Motorcycle helmets, protest, and irony

Philip Contos drove a 1983 Harley-Davidson with a group of bikers protesting mandatory helmet laws in New York.  Living the world they wanted to see, the protesters weren’t wearing helmets.  Contos died when he lost control of his bike and was thrown over the handlebars.  New York State troopers say that a helmet would have saved his life.

It’s ironic, and also sad.  Sometimes protesters take to the streets knowing that they risk their safety and well-being, but it’s hard to think that Contos imagined he was risking his life by engaging in a choreographed protest ride.

And it’s really not the point that a helmet would have saved his life.

Opponents of mandatory helmet laws don’t argue that helmets can’t save lives.  Rather, they claim that helmets also carry risks.  More significantly, they say, the rider should decide on the risks and precautions he wants to take.  They say that drivers of cars concerned about their liability insurance–or anyone concerned about health care costs and others’ safety–should drive more carefully.

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About David S. Meyer

Author and professor of Sociology and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine
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