Why Berlin is not like America, traffic fatalities edition

So far in Berlin this year, the Tagesspiegel newspaper reports today, eight bicyclists and 27 pedestrians have been killed in traffic accidents. The total for car occupants (drivers and passengers)? Just one.

By American standards, this imbalance is kind of shocking. I’ll attempt to lay out a couple of factors that help explain it:

1. Berliners walk and bike a lot more than Americans, and drive a lot less than Americans. Fifteen percent of Berlin’s traffic is bike traffic, and 14% of Berliners commute by bike. (Compare that to, say, Portland, OR, one of the bicyclingest cities in America, where only 5.8% of people commute by bike.)

2. Laws and attitudes regarding drunk driving are much stricter than in America. The legal BAC limit for driving in Germany is 0.05% (compared with 0.08% in America), and there’s zero tolerance for drivers under the age of 22 and drivers who have had a license for under two years. But more than that, Germans are more inclined to observe the law and not get behind the wheel if they’ve had more than a drink, while Americans tend to be considerably looser about these things.

3. Germans don’t wear helmets when they bike. A German acquaintance recently made fun of American bikers for wearing “helmets and elbow pads and kneepads.” Maybe 5 percent of bikers in Berlin wear helmets — probably fewer. So more accidents result in fatalities.

But before you get too concerned for your biker/pedestrian friend here, also recognize that we’re talking about much lower numbers in general. In Germany, there are 4.5 traffic fatalities per 100,000 inhabitants per year. In the United States, that figure is 12.3. And German drivers do awesome things like check the bike lane before turning or opening their doors.

So don’t cry for me, America: I’m still safer than you are.


One Response to Why Berlin is not like America, traffic fatalities edition

  1. Jessica says:

    Good observations. Another factor is the great public transit system (at least compared to most U.S. cities), which makes it so much easier not to drink and drive. On the other hand, serious crashes often happen with the street cabs, which are sometimes overlooked and can’t break as fast.

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