The Ethics of Giving a Ride

How do you reconcile your desire to honor your own values without forcing the people you want to help into more dangerous conduct? Former New York Times columnist Randy Cohen tackles this ethical query.

In a previous post, Big Think invited you to pose your ethical questions to Randy Cohen, the former New York Times writer who answered reader's questions in his column "The Ethicist" for over a decade. The dilemmas he tackled ranged from the ethics of moving to higher-priced unoccupied seats at a ball game to whether we're obligated to blow the whistle on a friend's cheating spouse. Here Cohen answers the second of five thought-provoking submissions. Check back next Sunday to see his response to the next question. (Responses will be released on Sundays over a period of five weeks.)


 I live in Cincinnati, where public transportation is not the best. I help out a Mexican-American family, partly by driving them where they need to go. This works because there are 4 of them, and my car holds 5. However, occasionally their cousins need a ride. There are 6 of them, including a young baby. I don’t feel comfortable driving people without the proper seat belts and baby seats, etc. I have offered to take two trips to solve the seat belt problem, but we still have the lack of a car seat to worry about. And they are not comfortable with splitting up the family.

I can just refuse to drive them, but this doesn’t make them any safer. They will just call a cab, and all pile in with no seat belts at all. What’s the ethical thing to do? 

--Martha Harrington

Here is Cohen's response:


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