Thursday, 30 May 2013

Germany's industrial lobbyism kills people

It's always depressing to see how successfully industrial lobbyism influences a country that regards itself as a democracy.

Sure, Germany doesn't have much to commend itself apart from its economy. People wouldn't come to live here for the food, well-paid jobs or, heaven forbid, its hospitality. So the economy is important enough to be foremost on politician's mind.

As one consequence, it has proved impossible to enforce the EU-wide smoking ban in Germany. All restaurants, caf├ęs and pubs have smoking rooms for indoor smoking, and smoking is allowed by default in all outdoor areas. This means that spending time at a beer garden invariably means breathing in cold cigarette smoke instead of the scent of nature that you're supposedly enjoying. Likewise, public buildings such as train stations always offer lots of opportunities for smokers, frequently merely demarcated by a line on the ground which does not prevent everybody on the platform from being affected by the smoke.

In addition to the fact that living a smoke-free life is not an option in Germany, another effect is that the result intended by the EU legislation cannot be achieved in this country. In order to move people to reduce or give up smoking you need strong disincentives, and this includes drastically reducing the time in a person's life when smoking is possible. With all its loopholes, Germany's legislation ensures there aren't any such disincentives.

Another vitally important industry for Germany are its car manufacturers. So of course they can take tremendous influence through lobbying institutions like the ADAC.

A great success of this lobbying is the way cycle lanes are designed in German cities, particularly Berlin: there are as many accident-prone intersections of cycle and motor vehicle lanes at each junction as possible. According to German highway code, a cyclist going straight across an intersection has priority over motor traffic taking a right turn. However, the straight-running cycle lane is placed to the right of the right-turning vehicle lane, so each time a driver misjudges the speed of an approaching cyclist or doesn't see them, a potentially fatal accident will happen.

Even more ridiculously, roundabouts are implemented in an analogous way with a cycle path running around the outside of the entire roundabout! As a result, a cyclist who wishes to remain in the roundabout has to cross the lane of traffic leaving the roundabout at each intersection. Because the highway code gives them priority, cars wanting to leave the roundabout have to wait until the cyclist passes, backing up the traffic currently in the roundabout. This is exactly the situation that roundabouts are designed to prevent by giving the traffic in the roundabout priority over vehicles entering the roundabout. But this design is turned entirely on its head by providing a cycle lane in a place that stops the circulating traffic.

It's easy to see that industrial lobbyism does not account for people's lives, and if politicians regard the industrial economy as important enough neither do they. We will never know how many people's lives are lost due to the inability to reduce passive-smoking, and how many cyclists get crushed on roads and intersections specifically designed to get them into the way of motor traffic.

But it is ironic that Germans are adamant about being a civilised, cycle-friendly nation while at the same time being the most law-abiding society who follow rules imposed on them without questioning their benefit, even if they're put in place to cause other people's death.