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New levels for drunk cycling

January 23, 2015

Cycling in Germany after drinking alcohol has become a common practice which is rarely penalized. Several of the country's transport associations are calling for a 1.1 per mil threshold to clamp down on drunk cycling.

Couple with bike and beer at the Aasee in Münster
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/F. Gentsch

As the number of Germany's bikes continues to rise - already 71 million - the number of accidents caused by drunk cyclists has remained at a comparatively steady level.

In 2013, a study by Auto Club Europe (ACE) indicated that of the roughly 77,000 bike accidents which caused injury to other people, more than 3,400 of the cyclists involved were under the influence of alcohol.

For most cyclists who straddle saddle after drinking alcohol, the fear of paying a fine is almost non-existent as they frequently manage to travel unnoticed by authorities.

But now, ahead of the 53rd conference of the German Council on Jurisdiction in Transport next week, experts are calling for a reduction in the "absolute" legal blood alcohol level (BAL) permitted in cyclists, from 1.6 parts per thousand (grams per kilogram) to 1.1. If found to be cycling with a BAL of 1.6, cyclists also currently lose their driving license.

For motorists, the "absolute" legal level of being fit to drive is 1.1. An additional "level of danger value" which currently stands at 0.5 per mil, or approximately one small beer, is also already in place for motorists. For cyclists, such a level; that is, a value at which point someone is no longer deemed safe to cycle, doesn't exist.

Risking the lives of others

The number of accidents caused by intoxicated cyclists in Germany is a good 4.4 percent higher than that caused by motorists and motorbike drivers.

According to a study by the Association of German Insurers (GDV), even at the proposed 1.1 level, a "significant decrease in driving ability" can be noticed.

"From 0.3 per mil, it's already difficult to judge the distance and speed of a car. At 0.5, vision deteriorates and at 0.8 per mil, responsiveness worsens," said Hannelore Herlan of the German Traffic Watch.

"Contrary to popular notions, drunken cyclists not only put themselves at risk, but also other cyclists and pedestrians," said a spokeswoman for the German Automobile Club (AVD). "The criminal limit for being unfit to drive should therefore be reduced to the same level which is applicable to drivers."

Widespread support

The General German Bicycle Club (ADFC) wants the limit for absolute unfitness to drive to remain at 1.6 per mil, "but alongside that, we're calling for the danger threshold to be reduced to 1.1," said spokesman Rene Filippek.

The ADFC is convinced that hundreds of accidents with serious consequences can be prevented as a result.

"The times in which drunken cyclists get off scot free should be over," said Christian Kellner, leader of the German Road Safety Council (DVR). "A fine should also be enforced from 1.1."

The German Lawyer's Association (DAV), however, has rejected new blood alcohol levels for cyclists.

"Those who drive under the influence of alcohol, put the life and limb of third parties in great danger," said Jörg Elsner, chairman of the traffic law working group of the German Lawyer's Association. "But those who cycle under the influence only put themselves at risk."

Experts have long proposed lower alcohol limits for both driving and cycling, but so far, politicians have not followed the recommendations. According to a survey, conducted by Stern magazine last year, 61 percent of Germans would favor a total ban on drinking alcohol for drivers.

ksb/gb (dpa)