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The rules of the road

When you arrive in Denmark you learn quickly that you simply can’t get by without a bike. But what might be less obvious to you is that the Danes tend to observe strict cycling conventions and rules. UNIvers takes you on a guided cycling trip.

The Danish highway code is easy to follow – once you know it. Photo: Jesper Rais

Twenty-two per cent of the residents of Aarhus use their bikes to get to work or school every day, and 35 per cent use their bikes on a daily basis. The average cyclist bikes 5-6 kilometres a day, a figure that is increasing. The Danes have strict cycling conventions and rules, and they learn the highway code from an early age. But for those who are new to Aarhus, these rules might not be so clear.
Veri Hu is an international student from Germany who is studying French, Spanish and Scandinavian Studies at AU, and she definitely relies on her bike. “I ride it every day, to university, downtown and so on,” she says.
Veri has experienced other cyclists and cars honking or yelling at her several times when she did things wrong. For her, the hardest things to remember about the Danish biking laws are “Not driving on the wrong side of the road, and walking next to my bike when I’m on a zebra crossing.” She explains that “In Germany the rules are much easier and not that strict.”
She thinks that the Danish highway code is easy enough to follow once you know it. “I didn’t know the rules when I arrived, but I learned fast and people told me when I made mistakes.” However, Veri says that she would have appreciated some kind of guide for cyclists when she first got to Aarhus.

Watch out for potholes in the roads

Pablo Celis is a project manager and civil engineer in the Traffic and Transport Department of the Municipality of Aarhus. He reports that Danish and international students experience different problems when cycling in traffic. The biggest problem for Danes is their speed, which causes accidents and leads to misunderstandings. The biggest problem for international students involves getting to know not only the city but also the bike they’re riding on. For instance, at the moment international students need to watch out for potholes in the roads, which are extremely dangerous especially during winter. The ice sometimes makes these holes bigger overnight, explains Celis. “You have to keep your wits about you. If you’re from Denmark you know these things; but if you’re from California you don’t,” he says. He feels that Aarhus could do more to keep people informed – after all, it is a city full of students.

Road rage

Dorte from Denmark, who is studying for a Master’s degree in Media Science at AU, says that she rides her bike every day too. Dorte is completely familiar with the highway code in Aarhus. “When I was younger we got a course in biking, so I know all the rules. I think it’s easy to remember these rules, but that’s probably because I’m used to them.” She explains that she sometimes yells and rings her bell at other bikers “Because they don’t know the rules!”
Dorte says that it would be helpful if the international students could attend a class or course when they first arrive in Denmark because many of them aren’t used to biking and use their bikes often.
According to Pablo Celis, one of the problems for Danish road-users is that cyclists and car drivers have to share the same limited space. “It can cause road rage,” he says. Even though the Danes might look as if they’re obeying all the rules of the road, there is also lots of bad behaviour, like biking through red lights at intersections or biking over pedestrian crossings. “Most problems come from aggressive drivers and cyclists, and this is a problem in terms of safety.”
Every year in the last week of February and the first week of March, the police run a campaign to encourage better behaviour. “This minimises bad behaviour and teaches cyclists to do things right by giving them a fine when they do things wrong,” reports Celis. “When bikers break the rules it gives cycling a bad image. This is why we have to improve.”

Suggestions on how to ride safely:

Keep your eyes open and take more care.

Have your bike serviced and maintained on a regular basis.

Never underestimate the time it takes to brake and come to a standstill.

Always look four times before crossing an intersection – keep your eye on cars turning left or right in front of you.

Pump your tyres (there are stations for this around the city and along bike routes) and wear a helmet (the hospital reports that when accidents occur most people can simply walk home afterwards providing they had a
helmet on).

No lights after lighting-up time
DKK 700
Using a hand-held mobile phone while cycling
DKK 1,000
Defective brakes, reflectors etc.
DKK 700
Ignoring a red light
DKK 1,000
Cycling against the flow of traffic
DKK 1,000
Cycling on a pedestrian crossing
DKK 700
Cycling in the wrong direction in a bike lane
DKK 700
Ignoring road signs or arrows
DKK 700
Failing to give way when necessary
DKK 1,000
Failing to give hand signals
DKK 700
Cycling without keeping your hands on the handlebars
DKK 700
Cycling on pavements or paths for pedestrians
DKK 700
Hanging on to another vehicle
DKK 700
Cycling two on a bike (fine for both)
DKK 700
Wrong road position before/while turning
DKK 700
Having a bell that does not work DKK 700