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Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Indianapolis Star reports on a part of the Indiana Budget recently passed into law that would make motorcyclists pay a $10 fee to go to research to prevent spinal / brain injuries. The part of the bill was buried and not even the Governor was aware of it. He says motorcyclists have a right to be upset. And they are.

But interestingly, commenters are comparing this fee to the tax hike on cigarettes also passed in the previous legislative session. To them there are no differences.

To me there is a big difference:

Cigarette users create a substantial social cost via second-hand smoke related health problems, cigarette promotion of to our youth, the smell of cigarettes in our public areas, etc. The tax acts to account for those social costs - to make the smokers pay for the costs not internalized by themselves or the manufacturers.

However, a fee (tax or whatever) on motorcyclists to promote brain/spinal injury research is completely different. Let's just assume that motorcycling is the highest risk category (on a % of use basis) for brain injuries etc. Presumably, the bikers are already internalizing that risk. Presumably bikers that don't wear helmets are more risk-seeking than those that do. Regardless, head injuries etc are costs that apply mostly directly to the motorcyclists and their families (financial and psychological pain of loved one's death/injury). Externalities are minimal. So really, with a fee on motorcyclists alone, while ignoring all other groups of people where brain/spinal cord injuries might be high (like auto racers), just seems unfair to me.

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