Sunday, March 1, 2009

helmets, seatbelts and freedom

yesterday dozens of bikers gathered in murrells inlet and rode into myrtle beach to protest a local ordinance requiring motorcyclists to wear helmets when riding within the city. the so-called myrtle beach helmet freedom ride was organized to 'fight for people's rights'.

'fighting for rights' is a well-worn phrase used to protest laws or ordinances which were enacted to promote public health and safety such as seatbelt and helmet laws. 'it's our right' they argue, and if we don't 'it's a matter of individual choice.' some years ago, south carolina's legislature bought that argument and repealed the state requirement that motorcyclists wear helmets.

the problem with that logic is that automobile liability insurance rates are calculated by the distributed risks of the insured. when motorcyclists don't wear helmets, their risk is distributed to the rest of the insured pool, riders and non-riders, to make sure there are sufficient funds to cover liabilities that may arise. the same thing goes for seatbelts, everyone in the state pays higher insurance rates because of those who don't or won't wear their seatbelts.

our state legislature would rather everyone pay higher rates than hold those responsible for increasing risks accountable for their actions. south carolina still has one of the weakest seat belt laws in the nation. the fine is only twenty five dollars and not really worth the time for our law enforcement officers to enforce. the ticket carries no points, and is not reported to the insurance companies and not wearing a seatbelt cannot, under south carolina law, be considered contributory negligence as far as any injuries received. besides that, every day i see local law enforcement officers not wearing their seatbelts in their patrol vehicles.

those who don't wear their seatbelts or don't wear their motorcycle helmets have a freedom that i don't have. they have the freedom to keep my insurance rates high and there is nothing i can do about it, except not like it. when will our representatives in the statehouse start looking out for people who try to be responsible and hold irresponsible people more accountable for the costs they incur on the rest of us? given the high level of both irresponsibility and irresponsiveness of our state legislators, i don't hold out much hope.

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