What are the most amazing hybrids

Look left, look right, look straight ahead

Anyone traveling through Berlin with Jochen Schledz will soon be surprised that 3.5 million people are still alive there. Dangers lurk around every corner, the city - a single risk of accidents. Take Katzbachstrasse and Kreuzbergstrasse, for example: "We have had bicycle accidents here," says Schledz. He turns into Yorckstrasse and points to a building shell: "There's a hardware store going there," he says and shakes his head. "And what if the customers want to turn left from the oncoming lane?" Continue on Pallasstrasse, where a few years ago, "with great fanfare", Tempo 30 was finally introduced, taking into account some schools and daycare centers nearby. A little later he has reached his destination: the intersection of Bundesallee, Hohenzollerndamm, Na-chodstraße in the Wilmersdorf district. A traffic junction the size of a soccer field, crossed by 50,000 cars and 3,500 bicycles during the day. The result: more than 1,300 accidents in twenty years.

Crossings are the supreme discipline for people like Schledz who deal with road safety. This is where the conflicts are concentrated because several "conditionally compatible traffic flows" meet, as it is called in technical jargon - cars, trucks, motorcycles, bicycles, pedestrians, young and old, fast and slow. Every second accident in cities happens at an intersection. Schledz gets out of his old Honda, at this point he has to go back a little.

He has been head of the municipal accident commission for eight years. His job is to defuse the so-called accident sites in Berlin. These are road sections and intersections on which there were three collisions with seriously injured people or five with slightly injured people within three years. Schledz emphasizes that Berlin is the safest capital in Europe when it comes to road traffic. Nevertheless, he is constantly writing reports and analyzing danger spots; He admonishes and warns, there is only one thing he does not have to worry about - that he is running out of work: There are 500 accident sites in Berlin, last year 17,000 people died on the streets of the capital, 42 of them fatally. Throughout Germany there were 3,600 dead and almost 400,000 injured, which means: Almost every second person is injured in a traffic accident in the course of his life. The personal concern of so many contradicts the general interest in the subject of road safety, which usually expires after the driver's license has been issued.

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There were times when cars crashed into each other at prime time for a pedagogical point of view. Since the discontinuation of the ARD program The 7th Sense eight years ago, only experts and bureaucrats have plowed the field, largely in camera. In doing so, they would have a lot to tell about the difficult undertaking to make the roads safer, which constantly generates new knowledge and often enough collides with the irrational behavior of road users and short-sighted cost-benefit considerations of transport politicians.

Jochen Schledz is standing on Bundesallee, a few meters before the large intersection. With his short gray stubble hair and his little glasses he is reminiscent of the television presenter Peter Lustig. "We have two problems here: red light violations and turning right with the cyclists," he lectures. The red light violations are the result of drivers who turn left from Hohenzollerndamm (see picture on the right). In between there are two traffic lights, the second of which is regularly overlooked. Result: 15 accidents due to red light disregard in one year, a record according to the accident report of the Berlin police. As a remedy, Schledz recommended new traffic lights with bright LED technology and a larger red light. Not all conflicts can be resolved that easily.

Dangerous left turns Statistically speaking, a person dies every other day in Germany as a result of a left-turn maneuver. Separate green phases for turning could prevent many accidents. In addition, at intersections at which such green phases were introduced, the costs of accident damage fell by fifty percent

Cyclists belong on the streets

There is a wide footpath and bike path next to Bundesallee, but for drivers who turn right into Hohenzollerndamm, the cyclists are barely visible. Trees obstruct the view, as well as a parking space for bicycles. It would be safest if such areas were leveled over a large area. The problem: The cities would then be a little grayer.

To protect them, pedestrians and cyclists often get a second or two ahead at intersections. Your traffic light jumps to green a little earlier and you are already in the middle of the street when the cars start moving. However, this does not benefit cyclists who cross the intersection at full speed when the traffic light has long been green. According to statistics, their risk of being overlooked by a right turn is four times higher than that of cyclists waiting for green at the intersection.

Siegfried Brockmann, Head of Accident Research at the Association of Insurers, would therefore prefer to see the cyclists entirely on the road, i.e. always in the driver's field of vision. Cycle paths are a relic of the 1970s, when traffic planners were still dreaming of a car-friendly city. "And they convey a false sense of security," says Brockmann. If you use the road as a cyclist, you are far less likely to come into conflict with right-turns at intersections - even if you do not have your own red lane.

Unfortunately, cyclists perceive the situation in exactly the opposite way: in every city there are some cycle paths that are marked with a blue sign, with a white bike in the middle. It means: Use is compulsory. Everywhere else, cyclists should switch to the streets. Few of them know this, and even fewer make use of it: A study found that 99 percent of cyclists of retirement age stay on the cycle path - because they feel safer there. Another study found that female cyclists also feel very comfortable on the sidewalk.

The value of a human life: 1,018,064 euros and 51 cents

Impatient pedestrians From a waiting time of forty seconds, the number of pedestrians crossing the traffic lights increases significantly. Many cities have therefore shortened waiting times. There are push-button traffic lights in front of schools and kindergartens that quickly turn green when necessary.

Do you prefer safe or fast?

Back to Bundesallee, at the corner of Hohenzollerndamm in Berlin: the Berlin Accident Commission recommended introducing a separate traffic light phase for those turning right - a solution that safety experts often recommend. However, an additional green phase for some means longer waiting times for everyone else, i.e. traffic jams at peak times. That is exactly what street planners try to avoid. They optimize traffic light switching so that the traffic stays in the flow as much as possible - a legitimate concern in a city like Berlin, which is run over by 1.5 million cars every day.

The road traffic regulations say: When in doubt, safety comes first. How often this passage is ignored is particularly evident from the example of those turning left: Statistically speaking, a person dies every other day in Germany as a result of such a maneuver. Many motorists are overwhelmed by paying attention to oncoming traffic and crossing cyclists and pedestrians at the same time. The traffic researchers agree that there should be a green phase for left-turns at every halfway-traveled intersection with traffic lights. But that is not the case in many places.

In gentle cycle Traffic light phases are designed in such a way that pedestrians can cross the street safely even if red lights up shortly after entering. That requires a speed of 1.2 meters per second. According to studies, many older people walk more slowly. The phases should be adapted to your pace.

The value of a human life: 1,018,064 euros and 51 cents

A new set of traffic lights can easily cost 100,000 euros. Such costs often put cities off. What is overlooked is the fact that road accidents also have a negative impact on the economy, with a good 30 billion annually. A human life is included in the statistics with 1,018,064 euros and 51 cents. The amount includes funeral expenses, surviving dependents' pensions and the average added value that the accident victim would have generated as a productive and consuming member of society.

As cynical as the calculation may seem, it shows that investments in road safety are not only worthwhile from a humanitarian point of view. Jochen Schledz likes to refer to the intersection of Kurfürstenstrasse and Schillstrasse near the Berlin zoo, where the accident commission suggested a traffic light system with its own green phase for left-turns. In the following year, the costs caused by accidents there fell from 800,000 to 200,000 euros. "You can see what a huge security and savings potential there is," he says. There is a catch in the bill: while the municipality bears the burden, the insurance companies in particular benefit. They can pass the savings on to their customers and lower policies - or increase dividends to shareholders around the world. Then unfortunately only the world economy will benefit.

Actually, the numbers would be cause for joy: Although the density of vehicles in Germany has tripled since 1970, the number of deaths in road traffic fell from 19,200 to 3,600. At that time, 2167 children died in accidents - unbelievable from today's perspective. Last year there were 73. But every single case shakes the public, even in the serene capital of Berlin: When a truck rolled over a nine-year-old boy while turning in March 2004 on Bismarckstrasse, a sculptor was commissioned to erect a memorial on the spot . Jürgen Gerlach, traffic researcher at the University of Wuppertal, also emphasizes that the statistics by no means indicate that our roads have now become safe. “There are many reasons for the decline in the number of fatalities: today, ambulances are at the scene of the accident after ten minutes - that used to take half an hour. People drink less often when they are still driving. And the safety of the vehicles has improved. «With the result that there are hardly any accidents in town in which car occupants die. "But the number of injuries is still very high."

Too many rules

Berlin-Wilmersdorf, intersection Bundesallee / Hohenzollerndamm / Nachodstrasse More than 50,000 cars, trucks, buses and motorcycles every day; there have been more than 1,300 crashes at this intersection in the past twenty years. Most of the accidents did not end well: few seriously injured, no fatalities. Nevertheless, the traffic safety experts classify the knot as very dangerous: on the one hand, because of the many red light accidents, which are often particularly serious because the other parties involved in the accident often collide at full speed. On the other hand, the right-turners who turn two lanes from Bundesallee into Hohenzollerndamm are causing concern. There is a great risk that pedestrians and cyclists crossing the Hohenzollerndamm will be overlooked. Cyclists and pedestrians are only involved in four percent of all accidents in Berlin. But in another statistic they are disproportionately important: 75 percent of the accident fatalities in Berlin in 2012 were by bicycle or on foot.

Danger from the supermarket

The researchers spare no effort in measuring road traffic: They count the cars at intersections, evaluate accident scenes and scenarios, and track cyclists to determine how often they veer off the bike path onto the lane or sidewalk. But ultimately, all assumptions and recommendations of science are based on samples and probabilities. In reality, it has been shown that small measures can sometimes have a big impact, such as better road marking or the removal of recycling containers at an intersection. But it also happens that the number of accidents increases instead of falling after extensive renovations. The human factor remains the great unknown: "Even at perfectly clear intersections, it happens that a truck driver who has just left his depot and is still thinking about his colleagues runs over a cyclist," says Jochen Schledz. And what nobody thinks about: There are fatal accidents not only at highly frequented intersections, but also at the »entrance to the next gas station or the supermarket«.

Even such a sober discipline as road construction is subject to fashions: some time ago, traffic planners found it useful to deduce right-turns before the intersection in their own lane, without traffic lights. Then rear-end collisions increased according to the pattern: driver one looks to the left to see if the road is clear and brakes, driver two in the car behind it already has an overview and accelerates. The green sheet metal arrow, which is slowly disappearing from German roads, caused similar constellations. At the moment, roundabouts are being hailed as the solution to all problems. They also do well in the accident record because drivers there drive relatively slowly and cannot turn left. But that changes with the number of lanes, in Berlin, for example, the three-lane Great Star around the Victory Column and Ernst-Reuter-Platz are among the most accident-prone intersections, with several hundred collisions every year.

Sensible night shift A third of fatal accidents in urban traffic occur after dark. Traffic lights should therefore not be out of order at night - which is the case in many cities in order to save costs - but should be switched to short green and red phases. That throttles the traffic.

Too many rules

There are few irrefutable truths in the field of road safety, but one thing is certain: the more complex the situation, the more accident-prone it is. This is where the criticism of the Dresden traffic scientist Reinhold Maier comes in: “Every city creates its own rules. Basically, as a driver, you have to get out of the car at every intersection and first see what is and what is not allowed there. «The city of Münster recently published a guide on what cyclists should be aware of in the city. It is fifty pages long. An imposition, Maier complains, especially for the elderly. “Many people degrade with age. We can't keep overloading them with new regulations. ”Half of the pedestrians and cyclists who have died are already over sixty years old. That is why Maier calls for a simple, nationwide uniform design of the streets for the purpose of better recognition. In addition, the traffic scientists are relying on the help of VW, Daimler and Co: In the next five to ten years, autonomous vehicles will be on the German autobahn. The Wuppertal researcher Jürgen Gerlach hopes that at some point these cars will also cope with the difficult-to-calculate city traffic and thus eliminate the greatest cause of accidents, humans. "Future generations will then be very surprised: Back then, they accepted being seriously injured or killed - just to get from A to B!"

Cyclists - victims and perpetrators In 70 percent of bicycle accidents at intersections, the fault lies with the other party (especially cars, trucks, buses). One study found that cyclists also prevent many conflicts by slowing down at intersections (60 percent) and closely watching traffic turning. On the other hand, around every fifth cyclist is on cycle paths in the wrong direction. This is also reflected in the accident statistics: collisions between cyclists driving on the left and cars turning off account for a third of all accidents at intersections where the cycle path is separated from the road. In Berlin, using the wrong lane is the main cause of accidents with cyclists last year there were therefore more than 1,100 clashes.

Photos: Peter Neusser; Illustrations: Elsa Jenna