Wednesday 12 June 2013

You have got to be freaking kidding me

So New Zealand put in mandatory bicycle helmet laws a few years back. Every study on this kind of law winds up showing strongly negative effects on the number of people who choose to cycle. And so it wasn't surprising that school-kids flipped over to using scooters instead. Scooters have existed for a long time, but I never much saw kids riding them until they mandated bike helmets. I'm not sure I trust my observational ocular least squares here, but it would be fun to study.*

Our five year old got his first scooter about a month ago. He rides it every morning from the parking lot near his sister's daycare over to Ilam School; I walk with him as my office is next door. Then I get to borrow it for the day for runs across campus. It's great.

And, predictably, when somebody sees kids having fun, we have to get a freaking movement to ban it.
Safekids director Ann Weaver said requiring children to wear a helmet would reduce the risk of serious head injuries.
"We do want children to go out and have fun and learn and develop and take risks but we want them to do that safely and the issue is, once you damage your brain you can't get it back. There's only one chance."
A Safe2Scoot campaign will be rolled out in August, providing a template safety policy for schools and urging them to introduce a "no helmet, no scooter" rule.
The call has been supported by research conducted by Waikato University social science student, Trish Wolfaardt.
Her report - Scootering on: an investigation of children's use of scooters for transport and recreation - recommended amending the cycle helmet legislation to include "all wheeled recreational devices, irrespective of the age of the rider".
It also recommended introducing a minimum age for scootering to school.
"Wearing protective gear will not exempt children from injury, but it will minimise the harm," the report said.
WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?!? Absolutely nothing stops Ann Weaver from bundling her kid up in a helmet and padding if she wants to. The DSM really screwed up by failing to include this particular kind of impulse to ban things in their new catalogue of mental illnesses.

At least MoT and the Police have been sane so far:
Ministry of Transport land transport safety manager Leo Mortimer said it was unlikely that legislation would be changed.
"In the same way that we have not considered compulsory helmets for skateboarders.
"Scooter riders must comply with all the rules applying to other road users, however, unlike cyclists, they don't need to wear a helmet or use a light at night."
...Waikato acting road policing manager Inspector Rob Lindsay said there had been an obvious increase in children using scooters but it hadn't become a safety issue.
Meanwhile, in Canada, some half-wit's suggested mandatory helmets for playing soccer. SOCCER. Where the biggest injuries are from people hurting themselves while pretending to have hurt themselves. Andrew Coyne re-tweeted a few dozen submissions of the things folks my age got up to when we were kids. I don't endorse each and every one of these, but I sure as hell prefer the world where these things are POSSIBLE to the one where we force kids to wear helmets when riding scooters and playing soccer. Here are some of the most fun ones from the list. Note that Monte Solberg, who has a particularly interesting submission, is a retired Member of Parliament.

First, the sad state of the current world:
I can't believe they're making them wear helmets for curling. It's whisky that should be mandatory for curling, not helmets. For those 16 and up.
We had massive snowball wars in elementary school. The school dumped all the town's collected road snow in the school yard. We dug tunnels all the way through them, hauled dozens and dozens of buckets of water from the school to the tunnels, and iced the down-tunnels. There were pop-up spots throughout. Then, snowball wars with Viet-Cong tunnels.

This is the world Ann Weaver is helping to bring into being. I moved here to get away from people like her.

But now for the better ones:

NO it wasn't bad. Parts cars out in the pasture were hella-awesome.
We built rafts at my Grandparents' place out of old rotten plywood and inner tubes, sailed on the puddled meltwater (that's maybe 4 foot deep, being Canada)

Some of the folks from Kenora in our halls of residence in undergrad talked about how they used to hunt each other in the bush with pellet guns, and then pick the pellets out of each others' backs.

Dad would hook our toboggan up to the back of the skidoo. Did the same thing with the horse except slower.

Bet he's from around Kenora.
I remember soaking hard snowballs with petrol and seeing whether we could light them.
Tractor tires, but yeah.
Um... think I agree with the teachers on this one.

That'd be a felony these days. Think I'm kidding?

And here's Monte Solberg:

Again: I'm not saying that the kids should be trying each and every one of these things. But I sure prefer the world where it's possible than one where none of them are. New Zealand is still mostly outside of the asylum on this stuff. But outfits like SafeKids are trying to end it. We shouldn't let them. There has to be ONE place in the world that doesn't succumb to the madness.

Jason Sorens's Coalition for Fun: needed now more than ever.

Update: Final word goes to Steve Sheere, restoring my faith in New Zealand.
* As ACC is reporting scooter accident claim numbers have been rising, there's at least data that could allow for this kind of test. If there's US data on scooter and bicycle injuries that we could use as proxy for rider numbers, then this could be rather fun.


  1. Great post Eric. On the other side of the ledger, there was the NZ school principle who is encouraging his students to play bull rush. Haven't got time to find the link, but about two weeks ago in Stuff or NZHerald. Only a very small light at the end of the tunnel though.

    Mark Hubbard

    I can't seem to login into Disqus any longer?

  2. It is my kids school, Cobham Intermediate. Unfortunately, he is a uniform traditionalist as well, requiring students to change if they play bull rush at lunch time, and insists that the ridiculous kilts that girls have to wear in the winter are part of the fine traditions of the school. Until he allows a sensible uniform for the girls, I can't see too much take up of the bull rush option for the girls. (It reminds me of my year-6 (standard 4) teacher who told us that if girls play rough sport they won't be able to have babies when they grow up. Not everything about the good old days was so good!)

  3. Awesome list.

    And this is golden:

    "The DSM really screwed up by failing to include this particular kind of
    impulse to ban things in their new catalogue of mental illnesses."

    HAHAHAHAHAHA, love it

  4. No clue on the Disqus problem. I just hit the Google or Twitter button and it links up to that account.

  5. Check out the comments that this lady gets on her blog Free Range Kids to see some more of that DSM mental illness. There could be a subsection on people who WANT to see bad things happen to kids whose parents aren't anxiety riddled hovercrafts. To "teach the parents a lesson".
    (The Venn diagram would show a big overlap with the same folks who are happy to see kids go hungry because doing otherwise would encourage bad parenting.)

  6. NZ has been a great place for free range parenting. Would that those who preferred all the padding would move to America, which provides it, like I moved here to avoid it.

  7. Devil's advocate argument ahead:

    Mandatory helmet laws can be welfare improving when non-helmet wearers impose an externality cost on helmet wearers.

    Take as an example the recent move to mandate visors in the NHL - most players want to wear visors, but the "tough guys" cannot wear them as long as at least one other player does not wear them (because of reputation effects). Mandating visors improves overall welfare significantly (I count one less Manny Malhotra type injury every few seasons as significant) at the expense of a small cost to a small number of players.

    Similarly, your kid not wearing a helmet increases the "nerd" cost of my (hypothetical) kid wearing a helmet and therefore reduces the odds of my kid wearing a helmet.

    Clearly the examples you give in your post are beyond the pale and are clear cases of craziness, but I just wanted to see if I could lay out a sane argument for some regulation in some cases.

  8. I had an honours student a couple years ago test out the visors rule... he found that we had an increase in stickhandling penalties for players switching to visors.

    By which I mean: even where you count those effects, count too the direct effects of the reg on encouraging protected people to take risks that they otherwise wouldn't have taken.

    Further, why care about this nerd-cost margin and not all the others? My 5 year old loves Dungeons & Dragons. Couple months ago in Year 1, they had to do a statistical investigation of something by surveying the class and making a little bar chart. My five year old decided to ask his classmates whether they preferred D&D or Skyrim. Now in a few years, that kind of question could get him beaten up (were he in a less geek-friendly school). So let's make D&D mandatory too. And wearing glasses. Some kids don't want to get their eyes tested or wear their glasses because of being mocked by other kids. So make everybody wear them.

  9. I saw that from Anne Weavers (who I know, and who I know is a nice caring person) and sighed. Am starting to think I have lived to long when this type of rubbish gets front page status. Thank goodness that the officials seem to have more sense.

  10. Sounds like its time for Hekia to close that particular intermediate school also!

  11. Bullrush was a popular game at the end of junior judo training (probably still is, I only stopped going a few years ago). I think that we had one broken wrist in several hundred games (and he came back for more when recovered). It wasn't instigated by the instructors or the parents but was allowed

  12. A better policy push for her would be presumptory manslaughter charges for those flattening kids while reversing out of driveways.


  14. First 2 paragraphs I completely agree with.

    3rd paragraph not so much. The point is not that any activity should be mandated, but that the mandating any such activity involves both costs and benefits. More specifically, mandating an activity involves both obvious and non-obvious costs and benefits. As economists we have a comparative advantage in thinking through and pointing out the non-obvious costs *and* benefits. Clearly some things will fail the cost/benefit analysis, but there is every chance that some will pass too.

  15. I get real nervous about cost-benefit analyses where the benefit side of the ledger is mostly made up of things that boil down to psychic effects of this sort. Maybe there's some externality argument where kids who want to wear helmets would feel bad about wearing one if nobody else did. But what about the disutility experienced by everyone forced to wear one who really didn't want to? The evidence on bicycles - the whole "many fewer people ride them when we force them to wear helmets" thing - really really strongly points to that the costs imposed on people who don't want to wear helmets is pretty large.

    Seems exceptionally unlikely that the market failure you're suggesting is big enough to suggest potential improvements.

  16. It's entirely possible you're right. In any case, it is an empirical question that would take some very careful work to answer (if an answer is even possible).

  17. No. The burden of proof is on those wanting to change the status quo. I can't spend my whole life proving that obbiojsly due

  18. Speaking of things that are not recommended even if they were allowed, you might have seen this on MR this morning: