City of Boston to Cyclists: Your Head Injury Is Your Fault

Cyclists of Boston, I have some bad news for you. If you forget to wear your helmet when you are riding a bicycle, this is how you will end up:

helmet adPhoto by Casey Lyons

And it will be all your fault. At least that seems to be the message of a ridiculously infuriating new ad campaign by the Boston Public Health Commission.

The “No Excuses Wear a Helmet” campaign, which is plastered on bus shelters all over town, depicts young people with smashed up faces who apparently should have known better than to bike around town without a helmet. Because the penalty for not wearing a rinky-dink, semi-effective piece of plastic on your head while cycling is obviously a disfiguring wound.

Now, these types of scare tactics have been used to great effect before. I’m thinking of the anti-meth campaign in Denver which made meth face a fixture on the city’s streets and highways. The visuals are strikingly similar. But in that case, you have an epidemic that hooks kids on a drug, and brings about the decline of their looks, their youth, and eventually, their lives. With that in context, it makes good sense to scare the hell of kids as a deterrent to self-destructive behavior.

Bicycling can also hook young people and while it can turn some of them into traffic scofflaws, no one causing their teeth to rot by feeding their bike jones. Cycling is not a gateway to harder forms of self-conveyance. What’s more is the city is actively encouraging cycling through Mayor Menino’s initiatives (though curiously, the “No Excuses Wear a Helmet” ads carry his branding) and through Hubway, which has been a runaway success. (No one from the Mayor’s office or the Boston Public Health Commission immediately returned calls seeking comment.)

The real problem with an ad campaign like this is it sets up a clear distinction. You can ride a bike and risk being maimed (and deserve it), or you can not ride a bike. That’s not going to get more people on bikes, and contrary to what you might think about wearing helmets, increasing the number of cyclists—and the awareness that brings from bikers and motorists alike—is what really keeps everyone safe.

These ads should come down right away.

(h/t Boston Biker)