Cyclist's widow wants truck drivers to experience vulnerability her husband felt

Helmut Gromer, who was killed while cycling to his home in Napier from his clinic in Hastings.
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Helmut Gromer, who was killed while cycling to his home in Napier from his clinic in Hastings.

The widow of a cyclist killed in a collison involving a truck wants it to be mandatory for all truckies to spend time on a bike or at a roadside to feel just how vulnerable they are.

Helmut Gromer, 54, died last Thursday while cycling to his Napier home from Totara Health, in Hastings, where he worked as a GP.

Ursula Steinkohl returned the following day to the site where her husband was killed, in an effort to gauge how the accident could have happened.

Widow Ursula Steinkohl, and Cycling Action Networks spokesman Patrick Morgan, said Gromer's death highlighted the need ...
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Widow Ursula Steinkohl, and Cycling Action Networks spokesman Patrick Morgan, said Gromer's death highlighted the need for better training for drivers of heavy vehicles. (File photo)

Steinkohl, who is also a GP, said he was a keen cyclist and would often make the trip home by bike.

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He was hit on a straight section of Brookfields Rd, about 40 metres from the intersection with Gilberston Rd in Pakowhai, at 6.20pm last Thursday.

Gromer, the father of two adult children, was "our best friend", he widow said. "He was a very kind, loyal and ...
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Gromer, the father of two adult children, was "our best friend", he widow said. "He was a very kind, loyal and honourable person."

Steinkohl said he was a careful rider, and police had told her he was not at fault.

A funeral for the father of two adult children was held in Napier on Wednesday.

The couple had cycled throughout Europe, and Gromer's dream was to one day cycle around the world.

A Hastings District Council spokeswoman said a cycle lane was due to be added to Brookfields Rd, where Gromer died, by ...
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A Hastings District Council spokeswoman said a cycle lane was due to be added to Brookfields Rd, where Gromer died, by the end of this year. (File photo)

Steinkohl said she would like to see some good come from his Helmut's death.

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"We have often felt that cycling was not as safe in New Zealand as other countries. Sharing a road with trucks going at 90kmh that come so close to you as you're riding is very unsafe.

"I think road design is responsible in some places, but I do think truck drivers need to know how it feels as a cyclist.

Road Transport Forum spokesman Hayden Cox said it was working with NZTA on ways to make rural roads safer for cyclists. ...
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Road Transport Forum spokesman Hayden Cox said it was working with NZTA on ways to make rural roads safer for cyclists. (File photo)

"I really do think it should be part of their training for them to spend time on a bike, or stand on the side of the road when these trucks pass."

The family moved from Germany to spend a year in Gisborne in 2009. They returned to Germany, but knew they wanted to come back and, about five years ago, they came to Napier.

Gromer was a consummate doctor, with a strong and instinctive interest in the welfare of others, Steinkohl said.

"He was our best friend. He was a very kind, loyal and honourable person. And humorous. He always made others laugh.

"He was interested in everything we were doing. He loved his children very much. When our son told him about a book he was reading, Helmut went and read it too, so they could discuss it.

"When our daughter changed to a gluten-free diet, Helmut tried it too. He really wanted to understand people.

"We love New Zealand. We have no regrets about moving here. But it's a bit hard now. When bad things happen, it's hard to be far away from family.

"I went back to the site at 6.20pm the next day. It is a straight piece of road on a clear day. I am at a loss as to how this could have happened."

Police said the serious crash unit was still investigating the crash.

Road Transport Forum spokesman Ken Shirley said a compulsory regime making truck drivers spend time on a bicycle "is probably impractical".

Shirley said the forum and its associations encouraged its members to participate in Share the Road workshops. Run around the country for several years now, they educate both heavy vehicle drivers and cyclists on how better to share the road with each other.

The forum has also lobbied the Government for greater separation of cyclists from other road users, and better facilities for cyclists where possible.

"We are also working with NZTA to investigate ways in which to make rural roads safer for cyclists," Shirley said.

Cycling Action Networks spokesman Patrick Morgan said Gromer's death highlighted the need for better training for drivers of heavy vehicles.

Five of the seven most recent cyclist fatalities had involved a truck, he said, and he encouraged all cyclists and truck drivers to attend the Share the Road workshops.

He believed said the Government was not moving quickly enough to protect people on the roads.

"It's been 2½ years since the Cycling Safety Panel recommended 15 high-priority actions to make our roads safer ... Nothing has come out of the recommendation to investigate truck safety features.

"Roads with wide shoulders are safer for everyone, and we call on Hastings District Council to make quick progress on fixing black spots like Brookfields Rd."

A council spokeswoman said a cycle lane was due to be added to Brookfields Rd by the end of this year.

 - Stuff

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