values, and I’m positive they can be balanced sensibly when one value infringes on another.

    I’m just flabbergasted that so many people think it’s preferable to allow people to die or be maimed — throwing their friends and family into mourning and draining away public health dollars — than to prevent those deaths by requiring people to fasten a belt or a helmet. This anti-belt/helmet mentality is no different than a bratty toddler screaming “NO!!!” to a parent who knows better.

  4. just me says:

    There isn’t a bike rider out there that doesn’t know the risks of riding without a helmet, they just choose to go without in spite of that knowledge. There is no PSA that is going to convince them they should choose a helmet.

    Our family has its own motorcycle helmet law, so my husband doesn’t get on his bike without the helmet and the leathers, but we go round and round with friends who ride that don’t wear them.

    Personally I am not a fan of the laws-people should be free to choose their own risks. I don’t think the government’s job is to protect people from themselves.

  5. James Joyner says:

    I guess it’s obvious which part of “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” you think is disposable. When did liberty become the end-all value which must be upheld at all costs, even to the detriment of other values — like life?

    These are all negative rights. That is, they’re things government is not supposed to infringe upon, not things government is supposed to guarantee.

    If people want to take very small risks with their life in order to maximize their pursuit of happiness, they should have the liberty to do so. It’s perfectly reasonable for government to seek to inform people of the risks but not to preclude people from taking them.

    By contrast, government can reasonable require that motorcycles obey speed laws, be in good working condition, have headlights, and so forth in order to protect the safety of others on the road. One’s liberty to act like an idiot ends when it becomes a danger to others.

  6. Brian Knapp says:

    Personally I am not a fan of the laws-people should be free to choose their own risks.

    And

    If people want to take very small risks with their life in order to maximize their pursuit of happiness, they should have the liberty to do so. It’s perfectly reasonable for government to seek to inform people of the risks but not to preclude people from taking them.

    Seatbelt/helmet laws for minors? Public roads, public ambulances, and public healthcare costs seem like good reason for legislation on this one. Not to mention the imposition that traffic deaths have on travel and commerce as compared to injury or non-injury accidents. These tip the balance.

    And I don’t see how helmets and seatbelts are any different than requiring better safety products from the vehicles manufacturers (i.e. airbags, etc.).

  7. James Joyner says:

    Seatbelt/helmet laws for minors?

    These strike me as reasonable, since minors aren’t of age to make decisions for themselves.

    Public roads, public ambulances, and public healthcare costs seem like good reason for legislation on this one. Not to mention the imposition that traffic deaths have on travel and commerce as compared to injury or non-injury accidents. These tip the balance.

    So, socialism justifies more socialism?

    And I don’t see how helmets and seatbelts are any different than requiring better safety products from the vehicles manufacturers (i.e. airbags, etc.).

    I oppose these, too. While in principle I support better safety equipment, in practice requiring even the lowest end cars to have these things raises prices drastically, with the perverse effect of keeping the poor in older, less safe cars. I prefer to have these innovations luxury creep down as power windows, electronic door locks, CD players, and the like have naturally done.

  8. Brian Knapp says:

    So, socialism justifies more socialism?

    Well, yes, in a sense. Given the precedence of major socialist/corporate-government innovations that produce things, such as the system of travel that we have today, this seems like a minor, minor issue.

    Freedom from socialist helmets doesn’t free us from socialist roads.

  9. giantslor says:

    with the perverse effect of keeping the poor in older, less safe cars

    So? They’d be in unsafe cars anyway. The difference with new car safety requirements is that lots of other people will now be driving newer, safer cars. That’s not perverse, that’s great.

    Apart from that, I agree with Brian Knapp above. We’re certainly not going to go backwards toward privatizing roads and health care costs. If you participate in the system, you should accept and play by the rules.

  10. just me says:

    Well you know-I would actually have no trouble with insurance refusing to pay for people who chose to assume risks that could have been lessened with proper safety (ie if you don’t wear a helmet, too bad your insurance is covering your ambulance ride or your hospital stay).

    But that isn’t really proper. But if you choose to assume risk, I see no reason why insurance has to cover you.