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Many states require that motorcyclists wear helmets while operating their vehicles. This is not like forbidding the use of cell phones or intoxicants, which might impair the rider and endanger other people on the roads. The helmet laws impose a governmental regulation that can, at most, be held to protect only the individual citizen whose behavior is being restricted. Why should the government be able to tell individuals what to do while riding their own motorcycles?

Write a paper assessing these helmet laws in terms of the social contract theories of Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Support your assessment with research on their social contract theories. You may begin your research with suggested Resources, but you are also expected to conduct your own independent research into the scholarly and professional resources of the field.

• Should the government provide security by overcoming the selfish desires of the individual citizen, or should citizens cooperate voluntarily in service of the general welfare of all?

• What justifies the imposition of governmental authority on individual citizens?

• Are individuals always obligated to obey the dictates of their government?

• Which elements of the traditional theories are relevant to this case?

• Is it unethical for individual citizens to ignore this governmental requirement?

• You may also wish to apply other conceptions of the basis for social and political order. 

Role of the Government in Providing Security

Social contract theory stipulates that in the early times, people were born in to a society without laws. Human being is the only social animal endowed with reason. Governments are formed when people form a social contract among themselves. In the modern days, people entrust the authority to the government through forming a contract among themselves. In most countries, laws are made by the legislative arm of the government. In democratic governments, people who sit in the legislative arm are elected by citizens. These members therefore represent the citizens. The government (especially a democratic one) is put in place by people through an agreement among themselves (voting). The government is therefore justified to impose laws on people for their own good since their contract (constitution) states so. The government is therefore justified to impose the helmet laws and it is unethical to disregard them.

In most modern nations, providing security to citizens is primarily the role of the government. The government in any nation (especially the democracies), involves a situation where people elect their representatives in the government. These representatives are the ones who make decisions on behalf of the government. In any given nation, there are many individuals (citizens). According to Bellal, Anderson and Rhee (2015), people are unique in their way of thinking and making decisions. If every person were left to make and execute any decision without some form of regulation, things may turn chaotic. The government’s role is to establish a set of rules or authority that ensures that there is peace and harmony for every citizen (Hobbes, 2016). Any person who goes against the laws that are in place to ensure their safety and that of others should face the punitive measures that are provided by the same law. Modern psychology suggests that when a behaviour is punished, it is unlikely to continue in the future. The punitive side of the law therefore helps to reduce the occurrences of offences both now and in the future.

A citizen is usually treated as belonging to the state/government. The government therefore assumes the role of protecting the citizens. In a situation where such citizens try to pose harm to themselves or to others, then the government intervenes via its set laws/regulations/rules. The main purpose of rules and regulations is to ensure that every citizen is protected from harm. For instance, when the government makes it a requirement for motorcyclists to wear helmets while cycling, they ensure that the likelihood of the cyclist being injured are greatly minimised. One may argue that such a person should be left to make their own decision since it is their own health/life that is at stake. If that were to happen, then it would be a situation of anarchy or a lawless society. If the government left individual citizens to make decisions that concern them, there would be no body that is entrusted with the wellbeing of individuals but themselves (Herzog, 2018). It is therefore justifiable for a government to impose laws that govern the conduct of the individual citizens.

Justification for the Imposition of the Laws

Individuals are obligated to obey the dictates of the government but not always. There are several reasons why this should be the case. In this case, the form of government that will be discussed is a democracy. In this form of the government, people elect leaders to represent them. The voice of the leader is taken to be the voice of the people. It is these leaders that are involved in making the dictates of the government. When electing the leaders, the citizens form a contract that they delegate the role of representing them to the leaders. It follows that people should obey these dictates since they are the ones who put the government in place to provide such dictates. The second reason why individuals should follow the dictates of the government is that most of the times the dictates are intended for the common good. It is rare for a government, especially a democracy to issue dictates that are unfavourable for the citizens. For instance, the helmet laws are put in place to ensure that the health and wellbeing of motorcyclists is kept at optimum. As observed above, it is not always that people are obligated to follow the dictates of the government. In situations where citizens feel that the dictates are unreasonable or are not aimed at achieving the common good of all or the majority, they could take some steps to go against such dictates. The steps include carrying out demonstrations to portray their dissatisfaction and/or approach their elected representatives and ask them to modify such dictates.

The social contract theory suggests that people should come together and make a contract that will determine how the society in which they live in will be (Patel, Staley, Schenker and Mehta, 2017). It further argues that an individual is naturally born with the right to do anything that they may like. For perfect order however, it is necessary for people to give up some of their rights for the wellbeing of themselves and that of others. Such a move would help ensure a society where individuals live peacefully and harmoniously. For instance, through such a contract, an individual may give up their right to kill another and in return expect others to give up their right of killing him/her. In the contemporary society, something close to this happens. An individual is born in to a society where there are laws and regulations to ensure that some rights are surrendered for the common good. In the modern society, the contract is made via electing some representatives who will make decisions on behalf of the citizens. The constitution is usually at the centre of the contract. It contains the laws that individuals should subscribe to. Before it can be enforced, the people/citizens approve of it. It simply means that people are agreeing to be under the influence of the laws contained in the constitution. In addition, they are also agreeing to the punitive measures provided in case they break a law. It could be concluded that the social contract theory applies in the modern society where the constitution often binds the contract/agreement. In the case of helmet laws, the people has generally agreed to be governed by the laws. It is therefore right for them to honour the contract.

It is very unethical for individual citizens to ignore this government requirement. As seen above, the helmet laws are intended to ensure that the safety and wellbeing of the cyclists is kept at optimum. Ethics usually refers to the adherence to the moral obligation that an individual has (Muldoon, 2016). It is unethical for a person to act in a manner likely to harm that which belongs to the state. It is also unethical to behave in a manner that is likely to result in more harm than good. Even when it is argued from the cultural perspective, it is unethical to fail to observe the helmet laws.  This will be explained through an example. Suppose an individual is a father to a young child. The child most likely depends on them for provision. By acting in a manner that is likely to cause harm to themselves, they are also by extension acting in a manner likely to harm their child as the child depends on them. In a nutshell, it is unethical to ignore the helmet laws.

Conclusion

In the contemporary society, it is primarily the role of the governments to provide security to its citizens. The social contract theory stipulates that people come together to form a contract among themselves. People agree to form a government to ensure that law and order are maintained. It follows that the government is justified to impose such laws as the helmet laws to its citizens. It is unethical for a person to disobey the helmet laws or any other laws for that case. This is because the government has been given the power to make and enforce laws by the citizens. It is unethical for any person to disobey the provisions of the law.

References

Bellal, J., Anderson, K. T., & Rhee, P. (2015). Universal helmet laws reduce traumatic brain injuries in young motorcyclists. Routledge.

Herzog, D. J. (2018). Without foundations: Justification in political theory. Cornell University Press.

Hobbes, T. (2016). Thomas Hobbes: Leviathan (Longman Library of Primary Sources in Philosophy). Routledge.

Muldoon, R. (2016). Social contract theory for a diverse world: Beyond tolerance. Routledge.

Patel, P., Staley, C. A., Schenker, M., & Mehta, S. (2017). Motorcycles and Helmets: A National Review and the Dangers Associated with Repealing Universal Helmet Laws. Journal of the American College of Surgeons, 225(4), S58.

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