Tuesday, September 25

Nanny State

Recently in Rick Smith's Yehuda Moon comic strip Yehuda and the gang have been faced with the prospect of a new mandatory helmet law in their town. Some "concerned" citizen sees Thistle Gin riding unarmored with her young daughter and is appalled that Thistle would endanger her child in such a manner. 

The Kickstand boys introduce a new character, Nanny State, who takes the reins of a local mandatory helmet legislation. Ms State takes it upon herself to assess the danger of Thistle's actions and to eradicate what she sees as an unreasonable risk. She makes assumptions about things she doesn't understand and believes she is somehow acting for the greater good. 

As usual, the do-gooder contingent looks to the already marginalized to change their behavior in order to make the do-gooders feel better about the state of the world. Instead of addressing the real sources of risk and danger (speeding and texting drivers, poor bike/ped infrastructure, better education of motorists and cyclists) the do-gooders go after the highly visible (but superficial) issue: helmets. The ladies in the coffee shop are blindly appalled by the idea that someone might ride a bike and choose not to wear a helmet. But they obviously have no experience riding a bike in traffic and aren't experienced or qualified to make decisions in such matters. 

Something that I think is often overlooked, but which is hinted at by Nanny State in her conversation with the city councilman, is when she makes the comment that cyclists are juveniles playing in the streets on toys.

Rick has touched on this idea in other comics. There was one strip where a moto-fascist yelled at Yehuda that "some people are trying to get to work." To which Yehuda responds that he's on his way to work too. There is an attitude that bikes have no place on the roads because they're toys, conversely the assumption is that cars are always legitimized upon the roads, and are somehow holy and sanctified in their most frivolous uses just because they're cars.

Answer this question: who has more legitimacy upon public roads, the person traveling from home to work or the person out for a pleasure cruise? Another question: does the person going to the grocery store have more rights to the road, or the person going to the doctor?

Does it matter what mode of transportation a person uses to gain their destinations? Do their rights to use the roads change?

If there is any credence to the attitude that bikes shouldn't be allowed on the roads because they are toys, then it there could be a strong argument that motor vehicles should only be used for "legitimate" uses such as commuting, important errands and the like. No recreational use should be allowed on public roads. Therefore, no Sunday drives, no taking the boat to the lake, no transporting the kids to soccer practice, no drives to the park...only "important" trips. 

Recently I had a near physical altercation with an insane motorist. He almost clipped me with his truck, and then when I yelled at him he stopped and started to get out. Of course he made alpha male posturing calling out: "C'mon, let's go!" I just looked at him and said: "You wanna go to jail?" To which he replied: "Let's go!" I just shook my head and said: "You'd be going all by yourself." Finally he realized I wasn't going to indulge his bravado. His limp-wristed Parthian shot was: "Take your bike back to school."

The funny thing is that we were both on our way to work I'm sure. Despite his backward ballcap he was pulling a trailer loaded with tools. I was on my way to work too. The major difference between the two of us (besides our chosen modes of transportation) was that I probably have 10-15 years on him.

The real danger on the roads isn't that cyclist aren't wearing styrofoam cups on their heads in greater numbers, but that hostility toward other road users is becoming more and more commonplace and socially acceptable; combined with an epidemic of inattentiveness on both sides of the windshield.

Helmets come into play because helmet companies want to make money. Many pro-helmet advocates stand to gain financially if they can keep ALL cyclists under their flimsy shells. Insurance sharks capitalize on the helmet issue too, claiming cyclist that are injured by their clients that fail to wear helmets aren't entitled to compensation even though there is nothing magical about the polystyrene shell that prevent motorists from striking cyclists. At best they minimize the damage if the crash isn't severe and affects only the head of the cyclist.

Joe makes the business case: 

Listen, I wear a helmet most of the time. I wear one 100% of the time on the mountain bike because rocks and trees hurt a lot. I wear it 99% of the time on the road bike because I like to go fast and skinny tires can flit out from under you in a microsecond. On the cargo bike? Depends. It's maybe like 45%.

My philosophy is that your best head protection is inside your skull, not to be bestowed on some overgrown packing peanut. In a perfect world I wouldn't wear a helmet at all unless I was on trails. I've also come to the conclusion that my next helmet should be of more sturdy materials.

I don't care if you're pro-helmet or anti-helmet. I would appreciate some respect when I exercise my freedom and judgement concerning my own helmet use. I don't appreciate lectures or chastisement. Please refrain from presuming to know anything about my choices or my situation.

I'm interested to see where things go with Yehuda. He is obviously going to defy the mandate.


  1. To me helmets and ride/driver conflict are two very different issues. They are not related to each other. I wear a helmet all the time. Why? It doesn't hurt, and can help. End of story. There are always situations where a helmet won't help. But the cost/benefit to me is clear. Should they be mandatory? I don't know, but it bothers me to see kids (adults too) out riding and not wearing helmets. To me it shows a lack of seriousness about what they are doing.

    We are having an problem locally with a guy in a truck who is playing chicken with bikers. Clearly this guy has some issues. We are struggling with the local law enforcement to get them to take the problem seriously. Hopefully that doesn't end with one of us hurt by this guy.

  2. I've gotta let Yehuda answer this one: http://yehudamoon.com/20080709/