Mia Pusch - Rest in Peace

A young German cyclist killed in a collision with a truck in New Zealand in January described aggressive truck drivers as "beasts" just days before her death.

Mia Susanne Pusch, 19, arrived in New Zealand in early October and had been cycling around the country until her death last Tuesday.

Read more here

Below are photos and the speech made at the installation of a White Bike at the site of the accident.

Memorial speech for Mia on the occasion of the installation of a White Bike on August 31st 2010:

Mia Susanne Pusch from Kirtorf, Germany, was killed on January 5 this year at 11.50 a.m. She died here in an accident with a 40-ton-truck while she was riding her bike on this road. Mia was 19 years old (she would have been 20 on June 27th).  She had just finished school with  excellent marks and she had her life ahead of her. The following words were written by Mia's  high school principal in his obituary notice and they say a lot about Mia: 

„We remember her as a student and a personality who enriched courses and the life at the school with her enthusiasm as well as her eagerness for her fellow students. Her special interest was always focused on the essential and basic things of life.“  Her selfless zeal for her fellow people can be seen in various things: Whenever help was necessary, she actively tackled any problem. She was concerned about any kind of injustice. She protected those who are vulnerable. What is the essential and basic in our life? This is a question Mia dealt with continously. By the way she approached other people we can see that it was essential for her to be friendly,  to respect life and every human and to treat them with care. Also here in New Zealand Mia had a lot of good experiences: her parents and others would have given anything, if her final experience, the one with the truck, would have also been an attentive one.

Being a girl scout, for Mia it was a matter of course to explore other countries and to make new contacts – she was quite experienced in organizing travels, concentrated on the fundamental things and being modest. Therefore her family and her friends encouraged her to go to the other side of the earth, as the Germans say „the end of the world“. That this journey would be the end of her world, her life, nobody could guess.

On October 24th  she started fom Frankfurt, Germany, to experience New Zealand by bike for a couple of months. It is a testimony of her courage to do this on her own since she was not free of fear of the unknown. As a consequence her first messages were explicitly contained. She found it hard to be alone, she missed her friends, family and Jonathan, her boyfriend. But Mia was eager to experience and had a persevering attitude towards life. She got to know friendly people and on her bike she experienced freedom and being left to her own resources. On January 5th  she was already on her way back home. But she did not arrive safely.

There are no words for her parents' grief or our pain. Life is going on but some hours, some days are unbearable and there is only one desire: that the nightmare may end, that her voice and her laughter may be heard  not only in our minds but experienced in person. The nightmare however is reality: Mia is gone and we miss her painfully. The low penalty for the truck driver is bitter, even though the hardest possible punishment would not have brought „justice“. Until today there has not come a single word of mourning, condolence or repentance to Mia's family by the driver. On the other hand, the sympathies we received over borders and thousands of kilometres were and are overwhelming: We want to thank you for this from our hearts, also in behalf of Mia's parents. Jonathan and I also thank you very deeply for being here today in person or in mind, for all your support and friendliness.

In the first days after Mia's death Jonathan's and Mia's grandmothers asked in a threesome themselves independently from each other, why God chose to take her, it would have been their turn and not the one of this bright and upright young woman. No one of us can make this undone and we cannot determine the time of death. Particularly Mia's parents, her sister and Jonathan with God's help will have to learn to accept Mia's death.

I want to conclude with the desire that we may always remember what is essential in life: Being respectful and careful with each other and with the world we live in. That's what we can learn from Mia. And if we do,  New Zealand might even become what Mia  hoped for in vain: „A Pedaller's Paradise“.

(This speech was mainly written by Jutta Rattunde,  translated by Gesa Pusch/Marion Rattunde. Final review: Norbert Guggenbichler)


I rode from New Plymouth to Palmerston North in November after the cycling conference and CAN Do, and so would have used the same piece of SH3 as this crash. My experience of the many trucks on the road was that many left larger gaps if they could.
in 3 days of riding on SH3 I only had one truck that was agressive and frightening.

I ride with a rear vison mirror so when I hear a truck behind me I can glance in the mirror and judge if it is moving out or not to pass me. if there was oncoming traffic and I had room I would generally move a little more to the left to increase the passing clearance. often this would prompt a short friendly toot of the horn.

In general the rural state highways in NZ have more width and so more room for passing than I think they did 10 or 20 years ago, and have more width/room than other rural arterial or feeder routes.

Many New Zealand cycle riders who have ridden a lot on state highway and rural roads will know what to expect from NZ drivers of trucks and cars and act accordingly. Overseas riders, and less experienced local riders, may not.

Stephen Wood , based in Central Otago

Many older passing lanes on state highways were created by widening the road and narrowing the shoulder to create two lanes side by side (in one direction) to create passing opportunities. This often meant that a previously tolerable road shoulder (for cyclists) was narrowed so that not so much work/money was needed to create the passing lane - but cyclists were disadvantaged. Adding insult to injury (or perhaps contributing to them), the passing lanes were narrower than other lanes before or after the passing lanes, putting trucks even closer to cyclists.

CAN was instrumental in changing this practice about five years ago.

It will be interesting to see whether lane widths before, after and within the passing lane area are investigated and whether adequate design standards are met for this section of state highway.

I remember there being generally good shoulders on SH3 in this region, but wasn't watching for how they changed at the passing lanes. I did notice other pinch points like bridges and laned interections in towns, and would try and avoid being in them at the same time as heavy vehicles. it's unfortunate if there are passing lanes which are effectively still pinch points for cyclists, as they're also several hundred metres long and the other traffic may be concentrating on passing, or being passed by, other motor vehicles.

I nearly always knew what was coming and how close they were from using the mirror, and I think I'd have felt a lot less comfortable without it.

Stephen Wood , based in Central Otago

[The comments to this article have not commented on the tragedy, we obviously don't know what happened only the terrible result. We cannot imagine the grief of the family and our thoughts and prayers are with them.]

Comment on the comments:

A road shoulder is not normally for moving traffic; it may to provide space to allow a vehicle to be stopped out of the moving traffic, for emergencies, etc. Road shoulders are not traffic lanes, or cycle lanes.

An AA spokesperson in response to the 1.5m campaign was recently reported as saying:

"BikeNZ should in our view be advocating for our roads to be engineered with a 1.5m-wide sealed shoulder on each side, not restricting the use of our current lanes by the majority of road users."

(let's ignore the slight math error that 1.5 passing distance requires a 1.5m lane as cyclists are paper thin...)

The AA, advocating for motorists and doing a good job as such, are clearly providing support for the view that cyclists should not occupy the same lanes as motorists. Further in advocating such an unreasonable goal (nobody is going to rebuild the NZ road network) providing the fuel for those who are already arguing that without such provision cyclists should be banned from a road.

Maybe supporting the notion that cyclists should not ride in the traffic but off the edge of the normal traffic lanes is not something that CAN should promote? Maybe it encourages the view that cyclists are not legitimate traffic on the road, and increases the danger to cyclists. Just a thought.

And before someone also falls into the trap that some roads are simply dangerous, and so facilities are required, let's make it clear that very few roads in the world are actually dangerous.

There is one in Hawaii on which rental car companies ban their vehicles - it is apparently concern that tourists unaccustomed to the thin air (its a very high road) will lose proper motor control (or worse). There are a few hairy roads in NZ, tacked to the side of steep mountains and without proper surfaces. However all these are the exception rather than the rule. Roads are not dangerous.

Now how a road is used, and the signage (or lack of it) indicating how a road is used, might produce danger. This is clearly addressable, other countries manage it.

In Norway it is the law that you cannot pass unless you can do so with a clear sight of so many metres past the vehicle you are overtaking. The law is obeyed. Having cycled along narrow windy hilly roads in Norway I can tell you what a shock it is when a large lorry comes up behind you, slows, and stays a pleasant (not simply safe) distance behind you until it is safe to pass. You're in the middle of nowhere, all alone, and your right to a pleasant (and not simply safe) passage is respected by someone who could easily deny it. In NZ such roads would be falsely called "dangerous", they are not.

What do you do if the road width make four lanes (2 cycle, 2 motor vehicle) impossible? Well you mark three lanes... http://tinyurl.com/y9wl4dm (Google street view, I've had the pleasure of riding this road as well). The vehicle approaching the camera car is over the cycle lane *only* because there are no cyclists. Had there been the vehicle would have waited behind the cyclists - no overtaking unless it is safe. Use Google to travel along the road and you'll find more cars and cyclists which will show you how it works. Such roads in the Netherlands are rare in my experience, they usually provide sufficient lanes for the traffic volume (so many roads DO NOT have any special cycle facilities at all); but here for whatever reason the traffic volume/width are an issue so they use what they've got in a sensible manner. The road is not dangerous.

So a(nother) suggestion for 2010: roads are not dangerous, cyclists belong on the road and not in the gutter.

Her father Marcus has expressed his despair. Here's an English translation:

“You can have no idea how extraordinary she was. She was my daughter and so much more. She was intelligent and she loved life. She had a clever, open mind. Though she was only 19 she thought deeply and so perceptively about people and life. I had to be careful not to let myself accept too much advice from her. After Easter she was intending to do a traineeship in our firm and after that perhaps to train in software development. This is an opportunity no longer open to her. I have lost all that I held most dear.”

And here's a facebook group, Mia Pusch - NZ cyclists mourn you:

New Zealand might even become what Mia hoped for: "A Pedaller's Paradise“.

2 August 2010
Young German tourist Mia Pusch was remembered at a poignant ceremony near Bulls on Saturday.

Around 30 people, including her boyfriend, Jonathan Guggenbichler, and his father, Norbert, gathered at the spot on SH3 north of Bulls where the 19-year-old was hit by a truck and killed on January 5.

A minute's silence was observed, then those who wished to shared their thoughts. These included a Wanganui woman who saw the accident and talked to Ms Pusch as she lay dying.

The memorial was organised by Whanganui Green Bikes, in consultation with Ms Pusch's family. A white bike, with Ms Pusch's name on it, was placed at the scene and people left flowers beside it.

Truck driver Ronald Cleeve, 67, pleaded guilty and was convicted of one charge of careless driving causing death. He was sentenced in the Marton Court and disqualified from driving for 12 months and ordered to pay $5000 to Ms Pusch's family.



Dear Editor,
Mia Pusch was a remarkable young woman. I would have been very proud to have her as my daughter. I never met her, however, as she never made it to Whanganui, being killed by a truck and trailer just north of Bulls, on her way here on 5 January this year. I did have the privilege of meeting, and looking after her boyfriend, Jonathan and his father Norbert last week.

I was happy to have them stay with me for a few nights, while they prepared for the memorial event on the roadside last Saturday. I would like to record my admiration for the Green Bikes' duo, Jonah and Hadi for their organisational skills and their sensitivity in organising the memorial, and the Chronicle for its equally sensitive reporting.

As a Victim Support worker, I know that everyone else involved in this terrible fatality - the police, emergency services, transport officials and others did their very best and a particular thanks to Marton Police for the way they handled the transfer of Mia's personal effects to Norbert and Jonathan. You cannot imagine what it was like to go through these in my basement.

We went through part of her journey in our NZ  'Pedallers' Paradise' , the title of the guide book she was following. But the fact is, we are not a paradise for cycle tourists, or for other cyclists. Too many are being killed on our roads. I hope that the Coronial Inquiry into former chief traffic policeman, Steve Fitzgerald's death two years ago - also killed by a truck - widens its scope to other deaths and to recommend to the authorities, some solutions.

As a former heavy truck driver, I know that drivers are under many pressures, especially long hours on the road. We need to wake up, New Zealand and deal with this. Also, now is not the time for Green Bikes to be shut down through lack of funding. It is another Whanganui icon and we should act to save it.

kind regards,
Dave Feickert