Monday 7 February 2011

When cyclists matter - Car crash and public response in Den Bosch

On the same evening as I'd watched some rather frightening BBC footage about a road rage incident in the UK which resulted in nothing more than the relatively minor charge of "careless driving", Mark Wagenbuur sent me this video showing what happened last year to a driver in 's-Hertogenbosch who had been showing off on the road and caused a crash.

The local newspaper was very much against the driver. They describe him as a "pirate" of the roads, and also as a "hufter". That's quite strong language for a newspaper, about as strong as "arsehole" in English. He was arrested and lost his driving license temporarily. He would have lost it permanently had he not passed an expensive exam to retain it. It was in the news for months.

Dutch roads are very safe overall, and extremely safe for cycling and, as Mark points out in the video, they are getting safer: "There were 339 injuries and 7 casualties in 2000. The figures dropped sharply every year to 133 injuries and just 1 road death in 2009. Only 44 of these injured people needed medical treatment." The figures are for all road users in the city, which has a population of about 140000. The attitude of road users has a lot to do with it, even in places such as on the video where the road layouts are rather old-fashioned.

I've previously covered other stories from Den Bosch, several of which show how the city is building better infrastructure for cyclists, the intention being both to increase safety further and to promote a higher modal share for cycling.

Note that things don't always go this way in the Netherlands. When they do, that can be seen as a result of cyclists not being an identifiable out-group and therefore being "deserving" of sympathy from the masses. However, in some cases local politicians blame cyclists for their own misfortune rather than working for better infrastructure which would avoid these problems from happening in the first place.

Compare with the very different public response to a crash between a car and bike in Cambridge last year.


Paul Martin said...

Such sociopathic behaviour & 'cars' like that are far too common here in Australia. Many are badges of honour for people with more dollars than sense.

I don't think the public reaction was unreasonable at all - we have become far to accepting of such antisocial behaviour here to the point where it seems normal. That is frightening. It is not unusual for cars to accelerate if a pedestrian or cyclist is up ahead trying to cross the road.

I cannot believe the vehicle involved in the accident had a bull-bar - there is no place for that in a city!

amoeba said...

I'm pretty certain that in the UK there would be a concentration on the fact that the cyclists (a dehumanising word that ignores the fact these are people who just happened to be riding bicycles) weren't wearing helmets or hi-viz. In some cases the victims themselves would be blamed.

In the UK more sympathy often extends to the 'poor driver' than the victims of his idiocy.

Very often, unless the driver has been doing something really bad, (drugs / blood alcohol / evading arrest / really serious speeding / no insurance / no licence etc.) such drivers are treated not as 'real criminals', but as good people who were just unlucky. Very often, there's no fine and the driver gets off scot-free. Often all they have to say is, 'he came out of nowhere' or 'I didn't see him'. For instance: this driver killed four people out riding their bicycles and got fined £180 and six points, for three bald tyres, but no penalty for killing four people.

Unknown said...

Usually the first thought from people in Canada is "What did the cyclist do?".
Of course always mentioned in the news articles here is "The cyclist was not wearing a helmet", even in provinces without a helmet law.
Ironically enough when a cyclist was wearing a helmet, it is never indicated.

Once you make it through the news article blaming the cyclist, you have to contend with a few hundred comments going on about how terrible ALL cyclists are.

It doesn't matter if police indicate that the motorist was impaired, distracted or speeding, the cyclist is always at fault, for simply being on the road.

Look no further then Toronto's new mayor Rob Ford, whom lays blame at any cyclist who gets hit because riding a bike on the road is like swimming with the sharks.

kfg said...

". . .when a cyclist was wearing a helmet, it is never indicated."

The one thing you never do in a fear campaign is to highlight that people behaving "properly" get hurt as well.

And never, ever, EVER highlight that people who are there "for your protection" cause more injury than the supposed risk.

Barry Childress said...

I'm curious what car commercials look like in the Netherlands? In America it seems car commercials promote "you can solve any traffic problem trough power, speed and taking chances."


Michael S said...

Things are a bit different here in Germany. You will have a hard time finding any car driver who suffers from severe legal consequences even in a case of deadly accidents, e.g.:

We know this "the bicycle rider did not wear a helmet" as well and even wearing normal street wear instead of dressing up in neon will blame the bikers and pedastrians, leaving them to the "own fault" ideology.

Graham Martin-Royle said...

I can't see that type of response here in the U.K. Instead of accepting that motor vehicles, if not treated with respect, are deadly weapons, we appear to have the attitude that everyone has the right to drive in whatever way they feel is correct, even if it causes the death of another person.

We need to educate people to start treating these matters properly.

cocosolis said...

Contrast that with a recent UK case - cyclist killed, driver not prosecuted because of a legal technicality:

Anonymous said...

Hi David, congratulations on your feature about the Den Bosch incident. Keep up the good work!

"Cycling Dutchman" Eric in the UK.