A primary school in Magdeburg made headlines in Germany this month because it had urged parents to stop first-graders from riding their bikes to school. The problem: so-called parent taxis are responsible for far too much unsafe traffic in front of the school. In The Netherlands, where there are more bicycles than there are people, the media frenzy was met with dismay.

School principal Gabriele Krappatsch explained in the Magdeburger Volksstimme that the decision was based on information from the police and the ADAC (German Automobile Association). She said that the school is located in a quiet but narrow residential street, and that there is a lot of traffic before classes commence due to parents’ cars.

The case provoked heated public discussions. In an article in the German Die Zeit newspaper, Martin Kraft of the Deutsche Verkehrswacht (German Road Safety Association) also spoke out. He said that even children over eight years of age should not ride their bikes to school – no matter if they seem like they are safe.

On Twitter the article led to cynical comments. For example, one reader asked whether it would not be more appropriate to modify the infrastructure so that children could get to school safely on their bicycles. Other readers accused the association of taking a car-centred viewpoint that is not consistent with the mobility revolution.

Also …

Most children are involved in accidents due to their own mistakes

According to the article in Die Zeit, the Statistische Bundesamt (German Statistical Office) registered exactly 9,629 accidents in 2018 involving children between the ages of six and 15 riding their bicycles. The figures show children were at fault in 73 % of these accidents. Common mistakes are:

  • Riding in the wrong lane;
  • difficulties in making turns, negotiating situations, backing up or setting off;

No legal age requirement for children

In Germany, there is no legal age requirement for children who cycle on public roads. The only legal regulation concerns where they are allowed to ride:

Children under the age of eight are allowed to ride on the pavement. They are only allowed to ride on a cycle path if it is physically separated from the road. If accompanied by an adult, they are also allowed to ride on marked cycle paths and cycle lanes.

Children between eight and ten years of age may cycle on the street and on the pavement and cycle paths.

Children over ten years of age must ride either on the cycle path or on the street.

Supervision is the responsibility of the parents

The school cannot impose a ban, but can only recommend whether and when children should ride their bikes to school. Parents are responsible for the supervision of their children on their way to school.

During the current public discourse, ADAC and Deutsche Verkehrswacht agreed that parents should nevertheless follow the school’s recommendations. As the school is in a better position to gauge the traffic situation on site.

The Fahrrad-Club ADFC (ADFC bicycle association) sees things differently. They believe that parents are the best judges of when their children are ready to deal with road traffic.

According to Kraft from the Deutsche Verkehrswacht, it depends on the physical and mental abilities of the child as to when they can safely ride their bicycle in traffic. These abilities should be taught from the third or fourth grade of primary school onwards. This is also the time period when cycling proficiency tests are held in the German federal states.

But even children of this age are not yet thoroughly up to the challenge. This was established by the Bundesanstalt für Straßenwesen (BAST, Federal Highway Research Institute) in 2016 in a study on cycling education in schools and the motor skills of children. In a survey, up to 14 % of fourth graders stated that they could not ride straight ahead without wobbling. Or that they were unable to concentrate on road traffic.

You can find the link to the article in Die Zeit here.

Also of interest:

Mobile Traffic Safety Lab for Motorcycle Riders