German bike helmet ads labeled stupid and sexist

German politicians have criticized a Transport Ministry advertising campaign that features scantily clad women and men wearing bike safety helmets. The posters feature the slogan: "Looks like sh*t. But saves my life."

The German Transport Ministry's provocative marketing campaign to boost the use of helmets while riding bikes has been denounced as sexist by several female politicians.

Nature and Environment | 03.04.2018

"It is embarrassing, stupid and sexist for the transport minister to be selling his policies using naked skin," said Maria Noichl, the chairperson of the Working Group of Social Democratic Women (ASF), in an interview with the Bild am Sonntag newspaper. She said the posters "must come down."

The ministry said that "many young people go without helmets for aesthetic reasons. And the campaign aims to change that!" 

The ad can be seen in several German cities this week.

Nature and Environment | 09.08.2018

Read more: What Berlin can learn from Germany's cycling metropolis Münster

Taxpayer money for 'sexist' ads

The deputy leader of the SPD's parliamentary group for women, Katja Mast, also called the campaign "embarrassing, stale and sexist."

"Taxpayer money should not be spent to put half-naked women and men on posters," she told the Passauer Neue Presse on Saturday.

How to ride a bike in Germany

Bike license

Children in Germany become acquainted with bikes at a very young age. Practically before they can walk, toddlers can be seen scooting around on pedal-free wooden bike-like constructions known literally as a "run wheel" in German. A few years down the track, police officers come to schools to guide 8-to-9-year-olds through an official "bicycle license" program, where kids learn traffic rules.

How to ride a bike in Germany

Find a good spot

Münster (above) in north-western Germany was named the country's most bike-friendly city in 2015, according to a poll of over 100,000 cyclists by German Cycling Club ADFC. Karlsruhe and Freiburg came in second and third, respectively. Needless to say, big cities don't mesh well with two-wheelers. Berlin came in 30th due to parked cars on bike paths, construction sites and uncleared winter snow.

How to ride a bike in Germany

Plan your route

Germany's is strewn with an extensive network of cycling paths. They lead bikers into woods (like the Bavarian Forest), urban jungles (like the cycling "Autobahn" across the Ruhr region), and through agricultural delights, like the Ahr Valley path pictured here. The region is known for its hillside vineyards and red wine. Legs getting tired? Just stop and enjoy a glass of the local specialty.

How to ride a bike in Germany

Be nice to stray pedestrians

With so many designated bike paths in Germany, cyclists are inclined to take them seriously. That means if you aren't rushing to your destination on your two-wheeler, then get off the path! And we mean pronto. If you're on foot or cycling too slowly, you run the risk of bells driving you insane — or getting yelled at or run over. If you're a biker, please be kind to those who forget the rules.

How to ride a bike in Germany

Sunday in Germany

When the first rays of spring sun make their grand appearance, flocks of bike riders take to their local paths. If you look carefully, you might spot a small phenomenon: An abundance of elderly couples with matching cycling shirts and his-and-her bicycles. The sight is enough to make anyone fall in love again.

How to ride a bike in Germany

Dress appropriately

In spring most of us have to come to grips with the Christmas cookies and Easter chocolate we've been hiding behind our baggy sweaters for the past few months. While Spandex is not very compatible with winter blubber, its sweat-whisking capabilities are practical — and Germany loves everything practical. No matter how seriously they cycle, many bikers in Germany make a point of dressing the part.

How to ride a bike in Germany

Rule number 1

The most important bike rule in Germany is: Don't ride drunk. This might seem absurd, since bikes are an ideal alternative to driving drunk. Up to a certain blood-alcohol content, this may be true. But a very inebriated cyclist is at least as dangerous to the nearest car driver as vice versa. That's why you can lose your driving license if you're caught swerving too much. Next time, call a taxi.

How to ride a bike in Germany

A little help never hurt

Riding a bike in Germany doesn't mean you can't afford a car. It's a legitimate means of transportation, not just a piece of sports equipment. That's why it's also perfectly acceptable to get a bit of assistance from a small motor. So-called e-bikes are not an uncommon sight — though they're admittedly most prevalent among certain age groups.

How to ride a bike in Germany

Carry your bike

In Germany, you're allowed to take your bike on trams and trains (with a special ticket). But beware: You might get mean looks if you try to cram your huge, greasy two-wheeler onto a packed tram on a hot day. Can't you just ride to your destination? That's where foldable bikes come in handy. They take up less space — and keep your fellow tram passengers happy, too.

Josephine Ortleb, also from the SPD's parliamentary group for women, told the paper that the campaign needed "neither women as objects, naked skin nor sexism to make young people aware of cycling safety."

She said the "sex sells" campaign proves that the government urgently needs a strategy for gender equality.

A Transport Ministry spokesman defended the campaign, citing figures showing that only 8 percent of bike riders aged 17-30 wear helmets.

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The spokesman told German news agency EPD that the main target group was young people who refuse to wear them for aesthetic reasons.

An initial evaluation had revealed that the campaign has been effective at reaching out to the target audience.

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Victim blaming

The posters, however, drew further criticism on social media for other reasons, including accusations of victim blaming by emphasizing the need to wear helmets.

Others blamed drivers and a lack of separate cycle lanes in several German cities for the number of accidents involving cyclists.

Read more: German activists start shaming irresponsible car parkers with yellow cards

However, many social media users, along with Germany's road safety association DVR, backed the suggestive ads.

"It's important to reach the target group of young people because the helmet wearing rate in this age group is terribly low. We succeeded in doing that," said Christian Kellner, the DVR's chief executive.

"The helmet cannot prevent accidents, but it can protect against life-threatening head injuries."

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Münster: Cycling capital

Number of cycling deaths drop

The number of accidents involving injuries to cyclists in Germany has stayed "more or less consistent" between 2000 and 2017, the latest year from which figures are currently available, according to a report from the German transport ministry.

In 2017, 382 people were killed in cycling accidents. That represents a drop of 42 percent compared to the year 2000.

Older cyclists were much more likely to die in an accident with 65 percent of cyclists killed in 2017 over 60 years old, a figure partly explained by an increased use in electric bicycles, the report said.

The number of cyclists wearing helmets rose slowly to 17 percent in 2017 but the numbers varied drastically across different age groups. Whereas 72 percent of 6- to 10-year-olds wore a helmet, less than 10 percent of 17-30 year-olds — the target group of the new campaign — used them.

In the rest of Europe, between 15 and 17 percent of cyclists wore helmets in Finland, the United Kingdom and Sweden compared to 6 and 7 percent in Switzerland and Norway.

Read more: Which German cities are the most bicycle-friendly?

Put a lid on it?

The debate over whether helmets should be mandatory has been contested over the years. A 2019 study from Australia, where helmets must be worn, said deaths fell by 46 percent immediately after the law was introduced in 1990-92.

Other health professionals in that country argued mandatory helmet laws saw a significant fall in cycling in general, possibly outweighing the health and safety intentions of the rules.

In the Netherlands where cycling is notoriously popular, the government has traditionally privileged the cyclist in its regulations, making streets generally safer for them to use rather than putting responsibility on the individual cyclist.

Read more: The Netherlands tests heated cycle lanes

ta, mm/rt (dpa, epd)

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