ITS THE LAW, not the Device.
Written by: Jessie McDugald in 1998
Over the past thirty-plus years of our helmet law there has been a lot of confusion about exactly what we've been working to achieve. Popular slogans such as "Let those who ride, Decide," and "Freedom of Choice" have been misleading because they indicate that we haven't had a "choice" or that we haven't been "deciding" on helmet use, when in fact we've always had the choice and have never stopped deciding. Like me, many of us in South Carolina have the tickets to prove that we do decide and we do make choices. The problem has been the consequences of our choices which, until June 16, 1980, was a $100 fine or 30 days in jail. The punishment for not wearing a helmet hasn't changed, its still $100 or 30 days, but the law has changed. We amended the law so that adults, 21 years of age and older, would no longer be punished for our choices. To this day each of us, as adults, continue to exercise our "Freedom of Choice" on helmet use, We Ride, We Decide.
This seems fairly simple to many of us who have been dealing with this issue for the past 25 or more years, but to many others its been difficult to understand. "How-in-the-hell did South Carolina earn their Liberty almost 18 years ago?" is a question I've heard more times than I care to count. "Why do you have a Helmet Law Support rally every year?" is another question I've heard just as often if not more so. The answer is very simple, we stopped arguing the device and began arguing the law.
What the heck is the device? It's the hat, the helmet, the brain bucket, the skid lid. For years we fought on the helmet battlefield with little success. Much like General Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia, CSA, whenever our enemies "picked the ground" we were less than successful. (This would be an opportune time to discuss military tactics and strategy but I'll save that for another time.) Even the most cursory glance at our helmet law made it obvious that the issue of the device is mentioned only in that it should be of a certain type, and on an approved list. Not one word mentioned how good a helmet was or how it would save your life, prevent an accident or injury, reduce the "social burden" or medical cost. NOTHING! Not one word, and yet we continually found ourselves doing battle over the device because our enemies wisely fought us in the device arena knowing full well that the law said nothing about these issues. When we finally awakened to our enemies' strategy we decided to let them expend their energies on those issues that had nothing to do with the law, we let them argue the helmet, the device. We decided to argue the law, and we WON!
I recognize that many of you might find this line of thinking difficult to comprehend when you've heard all those device arguments over and over again, both pro and con. So imagine for a moment that you're seated in the audience of a public hearing arguing to mandate helmet use for all adults. The enemies of Liberty bring up all the same old arguments about insurance, public burden, accidents, injuries, and fatalities. That forcing everyone to wear a helmet will cause the economy to boom and be the answer to every safety question known to man. It is the one "silver bullet" that mankind has searched for for millenniums. That this one device, if used by every man, woman, and child, would bring peace and happiness the world over. (I know, I know, they don't get that carried away publicly but they might as well.)
Notice that not one word addresses the law, the question of arrest, incarceration, or fine. Seldom will the enemy venture into the battlefield of the law because he is woefully unprepared. He won't address why I (or you) should be arrested, incarcerated, or fined when I don't wear a hat except to say that I MIGHT get into an accident, and I MIGHT be injured, and I MIGHT sustain greater injuries if I'm not using the device, and I MIGHT not have sufficient medical insurance coverage, and I MIGHT cost the taxpayers (funny how we aren't taxpayers when this argument comes up) more a little money. Our enemy will argue anything but the law itself. He has chosen the battlefield, he has picked the ground, and it is the device he wishes to argue. In the past be went headlong into the fray and were as successful as the Light Brigade in the Crimea . Try as we might, we could not provide sufficient information to counter the artillery and infantry charges of our enemies on their chosen field of battle. We lost once again.
Flashback! Valentine's Day 1980. House Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Special Laws. Our opponents have launched a vicious attack with various medical personnel, highway safety "experts," and so much printed data that it would take several gigabytes to store. As we begin our counter-attack the legislators wonder how a bunch of dumb-ass bikers, with only leather jackets and denim (no coats & ties), and a love of Liberty to protect us could possibly contravene such an overwhelming force aligned against us. But hold, we refused to fight at Gettysburg and picked Fredericksburg to make our stand. We switched battlefields, we picked our own ground. We chose to argue the law and not the device.
As we began we stated that we had no arguments with all the data provided by our opponents, in fact it was the same data that we used to come to diametrically different conclusions. We reminded the legislators of the old saying: "Figures don't lie, but liars can figure." We reminded them that our Highway Department and other opponents had a great deal of practice at figuring. We pointed out that not one word of testimony from our opponents addressed the issue we were there to address, the question of arrest, incarceration, or fine of adults who simply choose not to wear a hat when operating a motorcycle. We pointed out that on every level, federal, state, and local, the laws recognized the principle of adult responsibility and in many instances specified a particular age when these responsibilities were incurred. On the federal level, age of responsibility is addressed in the areas of service to country and other areas (president-35, senate-30, house-25, voting-18, etc.). On the state level (governor-30, senate-25, house-21, drinking-18 [before the fed blackmail, now 21], consensual sexual intercourse-14, etc.) this issue was equally addressed. What was it about this one particular device that made it so important that regardless of age and experience adults must be mandated under threat of arrest, incarceration, or fine to use it. Even if we believed that every word spoken by our opponents were 100% true would that be sufficient warrant to punish adults that simply didn't want to use this device ALL of the time? We argued the law, we left the device alone.
Although we didn't convince all of the legislators (some continue to believe that those adults who voted them in to office need to have these decisions made for them), in the end are arguments won the battle. And although the war continues our enemies have yet to put forth even one sound argument for punishing adults, so they continue to argue the device, and we don't mind at all. We'll continue to argue the law, not the device.
The reason I'm bringing this up now is because Parkay reminded me there are many bikers, in and out of South Carolina, either too young to remember almost two decades ago or new to motorcycling and have little knowledge of the history of our struggle for Liberty. So for the record: ABATE of South Carolina has no position on the device, wear it if you will or don't if you won't. As for the law, we support the amendment added on June 16, 1980 which no longer punishes adults with arrest, incarceration, or fine when making the choice of not wearing a helmet. We're adults. We're expected to act like adults and we're expecting to be treated like adults. Maybe using this particular device is a good idea, if so then convince us. But don't try to beat us into submission because it just won't work.
There you have it, a Readers Digest version of our DEVICE versus the LAW history. If you're still confused then think about it the next time you have a drink or smoke a cigarette. The law says that if you're under 21 and you have a drink or under 18 and smoke a cigarette then you can be arrested, incarcerated, or fined. The device is the alcohol or the cigarette. See if you can come up with some good arguments as to why you should drink or smoke, then think about some reasons why you should be arrested if you do either or both. I'm willing to be that you can't come up with many (or any) sound arguments as to why you should be arrested, incarcerated, or fined for using these devices. Should you use them? Probably not, but it isn't my job to be your guardian angel or big brother. Should you be punished if you do use them? NO! Not in a million years. Its your prerogative to decide on what devices you should use or not use. You should only be threatened with punishment when you use these devices against others. Does not wearing a helmet cause accidents, injuries, fatalities, insurance cost increases, or enhanced public burden? Nope! Never has, never will. And to credit a few bits of Styrofoam and fiberglass with such qualities is ridiculous.
Remember this the next time someone questions you about our law here in South Carolina ; we have no argument with the device but we do object to a law that threatens us with arrest, incarceration, or fine when we don't use that device. After all, its the LAW, not the device, that concerns us.
Dum Spiro, Spero.