I enjoy riding a motorcycle, in part because of the sense of freedom it gives me. I'm very offended by North Carolina's motorcycle helmet law. Why should the state have the power to compel me to wear a helmet? I should be allowed to take a calculated risk if I want to, and it's none of the government's business.
No doubt you have noticed that every state has its own rules about motorcycle helmets. For instance, in South Carolina, the law only requires that riders under age 21 must wear helmets. In contrast, since 2008 North Carolina has required motorcycle riders and passengers to wear a helmet that meets Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.
Does the government have an interest in regulating the dangerous activities you may do? Before we answer that, let's point out that there are various levels of danger we face in everyday life. Crossing the street as a pedestrian is more dangerous than sitting on the divan at home. Driving a car is riskier than crossing a street. Riding a motorcycle is more dangerous than driving a car.
Point One: Motorcycles Are Risky
Data supports that claim. Only about two percent of all registered vehicles in North Carolina are motorcycles, but about ten percent of all motor vehicle fatalities involve motorcycles. Thus, motorcycle riders are hugely over-represented in North Carolina fatal traffic accident statistics. The motorcyclist is at fault in over 80 percent of these fatal crashes.
Because America puts a high value on personal responsibility and individual freedom, people are permitted to do things such as ride motorcycles and drive cars, even though such activities pose risks both to the biker (and his passenger) and to society in general. However, we also allow government to set rules for risky activities to protect the well-being of everyone in the community. The tricky part—as you clearly recognize—is finding the right balancing point between personal freedom and government overreach.
Point Two: Motorcycle Helmets Save Lives
We can also pin a number on the effectiveness of motorcycle helmets: 37 percent. According to research by a HYPERLINK "http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/pubs/809861.pdf" National Highway Traffic Safety Administration division, helmets are about 37 percent effective in preventing fatalities—a number that was revised upward in 2004 to reflect improvements in helmet design and materials. As motorcycle injury lawyers in Wilmington, we believe all riders and passengers should wear approved safety helmets, even in states where the laws make them optional.
Point Three: The Case for Government Action
All of this brings us back to the essential question you posed at the start: should the state government have the power to force riders to wear motorcycle helmets in North Carolina? We don't want to bog you down with stuff about political philosophy, but there are two important arguments that the state government should have this authority:
- The argument from the social contract. Everyone in a society gives up a bit of their freedom to the government, which is charged with the responsibility to protect citizens from unnecessary harm and to support the public interest. The North Carolina legislature has decided that a universal helmet law best protects the public interest of all citizens. If you disagree, you have the option to mobilize your fellow citizens to get the law changed. While the law remains on the books, you best demonstrate social responsibility by obeying the law and wearing your helmet when you ride.
- The argument from hypothetical future regret. Imagine that you chose not to wear your helmet. If you got in an accident and were seriously injured, your future self would have profound regrets that he or she had not worn the helmet. The judgment of this future self that you should have worn a helmet to minimize your injuries is sufficient to justify laws compelling riders to wear helmets even when they would prefer otherwise.
Point Four: Helmet Use and Legal Rights
Your choice not to wear a helmet does not affect your legal rights if you are injured in a North Carolina motorcycle accident (or a biker accident in another state) due to someone else's negligence. You still retain the right to seek compensation for your losses, including damaged property and physical injuries.
If you have been involved in a bike crash, call Speaks Law Firm at 910-341-7570 or toll-free at 877-593-4233 and say you need to talk with a personal injury attorney. We will schedule a FREE and confidential consultation about your case at your convenience, where you can see how Speaks Law Firm can provide you the legal representation you need.