Lawyer On a Bike writes about bicycles and the USA:
“The bicycle is a two wheeled, human powered vehicle that offers no crash protection. Cyclists are at the mercy of cars. Between 1932, when bicycle crash fatality statistics were first kept, until 2002, there have been 47,000 deaths of cyclists from bicycle related injuries. 90% of all cycling deaths from a collision with a car. In 66% of the situations the crash occurred due to a traffic law violation. In 66% of the situations the immediate cause of death was a traumatic brain injury (TBI).“
National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) Safety Facts for the year 2003 provide that:
- “622 pedalcyclists were killed in traffic crashes
- 46,000 pedalcyclists were injured in traffic crashes
- 23 percent of all pedalcyclists killed were under age 16“
The Law Pundit is both a cyclist and a motorist. Indeed, we are domiciled in the incomparable wine-growing region of the Mosel, Saar and Ruwer, which is real “bicycle country”. As written at FlyHahn.com, The Official Tourist Information for Frankfurt-Hahn Airport (HHN):
“Cycling Heaven & Car-Free Cycling Days
Car-Free Cycling Days
The Moselle holiday region offers boundless cycling enjoyment: More than 1,000 kilometres of outstanding cycle paths, shimmering rivers, the varied cultural wine growing landscape, romantic towns and villages and the hospitality of the people make your cycling vacation an unforgettable experience. A well signposted network of nearly level cycle tracks and rural roads stretches into the neighbouring countries of Luxembourg and France.
On five Sundays during the year the streets in the Moselle holiday region are turned into an El Dorado for cyclists: Happy Moselle (Sunday after Pentecost), Saar Pedal (3rd Sunday in May), Ruwer Active (3rd Sunday in August), Summer Biking on the Nims and the Sauer (4th Sunday in August) and ‘Schromp macht Spass auf dem Maifeld’ (every second year in the spring) are car-free cycling days that offer fun and a happy cycling experience.”
The auto-free “Happy Mosel” Sunday is the world’s longest wine street festival, when all the roads on the Mosel River between Cochem and Schweich are blocked to automobile traffic.
As written by Iris Reiff from the 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs Office at Spangdahlem Air Base in Make way for bikers at Happy Mosel — 17 years of the world’s longest wine street festival in announcing this year’s Happy Mosel on the now past May 3:
“The Mosel valley will become the Eldorado for bicyclers for the 17th year in a row, May 3, when roads between Cochem and Schweich belong to cyclists and walkers only. The 140-kilometer stretch will be closed to vehicle traffic between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m., transforming this area into a recreational roadway.
According to organizers, more than 100,000 people are expected to participate in this unique multicultural sporting event. Happy Mosel is the longest wine street festival in the world.”
There were in fact ca. 100,000 participants – and during the day five bone fractures but no fatalities.
Biking has much greater hazards on days when vehicle traffic is running normally.
In densely populated Germany, there are 70 million bicycles – considerably more than the 41 million registered motor vehicles, and in the year 2007 there were 79,000 injured bicycle riders – of whom 425 were fatalities – in accidents where bicycle riders themselves were legally at fault fully half the time.
A recent article about the “untold running battle” between bicycle riders and motorists caught our eye (Der unsägliche Kleinkrieg, ADAC Motorwelt, Heft 4, April 2009), especially since we were in the pedestrian area of a town center in Germany today for not more than ten minutes – just walking through – and encountered no fewer than six bicycle riders riding the wrong way on a one way street, two of these riding much too fast and recklessly weaving through pedestrians and dangerously swerving to avoid hinderances with a lack of care about the rest of the world that sadly often marks German cyclists.
We could also mention yesterday, when we had brake our car dangerously fast not to hit a bicycle coming up the road around a very sharp corner toward us – the wrong way on a one-way street. We glanced furtively in our back mirror to make sure the car behind us did not back-end our car because of our emergency braking, caused by the bike rider. The bicyclist continued on – dangerously close to us and to parked cars – as if he or she had not a care in the world.
Bicycle riding can be dangerous and bicycle riders often think that uncaring and reckless motorists are at fault for this danger – this is surely one well-known aspect of the running battle between bicyclists and motorists – but the ADAC, Germany’s premier automobile club of 16 million members, points to numerous facts which suggest that bicycle riders are often also their own worst enemy on the roads.
Many cyclists appear to place the obligation of safety almost solely on the car-driving motorists to look after THEM, as if bicyclists had no duty of safety at all, either to themselves or to others. Why is that?
In the ADAC guest column to that same ADAC magazine, there is an article by psychoanalyst Dr. Wolfgang Schmidbauer titled Multiple Persönlichkeiten im Straßenverkehr (“Multiple Personalities in Street Traffic”). Schmidbauer points out that the personality of a car driver manifested in a large air-conditioned 4-wheel vehicle is completely different than the personality which surfaces when that same person rides a bicycle (we might add here that yet another, distinctly different personality surfaces when that same person mounts a motorcycle).
Schmidbauer states that bicycle riders – even those who are otherwise motorists – frequently slip into a new identity when they get on to their bicycles. In that new identity, they “individualize” the traffic laws, i.e. often flagrantly and regularly ignoring and violating the most basic traffic dictates – not stopping at stop signs, riding down one-way streets the wrong way, not signalling turns, running red traffic lights, riding on the street and blocking traffic unnecessarily even though a bike path is available right next to the thoroughfare, talking on their mobile cell phones while riding and blocking traffic because of their unawareness of the world around them, and often being a hinderance or a nuisance to normal traffic.
The immense scope of the problem that Schmidbauer correctly identifies is substantiated by the comments to the ADAC articles made by apparently non-reformable cyclists (“Unverbesserliche”) at the German bicyclists forum, Velomobilforum.de, where, it seems to this reader, that they do not understand the scope of the problem. The issue is also not one of motorists vs. bicyclists, but rather one of cyclists attitudes.
Our own description for many bicyclists in Germany – based upon our over one million car miles on German roads – is “militant”, and we ourselves are both a “sensible” cyclist and a “caring” motorist with loved ones in the family who also ride bicycles, so that we see this problem from both sides, including the view that reckless drivers who endanger bicyclists should be heavily fined and their driver’s licenses be revoked. But let us turn to the cyclists, who are not as innocent as they appear to think they are.
Schmidbauer correctly pinpoints the underlying and errant psychology of cyclists as seeing themselves as the “good” and “little” guys and motorists as the “big” and “evil” ones – a mistaken psychological frame of mind which the cyclists then think – erroneously – entitles them to special rights. We all can recognize this extremely dangerous psychology via the often anonymous religious fanatics who have falsely convinced themselves that their alleged belief excuses them from normal civilized behavior. In fact, the result of such a psychological frame of mind is often a type of internal anarchy combined with barbarian behaviour – for which there is in fact no supportable human or legal justification.
Excepting the all-too-many aggressive automobile rowdies who are a menace to everyone, including cyclists, therer are many normal, law-abiding motorists who ALSO have their problems with many bicycle riders. Indeed, many an average law-abiding motorist regards many cyclists as being overtly aggressive on the streets, largely irresponsible and uncaring with respect to other persons or vehicles in traffic, and indeed as either ignorant of the traffic laws or unwilling to abide by them. The ADAC article states that in one college city alone – Münster, Germany – the bicyclists run intentionally through red traffic lights an estimated 13,000 times – per day, in spite of the 20,000 traffic tickets issued to cyclists in that city per year. Just imagine what one of those red-light running bicycle militants would say to a car driver who drove intentionally through a red light. Many such cyclists live with a false double standard of the traffic world.
The situation is magnified million-fold throughout Germany, partly because there is no way for pedestrians or motorists to identify militant cyclists and it is this anonymity which often makes cyclists virtual terrorists on two wheels. Barring a direct confrontation with police, they are able to engage in unlawful and aggressive behavior on the roads without great fear of detection or punishment.
In the United States the Federal Highway Administration of the Department of Transportation has issued materials on Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety, including college course materials on Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation, of which the Introduction to Lesson 24 provides inter alia:
“Experience has shown that developing bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly communities requires a comprehensive approach that includes more than simply engineering and constructing bike lanes and sidewalks. This comprehensive approach includes:
- Engineering—designing and constructing roads for bicyclists and pedestrians.
- Education—teaching or training bicyclists, pedestrians, motorists, and other road users.
- Enforcement—ensuring that all road users follow traffic laws and rules of the road.
- Encouragement—providing incentives beyond physical infrastructure.
- Evaluation—confirming that the intended outcomes have been produced.“
One aspect of the problem is that in Germany there is no official bicycle registration (only private registration, e.g. online at Finde Mein Rad) and bicycles do not have license plates. So how would you identify and report a bicycle rowdy or someone who was endangering motor vehicle traffic participants or pedestrians through their illegal bike riding?
In the United States of our childhood, bikes in our city had to be taken to the local fire department for registration, where one also obtained a bicycle license plate, which was affixed to the back of the bicycle. This ability to identify cyclists or bicycles is not present in modern Germany, and so, bicyclists are anonymous – and many of them behave that way! Anonymity breeds barbarism.
One aspect of the solution is therefore to implement mandatory bicycle registration and official bicycle license plates in Germany.
This would not only reduce the blind aggressive militancy prevalent among many bicycle riders but it would necessarily also improve bicycle etiquette AND SAFETY in general because bicyclists and/or their bicycles would be identifiable to car drivers, pedestrians and witnesses.
Such a possibility of identification would also contribute to reduce the tremendous and inexcusable amount of bicycle theft in Germany (estimated at 400,000 per year in 2005), which is enabled by the absence of bicycle registration and by the lack of bicycle license plates.
It is such a simple solution that we are amazed that Germany has not implemented something like it.
Another area that needs substantial improvement pertains to the knowledge of bicycle law. Since no license is required in countries like Germany to ride a bicycle, many bicycle riders have very little knowledge of traffic regulations or “riding etiquette”. They ride their bicycles as if they were on a distant planet.
Classes of instruction on bicycle law and etiquette should be mandatory and “bicycle licenses” should be issued to bike riders only after passing traffic and etiquette tests.
After all, even now, persons riding a bicycle in Germany can be heavily fined for traffic infractions – rightly so, because negligent or reckless bike riding can pose a substantial danger to others. Bicyclists can even lose their motor vehicle driving license for riding a bicycle while intoxicated beyond a certain legally prescribed level (blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.16 or more).
Given the severity of penalites that one can incur, anyone driving or riding any type of bicycle or vehicle on the streets should have a license to do so.