Somehow, a few people hereabouts missed the two posts I wrote in November about my new attitude toward bicycle helmets.
Two things: I am not engaging in a helmet “boycott,” nor am I suggesting that anyone adopt my criteria for his own.
I had a phone conversation yesterday with a person I work closely with on bicycle advocacy issues. This person was concerned about what I’m up to regarding wearing a bicycle helmet. I basically said the same things I wrote in the posts linked above. But then the conversation took an interesting turn that really struck me because it points out an ethical dilemma. A few premises of this dilemma are that I am person known in the community to be a bicycle advocate, that people read and trust Carbon Trace, and that my actions can influence the actions of others.
Thus, the dilemma: If I choose not to wear a helmet (sometimes), people may see me and think that it is OK not to wear a helmet and thus put themselves in danger (i.e. If an experienced utility bicyclist doesn’t wear a helmet, then I don’t need to). If I choose to wear a helmet, I make bicycling look more dangerous than it is and thus discourage people from using a bicycle as basic transportation (i.e. If bicycling is so dangerous that an experienced utility bicyclist wears a helmet, then it is too dangerous for me).
I usually resist dichotomies because there are nearly always third (and fourth and fifth, etc.) ways to consider an issue. We could also construct other dichotomies from this situation based on differing interpretations of what wearing a helmet means and/or what I mean by wearing one or not (i.e. a rhetoric of bicycle helmets). But I find this dichotomy interesting and perhaps even instructive. Considering that it also involves media, i.e. this blog, I’m thinking of tossing this to my media ethics class for their thoughts.
I believe adults must make the choice to ride and the choice to wear a helmet for themselves. We are individually responsible for our own safety on the road.
That said, I’m doing a lot more wondering about my ethical responsibility here.
At the moment, however, my behavior has not changed. It’s a sunny, mild day. I rode to work without a helmet.