Seeing and Being Seen

26 Apr 2019 Infrastructure
From the previous chapters in this Report, it is clear that the human factor and vehicle technology are both crucial components in ensuring road safety. However, a properly functioning and effcient infrastructure is just as essential – especially when considering the safety of children on the road. One of the main priorities in this regard is to use road construction and traffic regulation measures to minimize the risk of accidents and, ideally, to prevent certain accident scenarios entirely. As far as possible, it is also important to take the abilities and limitations of children’s conduct on the road into account when designing the road environment.
In order to further improve road safety in builtup areas, for example, traffic calming zones have now been in place for many years in a lot of towns, cities and municipalities. In these areas, vehicles are required to travel at walking speed, and pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers are all required to look out for and accommodate one another. As an extension of this idea, there are also “pedestrian priority zones” where vehicles are subject to a maximum speed of 20 km/h. Traffic calming zones were introduced in Germany in the late 1970s, and have been part of the German Road Traffic Act since 1980. There are similar regulations in other European countries, such as Austria, France, Belgium, and Switzerland.
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 thatthey 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.
  • 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.
A striking difference: Thanks to the retroreflective elements on their clothing, the children in the photo on the right are easily visible even in the dark. Without these elements, as shown in the photo on the left, they are hard to pick out and may not be seen until late, with all the consequences this entails.