Dutch Cycle Law

Astute listener Susan heard me talking (briefly) about Dutch bicycling on the Leonard Lopate Show and pointed out something interesting I neglected to mention: The existence of a law that puts a higher burden of responsibility on the car driver in crashes involving cars and cycles.

As John Pucher at Rutgers notes in a report, “motorists are generally assumed to
be legally responsible for most collisions with cyclists unless it can be proven that the cyclist
deliberately caused the crash. Having the right of way by law does not excuse motorists from
hitting cyclists, especially children and elderly cyclists.
” (my italics).

One would intuitively think this would lead to a greater caution amongst the part of drivers (who are, after all, the only ones operating heavy machinery), and thus more safety for cyclists, and I wonder if there’s any state law in the U.S. that has anything remotely similar (I would suspect not). But I’m also curious about any good studies about the safety rate of Dutch cyclists before and after the law, which I believe was passed in the late 1990s. Anyone seen anything?

This entry was posted on Thursday, July 31st, 2008 at 5:36 am and is filed under Cyclists, Drivers. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

5 Responses to “Dutch Cycle Law”

  1. Doug Stone Says:

    Tom, heard about your Traffic book on one of the NPR shows and think it’s fantastic. I too hail from NJ.
    I would like to add a cycling related comment somewhat related to your cycle law topic. A friend of mine was recently killed on his bicycle here in Connecticut. Law enforcement gave the case short shrift and destroyed evidence at the site. ER doctors said that his injuries were caused by a major collision at speed, perhaps with a large truck, not from falling off his cycle. This to me opens up many topics, including how responsible drivers should be, how responsibile cyclists should be, what the role of local and state police should be, and who has what default recommended actions in case of impending collision.
    Keep up the good work. You have hit on a topic that blends human nature and situations all of us can relate to.

  2. Kirk Kardashian Says:

    Hi Tom,

    In response to your wondering about higher responsibility for motor vehicles in relation to cyclists, the Vermont Bicycle and Pedestrian Coaltion tried to get something similar passed in this year’s legislative session, but it never happened. Here’s a link to the bill as introduced:

    Basically, it just tried to extend the definitions of “negligent” and “grossly negligent” operation to motor vehicles as they relate to “vulnerable users,” which include bicycles. It also beefs up the penalties for motorists who injure cyclists in crashes.

    As a cyclist, I am always shocked at how callous and rude motorists can be, even in Vermont, which many people might think of as “relaxed.” Every state, it seems, is still trying to figure out how to let cars and bikes live in peace together.


  3. Jan Berndsen (Breda, The Netherlands) Says:

    Earlier this year, the Dutch Institute for Scientific Traffic Safety Research (SWOV) wrote:

    “Mobility data over the period 1994-2005 shows that the number of bicycle kilometres travelled has increased by 7%. Especially the over-40s have started to cycle more, whereas youths cycle less. Nonetheless, in this period the crash rate for cyclists who are victims in motor vehicle crashes decreased by 20%.”

    However, I cannot be sure that the law you mentioned has had an influence on these numbers. The full article, including an English summary, can be found here:

  4. Ed Gross Says:

    In Massachusetts the laws formerly regarded bicyclists as equivalent to pedestrians, and assigned them no responsibility for anything they might do that contributed to a crash. This situation was changed in 1985 by an activist organization I (gulp!) helped to found with the passage of a set of laws regulating bicyclist behavior. The result was a number of decisions against bicyclists struck by motorists in accidents where the bicyclist behaved in a manner that could be interpreted as unlawful or negligent, such as passing on the right or riding two abreast. This fall from absolute innocence has now led to a new law, signed only last month, that corrects some of the flaws in the 1985 measures; bicyclists are a little better favored but motorists get a little, too. The provisions of the new law illustrate the lapses that can result when an area of traffic (or any other) behavior is regulated for the first time, without a body of knowledge as guidance. The major features are: eliminates requirement for continuous signaling when conditions necessitate handlebar use; legalizes riding 2 abreast when conditions allow; makes ‘dooring’ (opening a car door in the path of bicyclist) a ticketing on the spot offence; defines safe motor vehicle passing of bicycles (especially regarding “right hooking”, the rather common practice of passing a cyclist near an intersection, then turning right directly across the cyclist’s path); mandates bicycle law training for new law enforcement officer recruits statewide (and optional education for veteran officers); requires bicycle rental companies to offer renters a bicycle helmet; updates helmet standards; integrates bicyclist citation for traffic offenses with motorist citation process.

    This last provision corrects a 1985 requirement that each city or town create its own procedure for enforcing bike laws, distinct from the motor vehicle ticketing procedure. This requirement was so onerous that since the passage of these laws only one of the 351 municipalities in Massachusetts — Cambridge, of course — had actually enabled its police to enforce these bicycle safety laws.

    The fall from the state of pure innocence ended, but it seems some gains may yet result. Now perhaps our police will help the many Bay Staters who ride against traffic, believing that somehow they are safer that way. It’s been illegal to do so for over 20 years, but people — including an occasional teacher in school — are still telling kids to do it.

  5. MartinN Says:

    As a UK cycle accident lawyer the idea of a motorist being held liable almost regardless of the actions of the cyclist, is somewhat hard to stomach.

    English Law is based in reaonableness and to quite a degree underpinned by elements of fairness. Cyclists have just as much responsibility as other road users to cycle reponsibly and with a duty of care that ultimately protects everybody.

    You cannot have one rule for a motorist and a different rule for those that pedal to get from A to B

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Traffic Tom Vanderbilt

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