Friday, 17 May 2013

Gotta love the Germans

It would seem that in addition to having a highly successful 'mittelstand' manufacturing quality goods that the rest of the world wants, running a superb railway system, knowing how to use an Autobahn properly despite no speed limits in places and single-handedly paying to keep Europe afloat, the Germans also know a little bit about cycling.

The Mitteldeutscherrundfunk (MDR) has a show called 'Exakt' which recently had a short segment about cycling. The segment is called 'Wo und warum passieren die meisten Radunfälle?' or 'Where and when do most cycle accidents occur?' I would love to be able to embed it but it is very difficult so here is the link instead.

Often, foreign cycling films are still fun to watch because of the footage. However this one only shows the guy talking (not to the camera weirdly) and a bit of footage of him driving. It is what he says that is interesting. He answers a series of questions which pop up after each other. These are my favourite bits:

What are the most common cycle accidents?

He starts by saying that cycle accidents are many and varied. The type of accident generally determines who is at fault. One of the most common is the turning collision where a motorist crosses the path of the cyclist. In practically all of those cases, the motorist is at fault. Where two cyclists crash into each other, it is almost always because on of them is going in the wrong direction.

Do higher fines change cyclist behaviour?

Interestingly, he supports that. The problem is one of enforcement though. He likes the idea of bicycle police officers who can stop cyclists and talk with them about rules and actually understand things from their point of view. Sounds reasonable to me.

What sort of problems do cyclists experience in traffic?

He says, "they claim that traffic rules are not appropriate for cyclists and that the infrastructure is not designed with cyclists in mind. They are absolutely right!" 'Nuff said.

What do you think of the helmet law under discussion?

Er ... let's not go there. He's sceptical. He says there is very little evidence that a helmet law reduces injuries. In individual cases of course, depending on the injury, it makes a difference. But most accidents occur with other types of injury - chest and abdomen for example - and helmets do not do a great deal for them.

How high is the potential for aggression between cyclists and motorists?

He (quite rightly) doesn't think that motorists go out of their way to injure others. The problem, he says, is that motorists have very little understanding of what people on bicycles are going through. At this point, the speaker is in his car and he shows a good example of what he means. You can see the cyclist about to overtake a parked car and he talks about the necessity of taking the foot of the accelerator and waiting just a few seconds to give the cyclist space. It is that understanding that is often missing. It takes only a couple of seconds.

What do we learn from crashtests?

To cut a long story short, in the crash test that you see, he says the cyclist would likely not survive - helmet or no helmet. He talks about a common error where motorists pull out of a driveway across a cycle path and the need for quick reactions. Regrettably, this time he does not give a solution other than to point out the problem.

What technical possibilities are there to keep cyclists safe?

They are limited. He says there is very little that can be added to 'vulnerable' road users to help them. What there is must be added to the car. He is confident that there are solutions on the horizon. He accepts that slowing traffic down is one solution but says that it does not help with all problems such as cars pulling across a bike lane. As we all know though, there are known solutions to that problem - most obviously segregation by time or perhaps simply designing intersections properly?

It would be helpful if something similarly objective was broadcast or reported here. There seems to be no shortage of articles and reportss about supposed aggression, danger or lawlessness by people on bicycles but precious few that are properly investigative and informative. That is, articles and bulletins that actually give a balanced and objective viewpoint. They are pretty few and far between. Don't believe me? How's this? A car owner (quite rightly) gets a parking ticket for leaving his car on a grass verge instead of parking it in his driveway and it makes the news! Not only that, it's reported as a "push" to free up space in "narrow" streets. Thankfully a lot of the comments tell it like it is:

Stop whining.

Now imagine a bike user making the news because they are complaining about getting fined for riding on the pavement for part of their journey. No, neither can I.

Although embedding the video is too hard for me, a little bit of detective work can lead you to the mp4 file. Not sure if it's legal but you can find it here.

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