The Netherlands is one of the most bike-friendly countries in the world. In fact, cycling is so popular there that the country is home to more bikes than people.
Though better for our health than driving a car, cycling can also be dangerous. The number of serious injuries involving cyclists is increasing. Each year, some 190 cyclists die in road accidents in the Netherlands, while at least another 9,000 are hospitalized with injuries, according to official government figures.
In a bid to reduce accidents, the government is proposing a ban on the use of phones while cycling.
The Dutch and their bikes
The Netherlands has a long-standing love affair with cycling: the Dutch make more than one-quarter of all trips by bike; bicycles outnumber people (23 million for a population of 17 million); and Amsterdam and Utrecht are among the most bike-friendly cities in the world.
But the number of cyclists involved in accidents is worrying the government, and one of the steps it wants to take is to ban the use of mobile phones while cycling.
Currently the ban on mobile phones only applies to motorized vehicles. A proposed new law, put forward by Infrastructure and Water Management Minister Cora van Nieuwenhuizen-Wijbenga, aims to extend it to cyclists. The law would apply not only to phones but any electronic device.
"If you drive a vehicle in traffic, whatever the vehicle, you do not need to hold a mobile electronic device," the NL Times reports the minister as saying. According to the newspaper, the ban could come into force by next summer.
It is one of a series of measures that the government is taking to protect bike riders.
These include making roads and cycle tracks safer for cyclists; campaigns to promote the importance of being alert while cycling; and better bicycle lighting. The Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management is initiating campaigns in collaboration with road managers, NGOs, and the bike industry. It also wants to promote innovation, such as the development of a bicycle “rear view assistant”.
The rise of e-bikes
The rise of electric bikes might well be contributing to the issue. Earlier this year, a woman in the UK became the first pedestrian to die as a result of a collision with an e-bike. Currently, three out of every 10 bicycles sold in the Netherlands are e-bikes.
E-bikes are fitted with electric motors, and are much heavier and faster than conventional bikes. However, the government says that e-bikes are not in themselves dangerous. It says that the increase in the number of road casualties among e-cyclists can be attributed mainly to the increase in the number of older cyclists. This group has a relatively high risk of traffic accidents and is more vulnerable in the event of a collision.
The proposed safety measures come as the government – which is determined to keep the Netherlands’ bike-friendly reputation – outlines ambitious plans to increase the number of kilometres cycled by 20% from 2017-2027.