Many times this blog has called for individual responsibility to be the guiding principal of lawmaking. It is individual responsibility (and the sovereignty of the individual) that sets libertarianism apart from other ideologies.

A simple example of this principal in a political argument:

1) If one chooses to ride a motorcycle, their safety is their responsibility and no-one else’s.

2) Nobody else can therefore force a motorcycle rider to take safety measures against their will.

3) Included in ‘nobody else’ is government.

4) Therefore government may not force a motorcycle rider to take safety measures against their will.

This argument occurs with the exception that the government may force safety measures if the actions of the motorcycle rider will pose a safety threat to other road users.

Clearly, though, whether or not to wear a helmet when riding a motorcycle is a safety concern which will only affect the rider, and therefore will only affect the safety of the individual making the decision. In this case, it is my belief that the government should be unable to force compliance with such a measure, despite the vigorous common belief that it would be ‘for their own good’.

It is this topic to which the Florida Today newspaper recently turned its attention. Florida law used to mandate that motorcycle riders wear helmets for safety. But in the year 2000, the Florida legislature took the decidedly pro-liberty stance that it should not be any of their business to interfere in the rational, free decisions of individual motorcycle riders, and repealed the law.

It’s worth pausing in esteem of the state of Florida at this point. Not many legislatures around the world are volunteering to relinquish control of the masses in favour of freedom, with no obvious benefit to the ‘majority’. It’s not the first time in the past decade that freedom-loving Floridians have passed such admirable law, either.

But six years on, Florida Today claims that repealing the helmet law has been the cause of more motorcycle deaths. They cite their own analysis of motorcycle crash figures, which shows that deaths involving cyclists without helmets rose from 22 in 1998, before the repeal, to 250 in 2004. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration numbers apparently also show total motorcycle deaths in the state increased 67 percent between 2000 and 2004. It would appear from these figures that freedom may not be very healthy.

So, the big question is, do these figures prove a failure of this libertarian policy?

Uh, no. For two reasons:

A) It succeeded in its intention.

The question of whether libertarian policies produce what left-liberals, right-conservatives, lobbyists or think tanks consider to be ‘good’ results, or not, is somewhat irrelevant. The central aim of libertarian policies is to honour the free, rational choices of individuals and thereby to promote freedom – they are not intended to react legislatively to the latest facts and figures or to make the dreams of the loudest lobbyists come true.

In the case of repealing the law, the intention behind doing that was not particularly to affect the number of people killed or not killed while riding motorcycles. Its purpose was to rightly treat people like responsible adults and honour their right to make their own decision about their own safety. It was a ‘mind your own business’ law. In this, it succeeded splendidly.

Indeed the fact that people die doing risky things is somewhat obvious. It is not, and has never been, an objective of the people to elect a government that will force the removal of all of the risk from the lives of the citizens who elected it in the first place. Rock climbing is dangerous. Should it be illegal to climb walls without safety harnesses? Jetskis can be dangerous too. Should they be outlawed because jetskiing is a risky form of recreation? I hope not, because I happen to enjoy jetskiing a lot.

The Harley rider pictured here would look stupid with a helmet. There is a whole motorcycle subculture in America whose adherents find that helmets ruin their fun. And if they die in the process, they died doing what they love.

It’s at this point that we libertarians lose you lefties and righties (especially you lefties).

A significant percentage of readers will at this point be shaking their heads, thinking that it strains credibility to claim that a law that will cause more fatalities can be a good law. But the key factor here is one of authority. Whose responsibility is the life of a rational adult? It’s his or her own. I find leftist thought here confusing. A woman’s body is her own when she wants an abortion but the government’s when she sits down on a Honda Goldwing? Women and men are responsible for themselves, and responsible for their own body and its safety.

Thus our Hell’s Angel wants to blow the cobwebs from his hair at eighty miles per hour on Interstate 40. Is that a stupid decision? MAYBE. Thankfully, it’s not yours to make.

B) It didn’t CAUSE the increase in motorcycle deaths.

That’s right: it turns out that the analysis of these figures failed to account for another important figure; the fact that the number of people riding motorcycles in Florida has increased by 87 percent since the helmet law was repealed! Suddenly 22 motorcycle deaths increasing to 250 deaths seems quite easily explained. Not only does it appear that repealing the law has not had the effect some were purporting it to have had, but there is probably a very good reason for the increase in the number of motorcycle riders moving to Florida!

It seems that the freedom to make autonomous choices regarding one’s own personal safety may be just what people are looking for.

John Wright