Tuesday, August 08, 2006

No Brainer.

If you’ve been following the ongoing controversy regarding the applicability of a compulsory helmet-wearing rule in Bangalore, you, like me, must be wondering what the brouhaha is all about. No?

Or are you one of those who side with people who raise objections in the nature of:
  1. It’s hot and humid and I’ll loose my hair while feeling claustrophobic?
  2. That instead of making helmets compulsory, the government must make roads safer.
  3. Yada yada yada, blah blah blah…
I think legal paternalism is, in this instance, not an intrusion seeing as how it is “necessary to prevent individuals from inflicting physical or severe emotional harm on themselves… Thus, for example, a law requiring use of a helmet when riding a motorcycle is a paternalistic interference insofar as it is justified by concerns for the safety of the rider.” The view here is that a rational individual would agree to such paternalistic legislation because he is rational and realizes that he can be compelled to do something because it is better for him, Mill’s objection notwithstanding. Safety is a basic good that can be legitimately promoted by using the coercive force of the State. A common test to the limits of legitimate paternalism is:
  1. The state must show that the behavior governed by the proposed restriction involves the sort of harm that a rational person would want to avoid;
  2. On the calculations of a fully rational person, the potential harm outweighs the benefits of the relevant behavior; and
  3. The proposed restriction is the least restrictive alternative for protecting against the harm. *
I’d like to see insurance companies pick up the ball on this one and invalidate insurance policies when riders who have had accidents as well as pillions were not wearing helmets. As is the case in the United Kingdom. Or, as is the case in Florida, they allow you to ride without a helmet, provided you have “…an insurance policy providing for at least $10,000 in medical benefits for injuries incurred as a result of a crash while operating or riding on a motorcycle.”

Dibyo has more on this and a funny comic.

I’m hoping Recluse will add to this post and extend the argument or nullify it, as the Motorcycle Riders Foundation has tried doing. [Warning: PDF link]

Update:

This comment by Recluse was far too important and interesting to let it sit in the relative obscurity of the comments section.

I agree with your elucidation of Paternalism as a rationale here.

There is, in addition, another factor that probably did not weigh with our lawmakers, which I seek to highlight (primarily through personal experience).

The automatic police response to an accident involving a two-wheeler is to charge and arrest any other vehicle involved (if it is larger than the two-wheeler).
There may be much hand-wringing and protests, but this simple rule cannot be shaken from the minds of our traffic police.

As a result, the accused will usually be charged under some lesser provisions of the Motor Vehicles Act, as well as Section 279 of the Indian Penal Code (which deals with rash and negligent driving on a public road).

One would presume that in such an accident, the two-wheeler rider(s) would have sustained an injury. BUT, if a helmet is not worn by the rider(s), the chances of a more grievous injury and death is definitely heightened.

If death does follow, the police will add the charge of Section 304A (rash or negligent act resulting in death) which is much stiffer. The emotional and monetary effects apart, this also does not allow the accused to compound (compromise) the offence. The trial will be pursued by the prosecution and a conviction sought.

While some may moan about hairstyles and heat, the reality is that two-wheeled vehicles are just physically more unstable and therefore more vulnerable to accidents. Due to its physical structure, it is almost impossible to escape without injury. In such circumstances, and keeping in mind reckless driving, Bangalore traffic, road rage (and a million other factors), it is ridiculous to oppose a most sane suggestion regarding helmets.

The interesting thing is that once this becomes law, any opposition to it (including that hilarious online campaign) would be liable for prosecution under Sections 309(attempt to commit suicide) and 108 (abetment)!

But then again, the people opposing it are just speaking personally - maybe THEY have nothing to protect.


* Philosophy of Law

P.S. The same argument holds good in requiring all motor vehicle occupants to wear seat belts. Low speeds notwithstanding.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

I Live in the US and in my state there are mandatory helmet laws. If i want to ride I have to wear a helmet, just the way of life for me. Do I like it? I wear a half helmet, and it does not bother me. But I feel that everyone should have the right to choose. I also blog but about sports. If you are interested, please check out my blog.
Here

blr bytes said...

I'm not sure if using the "My Choice" argument is a good one or even a valid one. What about gun laws, fetus related laws, drunk driving, smoking? They all involve an element of "Choice" but a legislated nonetheless. The right to choose is well and good but only within certain limits.

Recluse said...

I agree with your elucidation of Paternalism as a rationale here.

There is, in addition, another factor that probably did not weigh with our lawmakers, which I seek to highlight (primarily through personal experience).

The automatic police response to an accident involving a two-wheeler is to charge and arrest any other vehicle involved (if it is larger than the two-wheeler).
There may be much hand-wringing and protests, but this simple rule cannot be shaken from the minds of our traffic police.

As a result, the accused will usually be charged under some lesser provisions of the Motor Vehicles Act, as well as Section 279 of the Indian Penal Code (which deals with rash and negligent driving on a public road).

One would presume that in such an accident, the two-wheeler rider(s) would have sustained an injury. BUT, if a helmet is not worn by the rider(s), the chances of a more grievous injury and death is definitely heightened.

If death does follow, the police will add the charge of Section 304A (rash or negligent act resulting in death) which is much stiffer. The emotional and monetary effects apart, this also does not allow the accused to compound (compromise) the offence. The trial will be pursued by the prosecution and a conviction sought.

While some may moan about hairstyles and heat, the reality is that two-wheeled vehicles are just physically more unstable and therefore more vulnerable to accidents. Due to its physical structure, it is almost impossible to escape without injury. In such circumstances, and keeping in mind reckless driving, Bangalore traffic, road rage (and a million other factors), it is ridiculous to oppose a most sane suggestion regarding helmets.

The interesting thing is that once this becomes law, any opposition to it (including that hilarious online campaign) would be liable for prosecution under Sections 309(attempt to commit suicide) and 108
(abetment)!

But then again, the people opposing it are just speaking personally - maybe THEY have nothing to protect.

David said...

As a classical libertarian, I don't think the government should mandate. I agree with free-market (and when money is involved, people seem to become motivated MUCH faster) principles.

On the personal site, I do ride a motorcycle in California (a 500CC interceptor, in fact), and I think riding without a helmet is not just stupid, it's a good argument for REPEALING that law, as to improve the general intelligence of man kind.

Of course, the argument for helmets is not so simple. It's that the overall cost to society is great when your brain is splattered all over some rickshaw driver's window, and dogs are chewing at bits and pieces of your hair, and the traffic gets so bad, it runs backwards.

On the whole, I think mandating insurance would be a mistake, as it leaves open the possibility of corruption, so I do accept the premise of the helmet law in California (and I can't imagine ANYONE in Bangalore NOT wearing one, as the chances for a fatal crash seems much higher)

blr bytes said...

David, the Market can self-regulate but in India, I'm not so sure we're even close to that situation and ours really is a broken model, in the Market Failure kind of mould.

Given the inability of the market or the government to intervene in any meaningful way to reduce the liability (in terms of greater insurance premiums) of the non-motorcylcing and helmet-wearing public, I think using insurance companies as a tool for intervention is a plausable idea.

But leaving it as be would be a great way to let Darwinism run its course!

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