Poor Cyclists Key to Safe Roads

Are poor cyc­lists and a lais­sez-faire atti­tude to enfor­cing road laws on them the key to safer roads? Are those that cycle on the wrong side of the road, ped­al on the pave­ment and rush along one-way streets the wrong way one of the main reas­ons why the Neth­er­lands has some of the safest roads in the world?

After writer Caleb Crain con­ver­ted from way­ward biker to obed­i­ent cyc­list (using two simple rules: Bike in such a way that even rel­at­ively inat­tent­ive drivers can be expec­ted to see you and know what you’re going to do next, and Don’t be annoy­ing to ped­es­tri­ans) he read the fol­low­ing that made him ques­tion his new-found indig­na­tion toward bike sal­mon:

I was there­fore inter­ested, and a little chastened, to read in Jeff Mapes’s Ped­al­ing Revolu­tion: How Cyc­lists Are Chan­ging Amer­ic­an Cit­ies, that mor­al indig­na­tion about the adher­ence of bicyc­lists to traffic laws is absent from the Neth­er­lands, the uto­pia of cyc­ling, which has, Mapes reports, “the low­est per-cap­ita vehicle death rate in Europe,” about a third that of the United States. Except for the require­ment that bicycles on the road at night have lights, Dutch police do not enforce traffic laws on cyc­lists. Explains Mapes:

The Dutch don’t see much sense in going after cyc­lists and walk­ers when the only people they are put­ting at risk are them­selves. “It’s their choice,” shrugged [Ams­ter­dam top traffic-safety offi­cial Jack] Wolters. … The stat­ist­ics seem to bear him out. … One influ­en­tial 2003 study, by research­ers John Pucher and Lewis Dijk­stra, found Amer­ic­an cyc­lists were at least three times as likely to get killed as Dutch cyc­lists, while Amer­ic­an ped­es­tri­ans faced at least six times the danger of dying.

4 thoughts on “Poor Cyclists Key to Safe Roads

  1. dolf

    that It might be, I always thought that the low num­ber of deaths was *des­pite* the Dutch way of cyc­ling, not because of the way the Dutch cycle.

    A dif­fer­ent reas­ons for the low deaths in the Neth­er­lands might be that when a car and a cyc­list are in a traffic acci­dent, the liab­il­ity is always with the car driver even when, for example, the cyc­list had ignored a red light. This makes car drivers more alert.

    Anoth­er one might be that there is no per­son in the Neth­er­lands that is able to walk that doesn’t own a bicycle. A vis­it to Ams­ter­dam will bring this home, as there are more bikes there than people. There are cyc­lists in the Neth­er­lands, for sure. People who, in the week­end dress them­selves in Lycra to go out on a tour. But every­body else just rides their bikes. It is not a spe­cial thing to do, not a scene, not a hobby, it’s just a mode of trans­port. So, people in the Neth­er­lands really know how to cycle. One can always imme­di­ately recog­nise tour­ists on bikes in Ams­ter­dam. It is like watch­ing tod­dlers per­form in the Olympic 110m. hurd­ling.

    As an aside, the Dutch nev­er wear hel­mets when on their bikes. Maybe some chil­dren wear them nowadays, but when you see one on an adult cyc­list, 100% chance that per­son is for­eign.

  2. Lloyd Morgan Post author

    Dorf, I love these insights and in read­ing them I real­ise how true they are. My girl­friend is Dutch and I’m cur­rently in the pro­cess of mov­ing over there and these obser­va­tions are so very true.

    I’m a fairly pro­fi­cient cyc­list, but com­pared to the Dutch–even 10 year old girls–I’m a novice (or, as you say, a tod­dler per­form­ing in the Olympic 110m. Hurd­ling.)!

    I won­der if I’ll ever fit in!

  3. Pastaklovn

    I think it’s plaus­ible that the acci­dent rate is lower because cyc­lists are a part of the car driv­ing edu­ca­tion in the Neth­er­lands (and Den­mark and oth­er very bicycle-friendly coun­tries). That is, drivers there may be more “auto­mat­ic­ally” alert of even­tu­al cyc­lists in traffic than in coun­tries like the US, thus lower­ing the acci­dent rate.

    I love my bicycle, so if I had to move out of Den­mark, I would move to the Neth­er­lands!

  4. Lloyd Morgan Post author

    Yes, from my per­son­al obser­va­tions I’ve noticed that those driv­ing in the Neth­er­lands seem nat­ur­ally more alert than the Brit­ish (the only oth­er nation­al­ity I can com­pare with).

    There is more gen­er­al obser­va­tion, con­stantly look­ing out for pos­sible haz­ards, undoubtedly brought on by an upbring­ing sur­roun­ded by ped­es­tri­an and moun­ted haz­ards (cyc­lists).

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