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I'm in a town in Bavaria, Germany and the local custom with the more dangerous corners is to honk a horn or ring a bell. Will this actually make me safer?

Currently I am cycling in a half-urban environment. Having moved recently, I find the new city's biking infrastructure to be fairly dangerous, with many intersections designed to be dangerous ("traffic slowdown") and with new, not-yet-well-known yielding rules where most people still speed through without slowing down to look first.

Knowing that the safest conduct would be very slow cycling (but impractical given the density of dangerous places), I've taken to auditory messaging, i.e. ringing my bell before dangerous places and corners, and I know quite some people who have upgraded their bell to a horn to gain some safety. On the other hand, I've spoken with a number of residents who find this excessive bell-ringing and horn-honking disturbing, especially the people living at these dangerous corners.

Does an auditory signal appreciably improve my safety?

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I can see a use when coming up to a completely blind corner, to warn a cyclist or pedestrian coming the other way, but that's about all it its useful for. Car drivers won't hear. –  Rory Alsop Oct 5 '11 at 15:41
    
I've edited this question to try and make it less "chatty" and more specific. Please feel free to fix it if I got some details wrong. –  freiheit Oct 5 '11 at 22:07
    
@freiheit: Thanks for the feedback and improvements, all details right and I agree on the specificity. –  thiton Oct 6 '11 at 7:21
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We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

4 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

In the UK, a car's use of the horn is meant to be limited: Highway Code rule 112 (n.b. capitalised phrases are generally indicative of the legal position):

Use only while your vehicle is moving and you need to warn other road users of your presence. Never sound your horn aggressively. You MUST NOT use your horn : * while stationary on the road * when driving in a built-up area between the hours of 11.30 pm and 7.00 am except when another road user poses a danger.

This is generally good advice and there are plenty of examples (some encoded in signage) where a quick toot on the car's horn (e.g. before a narrow bridge) is positively encouraged - this would go for bikes too.

But is it excessive?

I guess it's a case by case basis, but if you think that someone is coming around the blind bend and would react to your bell-ringing, then yes. If your bell-ringing is combined with your slowing down and taking an appropriately defensive position as well, then yes. If the bell-ringing is just an abnegation of your responsibility and a cover for your being able to just barrel around the corner without paying due care and attention, then almost certainly not.

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You are from Germany so German laws are relevant. In this case §16 I StVO.

(1) Schall- und Leuchtzeichen darf nur geben
  1. wer außerhalb geschlossener Ortschaften überholt (§ 5 Abs. 5) oder
  2. wer sich oder andere gefährdet sieht.

Attempt at translating to English:

(1) Sound and light signals may only be used:
    1. when passing (overtaking) outside urban areas (§ 5 para 5) or
    1. when seeing yourself or others at risk

So if you see a danger you may use it.

For practical terms it depends, as always, on the situation. I like ringing my bell, but I'm cautious with it. Too often I have seen that people are confused and stop or go to the wrong side or something. There are a few corners though which are quite narrow where I can't see what's coming where I make it dependent on my speed whether I ring or not. If I'm slow enough to stop in the case of something coming my way I'm often silent. When I'm faster I warn people who might hide behind a corner. Often it is better to ring once too much and annoy some people than not ringing and having an accident.

Greetings from Munich, btw. :)

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+1 for the citation and welcome to bikes.se. Does §16 I StVO apply to all vehicles (rather than just bicycles) using 'sound and light signals' for 1) overtaking when outside of urban areas or 2) if there is some danger? –  ʍǝɥʇɐɯ Oct 8 '11 at 6:57
    
I used google translate and some educated guesses about intent to provide a translation of that law into English so people other than you and thiton can understand. Somebody who knows German should feel free to fix my translation attempt. –  freiheit Oct 8 '11 at 15:32
    
@ʍǝɥʇɐɯ: §2 para 4 StVO has rules about cyclists (Radfahrer), cycling (Radwege) and bicycles (Radverkehr), and google is translating some things as "motor vehicle" and others as just "vehicle", so it sure looks like the above paragraph applies to bicycles. –  freiheit Oct 8 '11 at 15:45
    
§16, as most of StVO (which is Straßenverkehrsordnung - Road usage act) is valid for all sorts of vehicles using public roads of any kind. The mentioned §2 para 4 is one of the few cycling-specific rules. "Fahrzeug" is any form of vehicle. –  johannes Oct 9 '11 at 0:50
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I understand that there are some places in Europe where everyone driving a car honks their horn at every corner. That's probably excessive (and relatively useless).

(For the US-ians among us:) Unlike the US, in parts of Europe (such as Norway, where I've visited several times) and other parts of the world there is no established "pecking order" for one street having right-of-way over another, other than "the car on the right has the right-of-way". Even cars in driveways have right-of-way when pulling out. This works pretty well where streets are wide (and the drivers are well-adapted to the concept), but breaks down in many narrow urban streets (though the US concept of through roads would be equally problematical there).

I think the main problem is that auditory warnings (especially bells) are relatively ineffective. All the cars have their windows up, running AC, and with the radio on. Pedestrians have iPods in their ears. And those that don't are apparently deaf already.

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+1 Agreed. I live in semi-rural England, but the little town gets very busy with tourists, and the roads were designed for horse and cart. Bells and horns won't achieve anything, so keep alert - and learn to bunny hop... –  cmannett85 Oct 4 '11 at 11:52
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The (infamous) Priorité a droite is slowly being phased out in much of France and elsewhere, as the OP says about the yielding rules. A phrase like "cars in driveways have right-of-way when pulling out" is as likely to be false as it is true - probably more so. –  Unsliced Oct 4 '11 at 12:03
    
Yes the traffic laws (including priorités) in France are pretty well-defined, IMO. Some traffic signs are cryptic though (shapes and colours without words or pictograms). –  ChrisW Oct 5 '11 at 3:44
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I use the bell if I see a pedestrian (or, a cyclist coming up from a cross-road to our intersection) who I think might move into my right-of-way, and who has not (yet) noticeably seen me. I use it a lot, on the order of 20 times an hour.

I also use it when I don't see anyone, as I enter a blind corner, when I'm prepared to brake if someone is in the wrong place: then my bell might help the other person (if there is one) to prepare to brake too.

I don't use it to force my way through a pedestrian crossing when pedestrians have right of way.

I beware that a pedestrian may be deaf or inattentive.

I don't expect or hope that a driver will hear it.

I usually use it, as I overtake a bicycle, especially in traffic when I want them to not swerve.

I use it as soon as I see an unlit bike on a dark path.

I use it when I cycle through a flock of geese around and on the bike path in daylight: it might ad to their awareness (I haven't tested not ringing).

Sometimes I ring it to warn pedestrians of the cyclists in front of me: part of my commute is a mixed pedestrian/bike path on which the bikes may have right way; once (frantic ringing) it was a pedestrian about to step off the sidewalk into a bike path without looking.

Once I scolded a rider for not using his bell. After checking that his bike was equipped with a bell, I said, "You should put that bell where you can reach it" (he had it on the down tube).

Many bikes have no bell (I rarely hear another rider use their bell; sometimes in reply to mine), although they are legally required in this province.

I often use it when I'm riding in the door lane, especially as I pass tall parked vehicles that I can't see past, in case a pedestrian or the vehicle's driver is walking round the vehicle expecting the door lane to be empty of traffic (on that street the alternative to the door lane would be to ride in the centre lane which has inset streetcar tracks and so is dangerous).

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Also I think that may be some gesture to the fact that in many places having a bell is a requirement by law, and he didn't want it taking up space on his handlebars if he never planned to use it. I don't think laws get all that specific about placement of the bell. Also, I'm not sure where you could get a bell that would fit on a down tube. –  Kibbee Oct 5 '11 at 12:40
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