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Kim Harding, and others, are trying to get trying to Strict Liability back into the political agenda in Scotland. Strict Liability is part of traffic law in Germany, and in fact most of the world, outside of the UK.
Some time ago, Eldest Son had a very minor collision with a car on a Spielstrasse (shared space street, 7km/h limit). Being about six at the time, Eldest Son didn’t know that in Germany you give way to vehicles coming from the right, didn’t stop on a junction, and was clipped by a very expensive vehicle speeding up the hill. Eldest Son was fine, but Expensive Car had some minor damage.
Beautiful Wife learned to drive in Japan, and didn’t know that in Germany you should always call the police when you have an accident, so when the driver said “we don’t need to bother calling the police”,* gave her his address, then drove off saying he needed to go to an appointment, she accepted it.
A few weeks later a rather large bill arrived.
We have liability insurance, so we wrote to our insurance company and explained what had happened. They found it very amusing, wrote to the driver and reminded him about Strict Liability, in particular that if a car hits a child, the driver is always liable. (Driving over the speed limit was also a bit naughty, as was not calling the police, which in Germany made it a hit-and-run, but we’ll ignore that)
The driver tried to make much of the point that he technically had right of way on the junction, and his lawyers sent us a threatening letter with an even bigger bill in the hope we’d panic and pay up, which we passed on to the insurance company. They wrote to said Lawyers and asked them to kindly stop messing about, and that was that.
Had Eldest Son been injured, the rules would mean the driver of Expensive Car would be held responsible. whereas in the UK it would have meant a long legal battle for us to get compensation or simply not be held liable for scratching his paint. His insurance would have had to pay, at least partly, for treatment and rehabilitation, pushing up his premiums. Drivers -unfortunately- seem to be more aware of this than just the danger posed by a ton of metal to vulnerable road users, and it makes them slightly more careful. As I recently heard a policeman complain: “Unfortunately, as soon as you drive a car in Germany, you are assumed to be responsible if any accident happens” ** I’m still convinced that German drivers are more cautious around pedestrians and cyclists than British drivers, and I’m pretty sure it isn’t because German drivers have a better understanding of the value of human life.
It also sends a clear message that the law is there to protect more vulnerable people. I’d have thought this was a given in any civilised country, but that’s just me.
*A phrase rarely heard except from drivers involved a motor vehicle collision and from people with a black jumper, crowbar and torch, kneeling in front of a broken safe at midnight. They could be right, of course.
**And this was the policeman supposed to be telling us about pedestrian and cycling safety. The mind boggles…
I haven’t written much about using bicycles lately, especially considering how much use our bikes get.
The Bakfiets spends much of its time being a tractor, as seen above delivering compost and a load of wood to the garden for making the Mighty Steppe. Without the Bakfiets we’d probably not be able to keep our crazy hippy lifestyle going, as it is the main way of transporting stuff back and forth to the Very Smallholding. I could probably fill one of these if I had one, which would remove almost all need for a car except for the occasional long trip, but I always end up deciding I’m better off with what I’ve got.
I may make a flat bed for the Bakfiets as soon as The Boys are too big to ride in it (that’s if I don’t make a coffee bar instead).
Meanwhile the Xtracycle remains my vehicle of choice for going to the next town and beyond, visiting friends and running errands, not least because it means I can combine trips.
This of course means it is out in all weather, and I’m going to have to get myself into gear and replace the wooden deck at some point: it is made for sunny California, not cold damp Germany.
People still shake their heads and tell me it is much more convenient to have car, but when I hear stories like this I’m not so sure…
My experience with the infernal combustion engine is limited, which was fine until someone at work realised that the apprentice lurking in the corner could drive back to the workshop and get whatever had been forgotten, so I’m getting a lot of quality time with the two company vans. These are both rather elderly and probably not in showroom condition. Other vehicles seem to be magnetically attracted to them and roads magically become narrower as I approach. I have yet to successfully make a hill start in the largest of the two, and every gear change is an adventure.
So last week, when I was working within the village and I’d just got back to the workshop to collect something, I realised I had an empty van and threw the Xtracycle inside before anyone could object, on the basis that I’d probably be sent back to get something else fairly soon, and sure enough, my supervisor found he was missing a small but rather important bracket that he needed, as in, now.
Downstairs, Xtracycle out of van, off we went. Through industrial estate, round shunting trucks that would have held up the van, a braked briefly for driver turning in front of me because despite having lights on I was still apparently invisible, into the village proper, past some children playing, into residential streets, where I was buzzed by a large SUV until we came to cars parked on both sides of the road that left him trying to squeeze through the remaining gap without losing his mirrors, and through the secret bike and pedestrian cut through (although not so secret that the town hasn’t managed to add a chicane halfway through to make it that little less convenient). I popped out of the other side, through more houses, over the main road and down through the old village centre to the workshop.
Off bike, searched workshop, no sign of bracket.
I got back on the bike, made the same journey in reverse*, and used all my acting skills trying not to look smug at “How did you get here so fast?” look on supervisors face.
We found the bracket under a toolbox.
*Even down to being buzzed by another SUV: it was one of those mornings…
As mentioned earlier, it’s festival time and Beautiful Wife’s home town is caught right up in it. This week the local part of town was supposed to deliver a load of white stones to the local shrine, on a cart. The cart was a wooden affair with two wheels and a wooden tail that dragged on the road and was used for steering. In front were two ropes I reckon are at least half a kilometre long. The load on the cart consisted of about ten smallish wicker baskets full of white stones.
I don’t see this catching on as a transport solution.
Moving this involved what looked like half of the local population including -somewhere- my sister-in-law, her husband The Fireman and their children. They and a couple of hundred other people hauled the cart for perhaps fifty metres, chanting, then one of the leaders running between the two lines changed the rhythm and walloped the road surface with something that looked like a cross between a Pom-Pom and a broom. Everyone then ran from side to side holding the ropes. After doing this for a few minutes they carried on.
It had taken several hours by the time we saw them, and they still had a couple of kilometres to go.
At the end of the procession we got a call that one of our nieces had sunstroke. As the entire family apart from Beautiful Wife are nurses, doctors or paramedics, and she was in a mobile medical station there was no immediate danger, but she did need to get home, pronto.
The question was, how to get her there.
There was a massive line for a taxi, so bearing in mind this is an emergency, Beautiful Wife went to ask if we could get the next available one. The answer: The Rules say everyone must wait in line. No Exceptions.
But, we pointed out, this is a little girl with heatstroke and we needed to get her home and cooled down.
The Rules say all must wait in line. No Exceptions.
Could her Daddy the Fireman come and get her then?
The Rules say Private Vehicles Are Not Permitted.
We pointedly watched several private cars pulling up and collecting people.
Well, you could go and fill in a form requesting an audience with the person in charge of the festival, who would require full vehicle details, registration number, drivers insurance details and safety record, and if satisfied will issue another form requesting Special Permission for a private vehicle to enter the festival area. We would have to take this to the traffic management office. If they were satisfied this was a genuine emergency, we would be issued with a form giving Special Permission for one vehicle to come and collect us*. It would be quicker to just wait for a Taxi. Hopefully it would be a ‘big’ one that The Rules say can carry seven people.
As all the taxis are the same type and they all apparently have four seats, this last bit was a mystery, but rather argue with someone wielding a Bt43z6 form and willing to use it, we went to join the queue.
Beautiful Wife worked out a relay system to get Niece to the Taxi stand at the right time which swung into action as we got to the front. A normal looking taxi turned up and the driver waved all seven of us on board. Eldest Son and I ended up sharing the front seat. Asked if there is an extra seatbelt.
No, just the one.
Sorry, isn’t this a bigger taxi? I asked.
No, answered the driver as the meter shot past a thousand yen and continued upwards, it was a standard four seat taxi like all the others, but as it was an emergency, he’d made an exception…
*This was mostly guesswork as there was no time to translate it. It may not have been quite this complex.
On the last day at college we went to visit a machine factory. The reason for this escaped me, and it didn’t help that we were allowed out a bit too late for the train home and just as a massive storm began. Note to tutors: most of us don’t have cars, it does not gain you any friends if you decide you’d like to see “one more thing” and make us miss our train, then get in your car a and drive off past us as we are running towards the station in the rain*.
As we arrived at the station the rain really started properly so we waited for a soggy half hour, then caught the train which took exactly six minutes to the main station.
There were two trains coming. The first would trundle a down the line for seven minutes then stop in the middle of nowhere. I’d then have to change for another train to Esslingen, our ‘big town’, where I would have exactly one minute to catch a bus up the hill. The next train ran direct but would get me to Esslingen just in time to see my bus leave and sit another half hour waiting for the next one to turn up.
I got on the first train, changed, arrived in Esslingen on time. ran through the station, out to bus station and arrived at my stop with seconds to spare. Victory.
Except that the bus wasn’t there.
Half an hour later the bus after the bus that wasn’t there also wasn’t there and none of the staff knew anything and I abandoned all hope and went looking for any bus that may be going roughly the right direction. Thus it was that I had a tour of another town some distance from home, found to a tram to the next village, and then had to walk across Next Village to where my bike was thankfully still locked to a bike rack, and cycled home. Total travel time: three hours. For a twelve kilometre journey.
All because my tutor wanted to look at a saw.
On the other hand, our system allows me to use my travel card on all public transport, so it didn’t cost me anything, it took so long I’d dried off by the time I was home, and at least it gives me something to blog about.
Perhaps I need to get out more.
*The ‘information’ we were given about the venue gave a long detailed description of roads and options for car parks, including a map, then concluded “If you are coming by public transport, you’ll need to work out where the station is”. Thanks for that.
I finally got myself moving and replaced the front light on the commuter bike. The old light had been flickering for a while and expired one morning on the way to college, naturally after I left the street lights of our village but before the short section on a busy main road. Fortunately there isn’t that much traffic at half past six in the morning.
At some point in the not too distant future I’m hoping to get a hub dynamo to replace the bottle dynamo I currently use, so the light has its own switch and a lot of wire that I’ve wrapped together and secured on the forks with tape.
This adds to the already chic apprarance of the bike no end.
I was going to leave the old light on the bike but the casing reflected most of the beam from the new light into my face, so it has gone in the spares drawer.
As an added advantage I no longer become invisible when I stop in traffic, and I can see where I’m going.
The bike is probably filthy as I’ve been riding it through puddles, mud, and runoff from the fields for a few days, but I haven’t seen it in daylight for weeks, and with three modular tests coming up at college cleaning will have to wait.
At least the light is now strong enough that I can see to avoid the horse poo.
I’ve been a commuter for a month now. Not a proper ‘fight against early morning drivers to claim back the road from motor vehicles’ commuter, more a sort of ‘ride blearily through the fields to the next village and abandon the bike for a bus’ commuter. I only have a few hundred metres of road where there’s traffic and at half past six in the morning there isn’t even that much of it.
I’ve even managed to find some decent covered cycle racks (ie, not wheel eaters) which are pretty safe. I know this because the old peoples home next door has used them as to stack several new rolls of linoleum for a couple of weeks.
Normally I leave home at leave home at about 0615 which gives me plenty of time to get everything ready, discover something is missing, panic, run about the house trying to search quietly so I don’t wake up Beautiful Wife, wake Beautiful Wife, look for the missing item where she has told me to look, find it, pack my bag and leave, and ride over the fields at a reasonable speed catch the bus at 0635. The strange thing is, if I happen to be late (ie. When I’ve lost something and Beautiful Wife isn’t able to guide me to it), no matter how hard I ride, it still takes me five minutes longer to ride the same distance.
It turns out that you can, with some effort, make a hole in ‘puncture proof’ tyres. I do not recommend this, of course, and it does take a surprising amount of work and incompetence, but I have managed it as follows:
Pump tyres up to 4 bar, (one bar under the maximum, but the person who worked this out probably thought the tyres would be used as they were meant to be: on flat roads. Under a lighter bike).
Take Xtracycle to garden for family picnic.
Before going home, load Xtracycle with remains of picnic, a bag of compost, several gardening tools, a large plant pot and some work boots.
Decide Youngest Son is too tired to ride home on his own.
Put youngest son on already overloaded Xtracycle. Strap his bike on to tow it home as well.
Consider leaving some things but then realise that means coming back to get them in half an hour. Decide you can’t be bothered.
On the way home, drive up a very steep, badly surfaced road, putting entire weight of (overloaded) Xtracycle, Youngest Son, and and a rider that is ‘cough’ kilogrammes heavier than strictly necessary, onto the back wheel.
Mash pedals to get up hill.
Fail to notice one particularly sharp bit of gravel embed itself into the thickest part of the back tyre under the pressure.
Continue riding (and probably overloading) the bike for the next two days.
Result: one unscheduled visit to the bike shop for a replacement tyre and inner tube.
I guess that’s why the tyres are sold as ‘puncture proof’ rather than ‘idiot proof’.