Dutch road safety ‘thrown back in time 15 years’

  • April 19, 2023

Road deaths in the Netherlands grew by a quarter last year, rising from 582 in 2021 to 737 in 2022, according to preliminary figures published by Statistics Netherlands earlier this month.   

In recent years, more cyclists were killed in the Netherlands than car occupants, which partly reflects relatively high levels of bike usage in the country.  However, there is particular concern about a dramatic 60% rise in the number of older cyclists (75+) dying.  The figure for 2021 was 94 deaths, which rose to 150 last year, more than half of the total number of killed cyclists (291).  

While more older people have taken up or returned to cycling in The Netherlands in recent years, it is not clear why there was such a dramatic increase in deaths last year.  In the medium term, the higher speed of the electrically-assisted bikes preferred by older riders may explain part of the increase combined with a cycling culture where helmets are the exception rather than the norm even for electric bike riders.   

SWOV, the Dutch road safety research organisation, has just published a report showing that 57% of Danish cyclists say they always or almost always use a helmet, compared to 12% in the Netherlands despite the two countries having comparable bike usage and infrastructure. The report looks at ways of encouraging Dutch cyclists to wear helmets, noting that in case of a fall or crash, cyclists with helmets are about 60% less likely to sustain serious and about 70% less likely to sustain fatal head/brain injuries than cyclists without helmets.

A coalition of road safety groups in the Netherlands have called for substantial investments in enforcement and bicycle safety.  The cycling association Fietserbond says the development of cycling infrastructure, such as separated cycle paths, has not kept up with the rise in the numbers of cyclists in recent years.  

The director of SWOV, Martin Damen commented: ‘Considered over the past ten years, the road safety figures do not (any longer) show a downward trend. But with this sharp increase in the number of road deaths, road safety has actually been thrown back in time by 14 to 15 years.”