In defence of mandatory bicycle helmet legislation: response to Hooper and Spicer

Paul Biegler, Marilyn Johnson

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5 Citations (Scopus)


We invoke a triple rationale to rebut Hooper and Spicer s argument against mandatory helmet laws. First, we use the laws of physics and empirical studies to show how bicycle helmets afford substantial protection to the user. We show that Hooper and Spicer erroneously downplay helmet utility and that, as a result, their attack on the utilitarian argument for mandatory helmet laws is weakened. Next, we refute their claim that helmet legislation comprises unjustified paternalism. We show the healthcare costs of bareheaded riding to pose significant third party harms. It follows, we argue, that a utilitarian case for helmet laws can be sustained by appeal to Mill s Harm Principle. Finally, we reject Hooper and Spicer s claim that helmet laws unjustly penalise cyclists for their own health-affecting behaviour. Rather, we show their argument to suffer by disanalogy with medical cases where injustice may be more evident, for example, denial of bypass surgery to smokers. We conclude that mandatory helmet laws offer substantial utility and are entirely defensible within the framework of a liberal democracy.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)713 - 717
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Medical Ethics
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2015

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