Motorcycle helmet externality of the day

by on October 13, 2009 at 6:53 am in Law | Permalink

Our estimates imply that every death of a helmetless motorcyclist prevents or delays as many as 0.33 deaths among individuals on organ transplant waiting lists.

Here is the paper and I thank Brent Wheeler for the pointer.  So should we mandate or tax the use of such helmets?

1 Andrew October 13, 2009 at 7:14 am

Obviously both…just like medical insurance.

2 Bill October 13, 2009 at 8:28 am

Just think about how many organ transplants we can get under the Republican health plan.

3 babar October 13, 2009 at 8:29 am

obviously we should mandate that motorcyclists wear “anti-air bags” (perhaps a leather jacket with an explosive inside) so when they are in a collision they are invariably killed.

4 libert October 13, 2009 at 9:09 am

Net impact on number of lives from the death of a helmetless motorcyclist: -1+.33= -.67. That’s assuming all of the “prevented or delayed” deaths from organ transplants were actually prevented, rather than delayed. Correcting for this would make the estimate more negative.

On top of that, I’d wager that motorcyclists are generally younger and have a longer, higher-quality life ahead of them than the potential recipients of their organs. Thus, if I had to choose between killing a young rider or an old person on life support, I’d have to go with the latter.

Long story short: killing motorcyclists leads to more deaths than not killing them. Surprising, eh?

5 TomB October 13, 2009 at 9:22 am

We should mandate that anyone with a motorcycle license also be an organ donor.

Perhaps we should we get rid of seatbelts too. I bet seatbelts allow people in accidents to continue to hog the beneficial use of their organs too. Perhaps we need an Organ Allocation Panel that can justly allocate scarce organs among those that have them and those in need. In the case of organs, the divide between the haves and the have-nots is a matter of life and death.

6 ryan yin October 13, 2009 at 9:40 am

I know I shouldn’t ruin the joke, but if you (or your family) were allowed to receive compensation for your organs, it’s not an externality in either direction. (Actually, even without organ markets it’s not a negative externality.)

7 Mark October 13, 2009 at 9:51 am

Depends on the relative crime rates, income levels and other externalities of helmet-less motorcyclists and organ donors.

8 Joel Grus October 13, 2009 at 10:10 am

The other day someone was arguing with me that we should re-institute the draft, because that would make it tougher for Congress to declare war.

“If you want to make it tougher for Congress to declare war,” I pointed out, “there are far less destructive ways than forcing random people to serve in the military.”

I feel sort of the same way about motorcycle deaths and organ transplants.

9 SkepMod October 13, 2009 at 10:29 am

I don’t understand the question. Like libert says above, you still would rather have a living rider, and therefore, would mandate helmets.

It would be a more interesting question if one motorcycle death led to three lives saved.

10 athelas October 13, 2009 at 10:47 am

Don’t forget the need to correct for the externality of the motorcycle as a positional social status signifier.

11 Greengenes October 13, 2009 at 11:51 am

Well that’s good news for my home state of Delaware. By some bizarre political compromise it is illegal in Delaware to travel on a motorcycle without a helmet, but you are not mandated to wear that helmet. I’ll pretend there is some sort of motorcycle helmet manufacturer special interest group that resulted in the law 🙂

12 Yancey Ward October 13, 2009 at 12:40 pm

Really, are we better off keeping around the people too dumb to want to wear a helmet?

13 Laserlight October 13, 2009 at 2:14 pm

“Prevents or delays”…if they’re preventing death, rather than merely delaying it by 1-100 years, I’d certainly like to hear more about it.

14 dan cole October 13, 2009 at 4:09 pm

Funny how when you say “as many as .33,” readers will take that as precisely .33, rather than ask, what’s the other end of the range. Wouldn’t you want to know the mean of the range, as well as the mean additional life expectancy for transplant recipients?

15 Mike Lorrey October 13, 2009 at 7:03 pm

Also keep in mind that other grim statistic of motorcycle accidents: the average car accident victim requires about 1.4 liters of blood transfused, while the average motorcycle accident victim requires 19 liters of blood transfusions.

If companies which self-insure their employees health care plans want to cut costs, the first step they can make is one made by Sturm Ruger & Co. years ago: ban employees from motorcycle use or bar coverage in the case of motorcycle accident.

As for the transplant stats, this says three people must die so that one can live. Not sure how accurate that is given someone can die from lack of a kidney, liver, spleen, heart, lung. Those organs alone tell me that if the motorcyclist dies from brain injury, then up to 7 people should get life saving organs, while many more get organs that make their lives more livable. So either your stats are too low by a LOT, or a lot more people die on the transplant table receiving organs than live.

16 masal October 13, 2009 at 8:13 pm
17 Jeff October 14, 2009 at 1:33 am


Matt Matson:

That’s the premise of the Will Smith movie Seven Pounds. His character caused a car crash through distracted driving (checking an email), killing 7 people, including his spouse.

He then saves/improves the lives of 7 others by donating a variety of organs while still alive, and his heart and eyes after killing himself.

Good movie. Hope I didn’t ruin the suspense too badly.

18 Hugh October 14, 2009 at 4:38 am

An emergency room nurse told me, several years ago, that she preferred helmet laws, because it increased the chance of the rider surviving long enough to become a donor.

19 Cyrus October 14, 2009 at 8:11 am

Not at all times, but at the population level, you’d get more lives saved out of mandatory helmet use while showering or using stairways than while motorcycling or bicycling.

Or perhaps mandatory use of one of these while in a car:

20 Phranqlin October 14, 2009 at 10:34 am

Clearly, motorcycle riders who don’t wear helmets place little value on their organs. So why not give them to people who’ll appreciate them?

21 Robert Palm October 14, 2009 at 12:52 pm

A hilarious calculation, but it seems small scale. Isn’t it just as easy to link diet, exercise, smoking, drinking, etc. to life expectancy? Why don’t we mandate a healthy diet & exercise (an added benefit would be healthier donated organs).

22 Richard October 14, 2009 at 6:25 pm

I had a really bad motorcycle wreck in my late 20’s. Lost a spleen, two feet of intestine and a ton of skin. Damn near died. If I hadn’t been wearing a helmet I would have. Best quote ever, from a professional motorcycle racer, “People who don’t want to wear helmets don’t need them. They don’t have a brain to protect”. Let evolution prevail.

23 November 7, 2009 at 8:46 am

I would just say that to me it’s vital to wear a good helmet while riding. Now I’m still looking forward to know which brands are the best when it comes to helmet motorcycle…If anybody as an idea it will be helpful.thanx!

24 cam mozaik June 7, 2010 at 12:39 pm

Thanks a lot! I am just learning Information of Subject.
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25 muğla datça June 11, 2010 at 11:51 am

Php and this was very easy to follow and helped a lot.
You really took time to explain every little bit

26 vizyon August 30, 2010 at 2:58 pm

You are probably acting recklessly if you ride a motorcycle without a helmet but I’ll defend your legal right to recklessness in such a case because you aren’t harming anyone else. Should you have an a

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