August 15, 2013

The Netherlands: Bike-Friendly By Law

In the Netherlands, riding a bike to get from here to there is such a part of the psyche, that the Dutch don't even consider themselves a cyclist nation: it's an integral part of daily life. I have pointed out that the country's bike-friendliness comes from the fact that just about everybody bikes. That solidarity has always been there, but in the past decade it has been reinforced - strogly - by a change in traffic laws.

Photo Murdockcrc

When I was taught traffic rules in a Dutch fifth grade, the rules of thumb were simple: "Faster traffic has right of way". And "Traffic moving straight forward has right of way". That last bit meant that if you were on the bike path between the sidewalk and the car lanes, any car making a right turn crossing the bike path had to stop and wait for you to pass.

Rules are not that simple any more: inside cities, often the car has the lowest priority. And in the last decade or so, the law is tilted significantly in favour of slow traffic, in an acknowledgement of a plain physics fact: that if a collision should occur, the heavy guy always wins.

This is explained on the website of the ANWB, the Dutch automobile association (whose name, ironically, still means the "Dutch Cyclist Association"). This is what it says on their page on liability in case of accidents:

"In the case of a collision between a motor vehicle and a cyclist or pedestrian, the law provides for extra protection, since it considers the cyclist or pedestrian as the more vulnerable traffic participant. After all, a motor vehicle represents a higher risk for the surrounding traffic, because of its speed and weight.

"Basic Rule.
The driver of the motor vehicle is liable for the accident, unless he can prove otherwise. In practice, this is extremely difficult.

"Cyclist/pedestrian up to 14 years.
In the case of a collision between a motor vehicle and a cyclist or pedestrian under 14 years of age, the owner of the motor vehicle is almost always held liable for all damages sustained by the child.

"Cyclist/pedestrian 14 years and up.
In the case of a collision with a vulnerable traffic participant of 14 years or older, the driver is responsible for at least 50% of the damages, unless he can prove the accident is outside his control. In practice, the latter is unusual, and very difficult to prove. The 50% level is a lower limit."

So there you have it: the Dutch are bike-friendly, not just out of solidarity with their brethren on a bike, nor out of the kindness of their hearts alone: On top of those factors, there is a very large stick pushing Dutch drivers to be protective of cyclists and pedestrians. No wonder they insist on making roads as safe as possible for bikers. Since this change in the law was implemented, riding a bike in the Netherlands has gone from very easy and safe, to a downright amazing experience. Crossing the road as a pedestrian has also become much safer.

Communities trying to promote cycling and walking might want to consider this "encouragement" as a very effective means to awaken awareness among drivers of the cyclists sharing the road, and to pre-empt the aggression shown by drivers toward cyclists, which rears its ugly head in too many places, and which understandably discourages many risk-averse people (like moms) from riding their bikes on the road, or allowing their children to do the same.



You may also like:
1. How the Dutch got their Bicycle Paths
2. Ten Ways to Calm Car Traffic


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