Reducing the risk of cycling for children

May 2019

Infrastructure

Child behind a road sign
Kinder können für Autofahrer schlecht erkennbar werden

The figures given in the Accidents section of this Report for Germany and other EU member states clearly show that children are relatively often injured on the roads as cyclists – in Germany, for example, over 30 percent of the children under 15 who are involved in traffic accidents are cyclists. Extending the bicycle path network in a way that provides safety on the road and ensuring that bicycle paths are properly maintained are very important factors in reducing the risk of accidents, especially in urban areas. While more bicycle paths are in fact being built, not all of them provide their users with the level of protection required. Especially in built-up areas, where there is rarely space for a separate bicycle path between buildings, cyclists often have to share road space with busy traffic, separated from it only by a line painted on the road surface – which might not even be easy to see, depending on how old and worn it is.

On roads where cyclists have their own lanes, the main problems are keeping this lane separate from the sidewalk, poor markings around driveways, and bicycle paths that suddenly disappear in the middle of a road. On top of this, drivers often take up space on bicycle paths to park or stop their cars. Politically speaking, new bicycle paths are an easy sell. But as long as the focus remains on the amount of kilometers added to the bicycle network rather than on establishing a sensible bicycle path infrastructure that also helps to make cycling safer, our roads will continue to be painted with structures that confuse all road users. This leads to dangerous situations, especially for children with little experience on the roads. The situation requires a drastic rethink. We need to think beyond simply creating new bicycle paths, too; the road maintenance authorities also need to be provided with the resources to ensure that our bicycle paths are always ready for use – all year round.

Another factor that is just as important as safe bicycle paths is ensuring that bicycles have effective lighting – not just so that cyclists can see properly on the road, but in particular so that they can be seen easily at all times. Even during times of year when there is more light, child cyclists in particular should always make sure that they themselves can see well, and that they are easily visible to other road users. On the topic of lighting, Paragraph 17 of the German Road Traffic Act states that the prescribed lighting equipment must be used at dusk, in the dark, and when otherwise required by the prevailing visibility conditions. Lighting equipment must not be covered up or dirty.

The prescribed lighting equipment is described in Paragraph 67 of the German Road Traffic Licensing Regulation (StVZO), which states that bicycles must be fitted with a dynamo that operates the front and tail lights. Disposable or rechargeable batteries can also be used as an alternative. The prescribed lighting equipment is divided into two types: passive and active lighting equipment. Active lighting equipment (headlights and tail lights): These are mounted securely and sensibly at the front and rear, and can be supplied with power reliably by a dynamo. If the bicycle also has a parking light function for the headlight and tail light, safe active lighting is guaranteed at any time of day or night. As of 2017, cyclists are not required to keep removable headlights or tail lights with them or attached to their bicycles during the day. Of course, this means that cyclists need to have both good time management skills and a solid awareness at all times of the problem and the risks associated with cycling without active lighting at dusk or even at night – not to mention the potential fines. On the other hand, it is now also legal for headlights for low beams to have a high beam and/or daytime running light function – and for tail lights to have a brake light function.

  • Active lighting equipment (headlights and tail lights): These are mounted securely and sensibly at the front and rear, and can be supplied with power reliably by a dynamo. If the bicycle also has a parking light function for the headlight and tail light, safe active lighting is guaranteed at any time of day or night. As of 2017, cyclists are not required to keep removable headlights or tail lights with them or attached to their bicycles during the day. Of course, this means that cyclists need to have both good time management skills and a solid awareness at all times of the problem and the risks associated with cycling without active lighting at dusk or even at night – not to mention the potential fines. On the other hand, it is now also legal for headlights for low beams to have a high beam and/or daytime running light function – and for tail lights to have a brake light function.
  • Passive lighting equipment (reflectors and reflective equipment): In detail, these are a white, front-facing reflector, a Category-Z, red, rear-facing reflector (“large-area rear reflector”), and yellow, front and rear-facing pedal reflectors. In addition to this equipment, optional, white, retroreflective strips can be added on the tires or wheel rims, or white, retroreflective spokes/spoke sheaths or yellow spoke reflectors can be used. All of this equipment must be firmly fixed to the bicycle in its entirety and kept unobscured at all times – even during the day. This is intended to ensure that cyclists can always be noticed quickly at night when the headlights of a motor vehicle fall on them, even if they are not seen beforehand.

Parents should pay special attention to their children’s bicycles. Unlike for special “kids’” bikes and training bicycles, which generally do not have the necessary safety equipment and thus cannot legally be used on roads or bicycle paths – which it is illegal for children under the age of eight to use anyway – shops offer “full StVZO equipment” on road bikes for even the youngest cyclists. This includes permanently installed lighting equipment – preferably with a hub dynamo and a parking light function. Checks must also be performed to make sure that the bicycle’s lighting equipment is not obscured by any baskets or bags. In addition to this, the bicycle should be inspected regularly to ensure it remains in safe condition. After all, if a brake fails in a real-life situation, even the best light and a perfect bicycle path will be of no help. The German regulations should very much be seen as recommendations for countries whose requirements are not as comprehensive.

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