Steve Chapman

The complaint has a point, but it considers only the costs of motorcycle accidents, not the -- yes -- benefits. At the risk of sounding macabre, let me note that a 50-year-old biker who dies in a wreck saves us money, since he won't be around to collect Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid in his old age. A 20-year-old fatality may yield a harvest of excellent organs for patients awaiting transplants.

Besides, the argument on safety and medical costs is one that proves too much. Brain buckets reduce the chance of being killed in a wreck, but federal data indicate that most of those who die in motorcycle accidents would be killed even with a helmet. So it's safe to assume that most of those seriously injured would be laid up in the hospital either way.

The real danger is not from riding a motorcycle without a helmet, but from riding, period. If you crash a hog at 70 mph, your head is only one of the body parts that will come out much worse for wear. If we're justified in requiring helmets to save medical expenses, why not simply outlaw motorcycles entirely? That would prevent a lot more death and injury.

It's also hard to see why we single out motorcyclists for the sin of saddling everyone with higher health care costs. Plenty of patients suffer from self-inflicted ailments -- lung cancer from smoking, liver damage from drinking, diabetes from eating unhealthy foods, AIDS from unprotected sex. Yet we don't ban these activities.

Why not? Because we retain a respect for individual freedom and choice -- even in matters of life and death, even when individual choices have collective costs. Motorcycle helmet laws are an unwarranted exception to our normal, sound approach, which can be summarized: It's your life, and it's your funeral.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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