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Freedom: Who pays?

December 08, 1998

In what can only be called a triumph of emotionalism over common sense, the Pennsylvania senate has decided to repeal the state's 30-year-old motorcycle helmet law. A repeal makes no sense on any level, and far from impacting only those riders who choose to skip the headgear, it would cost taxpayers plenty as well.

Why taxpayers? Because without helmets, those who are involved in crashes are likely to sustain more serious injuries. Those whose insurance doesn't cover the cost of expensive trauma care won't be thrown out in the street. No, their bills will be sent to the state government, for all the taxpayers to share.

And as for those whose insurance does cover the cost of serious head injuries, the cost of their care will be shared by all policyholders.

It all seems more than a bit unfair, like charging diners at a restaurant extra because someone at the next table decides to overeat. Except in this case, we're not talking about the price of a meal, but pricey trauma care and rehabilitation that may take years.

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But rather than just urge Gov. Tom Ridge to veto this bill, let us suggest a compromise. Riding without a helmet would be legal, provided that the cyclists agreed to two things:

- that the rider would hold the public harmless for any injuries that came as the result of not wearing a helmet, and

- that devotees of helmetless cycling would form their own insurance pool to cover the cost of head injuries. It would probably be more costly than conventional insurance, but as the Founding Fathers knew, freedom isn't cheap.

To sum up, if motorcycle riders want to risk crippling injuries by forgoing their helmets, that's certainly up to them. Just don't ask the rest of the citizens to underwrite that risk with their tax or insurance dollars.

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