Friday 21 April 2023

What's gone wrong with road safety in the Netherlands ?

The elephant at the cross-roads: It's not cyclists who are killing more cyclists than before, but more and larger cars such as this one which are killing more cyclists than before. Anti-social vehicles like these designed in such a way that vulnerable road users in front of them are largely invisible, should be illegal.

It's been much reported over the last few days that more people died on Dutch roads in 2022 than was the case in 2021. This not the first year in which that has happened - we have seen a rising trend over the last few years.

Who dies ?

2010 was the year when the fewest Dutch cyclists died. Since then the annual cyclist death rate has nearly doubled, from 162 in 2010 to 291 in 2022, reaching a level not seen in many decades (source)

Our media has presented this story as mainly being about older people dying more than before while cycling. This is not a new angle, I covered it 13 years ago. It is true that more than 150 of the total cyclist deaths, more than half, were of cyclists aged over 75 and it is of course the case that older people are more vulnerable in a crash. The media is also presenting the number of deaths of motorists, 225, against those of cyclists, 291, and suggesting that cyclists are somehow the problem and should change their behaviour. We apparently need to go slower, or wear helmets, or we look out more for other traffic, or there needs to be more police enforcement, or there should be more campaigns to tell us to behave ourselves. But this is all nonsense unless we look at where the danger actually comes from.

Who does the killing ?

This graph shows the cause of cyclist deaths. In 2021 and 2022 almost exactly the same number of cyclists deaths were without another cause, such as cyclists crashing against fixed objects. But the number of deaths due to crashes with private cars or delivery vans increased from 81 to 141, a 74% increase and deaths due to crashed with other motor vehicles rose from 46 to 65, a 41% increase (source

The main cause of death for cyclists is crashes with motor vehicles. Those crashes have been increasing at an astonishing rate. Crashes with motor vehicles were responsible for 127 cyclist deaths in 2021 compared with 206 in 2022. It would therefore be more reasonable to present the data as 431 deaths due to motor vehicles vs. 85 due to cyclists.

We're not going to fix this with car oriented policies

We know that cars are deadly but they're are also the mode of transport which is rising most steeply in this country.

More consumption cannot somehow lead to a greener more sustainable future, and that's especially the case when we're talking about more cars. But that's the path we're currently on thanks to the political "leadership" of the VVD.

We have a government which has spent decades trying to fix all the many problems caused by cars by encouraging ownership of ever more cars. We also have a media which presents the idea that cars could become slightly less affordable in an attempt to persuade people to buy less fossil fuel as a terrible problem which could only be addressed by subsidizing buying new cars. In this country even Car Free Day was somehow turned into an event featuring a parade of cars. It's mindless. We're famous internationally for cycling, but who would know ?

When fuel prices increased due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, our government jumped in immediately to subsidize fuel, a subsidy which was not removed after the prices dropped once again. Traffic jams are now worse than they were before the war and before covid because Dutch drivers are using more cars more than they ever have before. This is stimulated by a government which really should be trying to do something different, but which never changes its focus away from Vroom Vroom.

For a multitude of reasons, including the now very obviously rising trend of road deaths, we really do need to get people out of cars. But until we can shake off the ludicrous notion that more cars is always the answer to everything, including the completely absurd idea that buying a new car is the best way that a motorist can "do their bit" to prevent climate change, I think we're doomed to a future in which we will see higher and higher road deaths in the Netherlands, as well as more and more of all of the other problems caused by cars.

Update 28/4/2023
This week our government published its "ambitious" new plan for the climate. So far as transport is concerned they're really doing only one thing and that's encouraging more cars. If you already bought a car with a subsidy and now want to sell it to buy another there's especially good news because the buyer will also receive a subsidy to buy your car second hand. The roads are increasingly full of cars and our hospitals are increasingly full of the victims of cars, and our government can see nothing buy more cars in our future. Vroom vroom.

Update 16/1/2024

The light blue line shows the cost of taxation and subsidies adjusted for inflation per litre of petrol (gas / benzine)
How much does it cost to fill a car with fuel in the Netherlands ? Despite the moaning from motorists, the true cost relative to inflation has been dropping steadily since 1997, and the trend has accelerated sharply in the last four years. Less tax is raised from motorists now than at any time in the last 34 years. Driving a car has always been affordable in this country and now it's more affordable than ever. Read other blog posts about the cost of motoring in the Netherlands.

If you want to read more, there are a number of tags on this blog which group together articles about: Cars, Dutch Car Ownership rate, Dutch Safety figures, Electric Cars, and perhaps you might also like What Works which is a tag presenting many good ideas for stimulating cycling.


Hans Gerwitz said...

Of course I cast my municipal vote for parties that will make an effort to improve Amsterdam. And sign anything asks me to. But what else can I do to prevent the foolish accommodation of large private cars?

Chris Ward said...

The steady increase in cars doesn't seem to explain the sudden uptick in cyclist crashes (although it won't help). It would be interesting if there were data about the size of the vehicles involved. There has been an increase in cyclist and pedestrian deaths in the US as well. My hypothesis is the sudden proliferation of touch screen dashboards in new cars that require the operator to take their focus off the road to make any changes to the controls.

Lonpfrb said...

In Aviation, the safest mode of transport, the key data are provided in the line of sight of the pilot by head-up display or augmented vision. So there's no need to look away and take the risk of a loss of situational awareness. Without informed regulations big auto will do what's cheapest ie mix key data and controls with entertainment on a single display.