When former Gov. Jeb Bush offered his “stuff happens” response to the recent mass shooting in Oregon, I thought about motorcycle helmets in Florida.
Bush said that it’s foolish to rush off and pass laws just because of an unfortunate event.
He cited a couple of examples.
“A child drowned in a pool and the impulse is to pass a law that puts fencing around pools,” Bush said. “Well it may not change it. Or you have a car accident and the impulse is to pass a law that deals with that unique event.
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“And the cumulative effect of this is, in some cases, you don’t solve the problem by passing the law, and you’re imposing on large numbers of people burdens that make it harder for our economy to grow, make it harder to protect liberty,” Bush said.
Using swimming pools was a bad way for Bush to illustrate this. When he was Florida’s governor 15 years ago he signed into law a pool safety act sparked by the drowning and near drowning of two Florida children in backyard swimming pools.
The Preston de Ibern/McKenzie Merriam Residential Swimming Pool Safety Act requires Floridians who install pools on their property to use fencing around the pool, safety covers, door alarms or self-latching doors.
The car accident was also a puzzling way for Bush to bolster his argument. The same year he signed the pool safety act into law, Bush signed another bill into law that allowed motorcycle riders in Florida who are at least 21 years old to ride without helmets.
The bill gave most bikers in Florida the freedom to ride without helmets if they maintained a $10,000 insurance policy, which he argued would offset the public cost.
So how has that worked out?
State motorcycle registrations increased, but not as much as fatalities and hospital costs.
The Centers for Disease Control summarized the effects of Florida’s helmet law:
▪ Deaths among motorcycle riders 21 years old and older tripled.
▪ Hospital admissions of motorcyclists with head, brain, and skull injuries increased by 82 percent.
▪ Hospitalized motorcycle riders who did not wear helmets were more likely to suffer traumatic brain injuries.
–The median hospital charges for those with traumatic brain injuries were 13 times higher than for those without brain injuries.
▪ Riders who did not wear helmets were less likely to have health insurance, and more likely to require taxpayer funded health care.
Five years ago, The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimated the health care costs of each motorcycle fatality at $1.2 million and each serious injury at about $172,000.
It turned out that the “freedom” to ride without a helmet wasn’t free.
Or to put it another way, easily preventable stuff happened.