Cyclists continue to be at serious risk
As the figures from Germany show, cyclists did not benefit from the general positive trend observed for traffic fatalities in 2016. Although Germany, together with France, Italy, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, is one of the EU member states that has recorded the biggest decrease in cyclist deaths since 1991 – with some countries cutting this figure by up to 60% – since 2010, this progress has stagnated in various countries with the number of fatalities remaining at more or less the same level. Almost 2,100 cyclists – that’s around 8% of all traffic fatalities – lost their lives on EU roads in 2015.
The number of fatalities could be reduced further if cyclists were even more aware of the traffic regulations that apply to them or did not disregard the regulations. A study published in 2015 on behalf of insurance company CosmosDirekt found that 83% of German cyclists do not always observe traffic regulations. 14% of those surveyed said that they disobeyed the regulations quite frequently, while 5% even said that they disobey them very frequently. Alarmingly, among 18–29-year-old people, only 1% of the cyclists surveyed said that they always followed the traffic regulations.
As the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure and the German Cyclists' Association (ADFC) state, one of the important regulations defined in the German road traffic regulations is that cyclists must use an explicitly signposted cycle path, even if they think that they would make better progress by cycling on the road. Where a separate cycle path and footpath are provided, cyclists must not cross onto the footpath, not even to overtake. Where a combined cycle path and footpath is provided, cyclists must share the designated space with pedestrians. Cyclists do not have priority here, but pedestrians must allow them to pass. Footpaths are no-go zones for cyclists, except for people accompanying children up to the age of 8 on bicycles. When accidents occur, courts almost always hold the cyclist on the footpath solely responsible. If no signposted cycle path is available, cyclists may use the road. Here, as always, the obligation to keep to the right – in this case, to the right of the right hand lane – applies.
One thing worth noting is that only pedelecs with motor support up to 25 km/h are legally classed as bicycles, which means that they can also be ridden on cycle paths. However, this does not apply to the more powerful “S-Pedelecs” (motor support up to 45 km/h), which are classed as mopeds rather than bicycles. With the e-bike – a type of electric moped that can reach speeds of up to 25 km/h with the aid of a motor even without the rider pedaling – riders are permitted to use cycle paths only in urban areas if these paths have an “E-Bikes frei” (E-bikes allowed) sign. It is also important to note that when cyclists are on the road, they must observe the traffic lights that apply to all road users. If a dedicated traffic light is provided for cyclists, they must observe this light on the cycle path. If the cyclist is on the cycle path and no dedicated traffic light is provided for cyclists, the cyclist must observe the traffic lights that apply to all road users. Light signals for pedestrians generally do not apply to cyclists.
When it comes to alcohol, even cyclists with a blood alcohol concentration as low as 0.3 may be liable to prosecution and will be held accountable in the event of an accident. If cyclists have a blood alcohol concentration of 1.6 or above, they are breaking the law even if their cycling behavior is not noticeably unsteady or erratic. Furthermore, like for drivers, cyclists may use cellphones only if they are using a hands-free device.
What is the situation in terms of helmet for cyclists? In Germany, it is not yet legally compulsory to wear a helmet. The same applies in countries such as France, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Italy, Poland and the Netherlands. In Austria, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Croatia, Sweden, Slovenia, Slovakia and Spain, children and young people at least must wear a bicycle helmet. For safety reasons, though – and in light of the growing number of pedelecs on the road – the number of people wearing helmets must be increased. This is also the recommendation of organizations such as the German Road Safety Council. According to the German Road Safety Council, wearing a bicycle helmet should become the rule rather than the exception in the future, and parents should lead the way here by setting a good example.