Do two fatalities a year from toboganning mean that we need a law requiring helmet use for all toboggan riders? That’s the question asked in Canada, by Andrew Coyne.
According to a report in Tuesday’s National Post, “tobogganing accidents have killed at least seven people in Canada since 2003.” That’s seven people — make it eight if you like — in four years. Two per year. Out of, what, 50 million tobogganist-runs nationwide?
Three of the seven, moreover, died when they were hit by cars. Stay away from any hills that empty onto roads, then, and your chances are something like one in 50 million. This is, in short, not a particularly risky activity, which perhaps explains why so many children and adults enjoy it in safety every winter, as they have done for centuries.
But because two children were killed tobogganing in the last month, one in Quebec and one in Manitoba, and because one of the children died of a head injury, instantly the cry goes up: We must have helmets. More than that, we must have mandatory helmets: helmet laws, to be enforced on every hill in the country. For tobogganing.
Coyne points out that it’s easy to be obsessive about reducing some risks while ignoring others. “A sane approach to life,” he concludes, “understands that some risks are inevitable, and that if there is anything worse than death it is to spend every waking moment consumed with the potential for mischance.”
The attempts to use official power to eliminate all risks lack perspective (and sometimes honesty). There’s another risk that is ignored in the safety-for-all-time campaign, and that’s the risk to a free society.
To quote an outspoken critic of bans on cigarette smoking, “in a free society sometimes one has to support the right of individuals to do things he might personally find annoying, morally reprehensible or even stupid and self-destructive.”
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