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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A senseless death

Avi Cohen, an Israeli footballer who spent a spell playing for Liverpool, was just pronounced brain dead a few days after suffering serious head injuries in a motorcycle crash in Tel Aviv.

Sadly, it often takes the death of a celebrity / high profile person to get people to talking and thinking.

The details of the crash have yet to be fully released, but the one detail that has gotten the police, transportation officials and the public talking is that he was wearing a half helmet (not sufficient to meet Israel's helmet law), which was unbuckled... and flew off when he was hit by the car.

Naturally, there is no lack of finger pointing going on.

The public is pointing at the police for not enforcing the existing helmet laws which require at least a 3/4 helmet, which must be securely fastened under the chin with a strap while operating a powered two wheeler (PTW).

The police are pointing at the motorcycle and scooter shops for selling half helmets even though they are not street legal for PTW use.

The shops are pointing at the importers for bringing in the half helmets and offering them to the shops even though they should not legally be allowed.

The importers are pointing at the customs officials for turning a blind eye to the half helmets, thereby creating a situation that if the importers don't meet the public demand for the half helmets... someone else will (i.e., people will import them directly/privately).

All in all it's a tragic example of blame-storming triggered by (but simultaneously ignoring) the fact that a man is needlessly dead.

Whether out of respect for Avi Cohen's family, or because people tend to shift blame towards officialdom, nobody seems to be blaming Avi Cohen for making the decision to buy an illegal half helmet, wear it while riding, and fail to strap it properly in place while doing so.

I'm a big believer in people taking personal responsibility. But I also acknowledge that people don't always take responsibility for themselves the way they should... inviting the government to create some minimum standards. Therein lies the start of a tug-o-war over how much or little 'the man' should be able to legislate our individual safety.

An excellent example is seat belts. Many people forget that it wasn't until the late 70s that the first seat belt laws began to turn up... and that there are still places in the civilized world (New Hampshire, for example) which do not require them.

I'm not sure where I'm going with this, but it saddened me that the first thing I saw on the news when I woke up this morning was a senseless death. I am sure, however, that I don't want this to become a discussion of whether there should be helmet laws (those 'discussions' never end well).

Maybe I'm just wondering why, if personally responsibility is what everyone screams when government tries to interfere with our pastimes and pleasures, when a tragedy like Avi Cohen's death hits the news none of the personal responsibility seems to be falling on the unfortunate man whose personal choices ultimately cost him his life?

Posted by David Bogner on December 29, 2010 | Permalink

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Quite right. But see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peltzman_effect

Posted by: Ben Chorin | Dec 29, 2010 11:05:32 AM

Perhaps the half helmet could have saved him if it was strapped in? Nobody knows.

Posted by: Mike | Dec 29, 2010 11:36:38 AM

When I taught people to ride motorcycles, we empathized the additional protection of full face helmets over the half and three quarters helmets. You could see there were some people who it just went right over their heads. I see these places that sell "novelty" half helmets, which are not DOT approved. They also sell these stickers, that say "DOT" so people can put them on the helmet if they choose to. (most states that have helmet laws state it has to be a DOT approved helmet, so with the sticker they can claim they thought it was DOT approved, yeah, right) Might as well just put a salad bowl on your head! While I agree with you that this was a senseless death, I hope that maybe it might convince some people to start wearing better helmets, and of course to buckle them up. But I fear that it'll give people who don't ride more arguments against those who do about why "those things are just so dangerous, you shouldn't ride!"

Posted by: JDMDad | Dec 29, 2010 12:54:26 PM

The same issue was in the NHL (US National Hockey League). They got huge resistance from players that older players were 'grandfathered' and didn't need to wear helmets only the newer players. I wonder how many injuries happed to the grandfathers...

Posted by: Aharon | Dec 29, 2010 3:55:14 PM

there is an expression in tractate Baba Kama end of the first perek
that states " adam mu'ad l'olam" we have a responsibility to practice care both for ourselves and others.

Posted by: dave | Dec 29, 2010 4:28:05 PM

It's that bold and stupid logic- "It won't happen to me." As a wise person said to me, the risk might only be five percent, but the ones they bury, they bury them one hundred percent.

Posted by: Barzilai | Dec 29, 2010 4:53:45 PM

When an action that sharply reduces risk is easy to perform - such as putting on a seat belt - and people persist in not doing it, I can only conclude that they simply don't believe that any harm can ever come to them. "It won't happen to me," indeed. Failure to act (not wearing a helmet or seat belt) is morally equivalent to indulging in certain risky behaviors (using a cell phone or texting while driving, driving while intoxicated). Is it certain you will suffer a consequence? No, but your risks are higher... and continuing along Barzilai's line, if your risk of dying is increased 0.1% and you're that one person in a thousand, you are 100% dead.

At the risk of speaking ill of the dead, I blame Avi Cohen. Not that he was directly responsible for his death (I am not privy to the particulars of the incident), but that he failed to take simple mitigating measures that might have saved him. Tragic.

Posted by: Elisson | Dec 30, 2010 5:21:42 AM

I'm careful about treading into these waters. It's not my place, really, to assign blame or fault for tragedies such as these. A well educated individual smokes and gets lung cancer. Are they to "blame" for their death? Perhaps. What about a well educated individual who starts smoking after the death of their son? When they get lung cancer are they to "blame"? Perhaps, but now the waters are a bit murkier, no? What about the person with sleep apnea who might stand to lose a pound or two? Are we to blame them for their misfortune, brought about in no small part by their own doing?

Focusing on prevention ( seat belts, helmets, weight loss, etc) in the setting of a tragedy such as this, yes! Steering clear of assigning blame, definitely!

Posted by: MD in the States | Dec 30, 2010 11:27:37 PM

Then whose place is it MD? When individuals fail to protect themselves in ways proven to reduce the chance of injury then government steps in and mandates those steps by law. When individuals continue to flout that law are we to turn a blind eye because the percentages of those dying in X manner aren't really all that high, and besides, it's not right to mix into an individual's choices nor place blame where it squarely belongs?

As long as we live in societies where freedom of choice exists then who else but an individual should the blame devolve on? If you play games with established law then no one, that is no one, is to blame but you, yourself, if something happens when you knowingly disregard the law.

Posted by: ProfK | Dec 31, 2010 4:39:06 PM

I always wear a seatbelt and would strongly recommend that all others do as well.

But I want to bring up a point that might be a bit of a tangent:
Driving in a car without a seatbelt is safer than driving a motorcycle, even with the best possible helmet.
(Motorcycles don't even have seatbelts.)

Given that motorcycles are street legal, how can it illegal to drive a car without a seatbelt?
I bring this up as a point of the role of government. I have trouble seeing how that state can
reconcile these two positions.

Posted by: Jonathan | Jan 1, 2011 1:12:55 AM

Jonathan, I'm not sure how exactly to address your point. I will say that I had a great-uncle who spent the last 40+ years of his life blind because he wasn't wearing a seat belt. And that I personally was in a car accident about five years ago in which my car was destroyed and I walked away without a scratch (ptui ptui ptui). The police officer told me that if not for my seat belt, I would have been taken away on a stretcher - or in a body bag. Not to comment on motorcycles - I honestly don't know enough about the subject - but the law regarding seat belts has probably saved thousands of lives over the years. It has its place.

Posted by: psachya | Jan 2, 2011 6:04:05 PM

psachya:
I agree. I always wear seat belts and recommend others should as well.
But it's hard to see how motorcycles can be street legal, if cars aren't
without seatbelts.

For one of the years when I was in grad school, my roommate was a medical
student. He said that at the hospital motorcycles were called "donorcycles"
because they were the source of much of the "low-mileage" organs ideal for
transplantation.

Sorry to be so morbid. Obviously this who thing is a morbid topic.

Posted by: Jonathan | Jan 2, 2011 7:10:05 PM

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