2015 Essay Contest Winners
- First Place, Hannah Huffman, Lebanon High School
- Second Place, Morgan Schaffer, Mason High School
- Tied for Third Place, DeLaney Hartman, Archbishop Alter H.S.
- Tied for Third Place, Rebecca Packard, Little Miami High School
Hannah Huffman, Lebanon High School
People have always held strong beliefs about personal rights. Dating back to the founding of America, even before the Constitution was ratified, the Articles of Confederation served to give individuals more power than the government. With the ratification of the Constitution and the creation of the Bill of Rights, the first priority was individual rights, proven by the First Amendment. Although many things have changed in our country to date, one thing remains stable, which is the belief that everyone is entitled to their own opinions and choices.
Studies show that the fatal injury rate of motorcycle crashes is on the rise, with 22 percent of these injuries being to the head or neck. There is a simple solution to this problem. If motorcyclists were required to wear a helmet, injuries to the head would be a much less prevalent issue, and some of the fatal crashes may not be life-threatening due to the protection helmets provide. By making a law stating that all motorcyclists must wear helmets the government could better protect individuals and keep them out of harm’s way. However, by forcing an individual to wear a helmet his personal rights and choices are restricted, which contradicts the ideas of our democratic society.
With individual choice comes individual responsibility. Since it is a motorcyclist’s right to choose whether or not to wear a helmet, it is their responsibility to know the consequences of their own choices. Motorcycles tend to be more difficult to see than larger vehicles, and this fact is often used as an excuse for drivers who cause fatal accidents; motorcycles are 30 times more likely to be involved in wrecks than cars. All motorcyclists take the risk of being in a fatal accident; therefore, financial compensation should not be determined by whether or not a helmet is worn. Similarly, people in car wrecks get the same amount of financial compensation whether or not they were wearing a seat belt; ergo the same should be true for motorcycles.
At what point does safety trump individual rights or vice versa? John Adams states that a government is instituted for the common good, for the protection, safety, prosperity, and happiness of the people; he later espouses people alone have an incontestable, unalienable, and indefeasible right to institute government; and to reform, alter, or totally change the same, when their protection, safety, prosperity, and happiness require it. Adams means to say that although government is made to protect its citizens, the rights of the people can override government decisions when their own opinions are restricted. The reason for motorcycle riders to wear helmets is strongly based on the fact that it can prevent serious injury to the rider during a crash; however since most fatal crashes are a result of an inattentive vehicle driver, these wrecks are not the motorcyclist’s responsibility. By restricting the rider’s choice of whether or not to wear a helmet, it takes away their individual freedoms, and therefore should not be written into law.
Second Place, Morgan Schaffer, Mason High School
Motorcyclists should not be required by Ohio law to wear a helmet when riding.
One of the roles of government is to “promote the general welfare,” which in the context of this situation could give such a law validity, because it would be instituted in order to protect its citizens. However, another role of government outlined in the Constitution is to “secure the blessings of liberty” for the good of the people. While both are directly stated roles of government put in place by our founding fathers, a balance must sometimes be struck between them. I would argue that a law that tells people how to make decisions about their life by “requiring” them to do anything, infringes on the liberties our forefathers fought and died for us to have.
In America, we find ourselves with immense measures of freedom unavailable to many others in this world. With those freedoms come responsibility, not only for ourselves but also for others. It is as much my responsibility to look out for myself as it is for other people to look out for themselves and their interests. For these reasons, I’m grateful for my rights and independence and make my own life decisions accordingly. If a person decides they do not want to wear a helmet while riding a motorcycle, they have evaluated their own sense of responsibility towards themselves and concluded not to wear a helmet. A consequence of their right to make that decision is potential bodily harm, but they possess the right to make that decision for themselves. Anyone — the government — who takes that decision away from them has overstepped their domain. We must hold onto the simple liberties precisely because of the fear that if the government can take away the easy decisions, one day they may become bold enough to take away the tough ones.
The decision of motorcyclists not to wear a helmet is a choice with possible negative outcomes. A rider should receive the same amount of money for his injuries or death in a motorcycle accident whether he was wearing a helmet or not. It was his choice not to wear the helmet, and it is likely that the injuries he sustained would be much worse than if he had been wearing a helmet. Since the accident is the fault of the other driver, they still owe the rider for causing him unnecessary harm. If the rider were to receive less money in this situation because of his choice, that would be rewarding the person who caused the accident for the innocent victim’s poor judgment. It wouldn’t be fair to the motorcyclists since they would have been unharmed while not wearing a helmet had the other driver been paying closer attention to the road. Riding a motorcycle helmet-free is a decision with potentially more detrimental consequences versus the decision to wear a helmet, but that doesn’t mean the rider should suffer at the hands of anyone but themselves for their risky decision.
Tied for Third Place, DeLaney Hartman, Archbishop Alter H.S.
The United States is a land of individual freedom and personal liberty. The Constitution and Bill of Rights were written to protect all individuals from intrusive government action and regulation. However, a difficult question arises when the government wants to restrict in order to protect general welfare. For example, the contentious issue of motor safety is currently an area where the government and individuals disagree about the extent of government control. The individuals believe that it is their freedom to choose to wear a helmet and that the government shouldn’t infringe on their choice, while the government’s job is to protect the general welfare of everyone.
There are several places in the amendments that support the individuals’ right to choice. Coming from the First Amendment, each individual has the freedom to choose what is best for themselves. Individuals are allowed to make choices such as their religious preference, so it is implied that they can make other choices as well. The First, Fourth, and Ninth Amendments have the implied right to privacy. In this case, the issue is up to each individual’s discretion because it deals with their body. Furthermore, the Fourteenth Amendment says that states can’t make laws that stifle the privileges given to its citizens. Therefore, it can be argued that states can’t take away the citizens’ right to choose if they will wear a helmet because that would be stifling their given privilege.
As stated in the Preamble of the Constitution, it is the government’s job to protect the general welfare of citizens. The government tends to make decisions based on the principle of general welfare, with the Ohio seat belt law being an example. Ohio decided it would be safest to enact seat belt laws in order to prevent deaths. Motorcycle helmet laws would follow the same principle as the seat belt laws. Since the Constitution doesn’t specifically mention helmet laws, the power to decide those goes to each state. These are reserved powers, which aren’t given by the Constitution to the federal government nor denied to the states. State governments also have broad police powers that allow them to protect citizens from themselves which also supports the government’s right to enact helmet laws. Basically, states want to ensure that each citizen is protected, thus reducing the risk of injury and death.
All of this being considered, motorcyclists should and will get compensation for crash injuries, whether they’re wearing a helmet or not. The difference is that the absence of helmets leads to increased chance of injuries and death. The nature of these accidents causes both insurance to pay more money. The motorcyclist should receive enough money to pay for the expenses that are a direct result of the accident. More money will often be needed for compensation when a helmet is not worn, but the victim should still receive appropriate compensation. However, wearing a helmet could dramatically reduce the injuries and therefore cost in accidents. It is for this reasons that the government may enact helmet laws.
Tied for Third Place, Rebecca Packard, Little Miami High School
Under the Tenth Amendment of the Constitution, police power, including the power to create laws that promote safety, is retained by the states. In accordance with this concept, state government has the ability to protect its citizens. Police powers allow the state to establish laws that uphold the health, safety, morals, and general welfare of their inhabitants. With the already heightened risks of driving a motorcycle, it is obvious that there should be regulations that protect the riders and their passengers. Just as the state has found it in the best interests of the citizens to wear a seat belt when driving a car, it is just as reasonable to require motorcyclists to protect themselves by wearing helmets.
A motorcycle itself offers little protection in an accident, especially when a rider is not using protective wear. A majority of research shows that the use of proper safety gear, specifically helmets, while riding on a motorcycle can significantly diminish the severity of injuries sustained in an accident. Not only are motorcycles less capable of protecting their passengers in accidents, but they are also more susceptible to accidents because of the difficulty car operators have distinguishing them on the road. Motorcycle drivers are warned of the risks of not wearing a helmet when riding, and thus should receive less compensation in an accident lawsuit if they were found not to be wearing a helmet. This information should also show the government that creating laws that ensure the protection and safety of their motorcycle-riding citizens is in the best interest of the public.
There are those who argue against laws that would require all cyclists to wear helmets. Those who oppose the laws argue that the government has taken on a parental role, trying to impose rules that they believe are good for the people, without the consent of the people they are trying to protect. These people believe that the government is restricting their free will by maintaining such requirements, and argue that they should be able to make their own decisions without the government coddling them. The government, however, has a duty to maintain the safety of its people, and is given the ability to do so with police power. A law that requires Ohio cyclists to wear helmets when riding will benefit those involved in accidents significantly, and the government will be upholding its duties by enacting one.
States are well within their right to create life-saving laws, such as seat belt and speed limit laws. Under the Constitution, it is not only allowed, but it is right for the Ohio state government to create laws that would protect its citizens by requiring them to wear safety helmets while riding on motorcycles.