Considerable increase in road fatalities in The Netherlands

In 2018, 678 people lost their lives in traffic in The Netherlands. That is 10.6 % more than in 2017, the largest increase since 1989. This reported Statistics Netherlands (CBS) today. The steady decrease of the number of fatalities that started in the 1970s ended in 2014. With this year’s figures the Netherlands is back on the level of 2010.

In 2018, 228 people were killed cycling in the Netherlands. More good cycling infrastructure, like this path, would reduce that number.

Both more men and women were killed in traffic. In private cars 233 people died. Of them 173 were drivers and 60 were passengers. The other largest group of traffic fatalities are people cycling: 228 died in 2018, compared to 206 in 2017, a 10 percent increase. The largest increase with traffic deaths for people cycling was in the age group of 50 to 60 years of age. Finally 54 pedestrians, 44 people using mobility scooters and 38 moped/scooter riders were killed in traffic.

Traffic deaths by age group and vehicle. The overall picture is that older traffic vitims (50+) relatively often cycled while younger victims (under 50) usually were in a car. Graph by Statistics Netherlands CBS.

One third of all traffic fatalities was caused by a crash with a private motor vehicle or van, almost 14% by a lorry or bus and for 21% the crash was against a tree or other solid object. Over 22% of all the people killed were not involved in a crash. Of those more than half were cycling or using a mobility scooter.

The Minister of Transport, Cora van Nieuwenhuizen reacted to this increase, she calls it “bad news, that was unfortunately not unexpected”. This fall the results of an analysis of the cause of the increase are expected. “We see that it is becoming busier on our roads and cycleways” stresses the Minister who feels these figures make clear that extra measures have to be taken. At the end of last year she presented a plan to reduce the number of traffic casualties.

The Cyclists’ Union would like the blanket speed limit of 50km/h in the built-up area to be reduced to 30km/h.

The director of SWOV, the Institute for Road Safety research is critical. In a newspaper Peter van der Knaap said: “You can strive to have zero road deaths, but then you need to take concrete measures”. While the national government has a budget surplus, he says, the local municipalities economize on infrastructure. He argues that the cabinet should invest more in municipal and provincial roads, where by far most people are killed.

A better design of especially municipal streets and provincial roads would be a good way to reduce the number of traffic casualties.

The province with most road fatalities is again North-Brabant with 150 deaths in 2018 (98 in 2017). This is one of the larger provinces with the longest road network. Like the minister a local expert seeks explanations for the higher fatalities in the increase of traffic. “We drive more and we own more cars. This makes it busier and that increases the risk of crashes” he explains in the local press. “On top of that we are increasingly distracted, usually by mobile phones.” This is a very bad combination “Because it is busier there is less room for errors caused by distraction”.

The director of the Cyclists’ Union, Saskia Kluit, also responded to the figures. She says: “What needs to be done to make the cycleways safer has been known for a long time. It is time for action. This is possible when the investments for cycling infrastructure would be related to the share of cycling in our mobility.”

The Cyclists’ Union reminds that the recently presented “Strategic Plan Traffic Safety” reports 115 deaths could be saved annually when all cycling infrastructure would be designed completely safe. The Cyclists’ Union urges to take up this task with more priority. To further improve the safety for cycling the Union proposed concrete measures in their Vision 2040. Most important is reducing the maximum speed in the built-up area from 50 to 30km/h and building three different cycle networks, that would make it possible that all types of people cycling would return home safely.

The Cyclists’ Union would like to investigate why traffic fatalities increased so much in the age group between 50 and 60. Do they cycle more or do they take more risk?

The Cyclists’ Union notes that it is striking that the casualties on e-bikes remained stable: 57 in 2018. The electric bike is not so dangerous as some portray it. Most people who are killed while cycling are seniors. Two thirds of all cycling fatalities are between the ages of 50 to 85. It is remarkable that the biggest increase was in the age group between 50 and 60 years of age. The number of deaths over 60 remained stable. This is something the Cyclists’ Union would like to have investigated. Saskia Kluit: “People in their fifties are usually fit and they are not part of a risk group. Do they take more risks on racing bikes or have they taken up cycling to work much more? To do something about this increase we need to know more about the crashes.”


17 thoughts on “Considerable increase in road fatalities in The Netherlands

  1. I think that a law should be introduced that would prohibit people over 60 from cycling. I do not want to offend anyone, but if elderly people get into the base of an accident, then it is a reason to think.

    1. That would not be a good idea. The number of deaths from inactivity would be far greater than this number. Not to mention the benefits to mental health cycling brings to people over 60. The positive effects of the Dutch elderly cycling longer and further far outweigh these negative effects. We must, however, do everything in our power to make it safer for them to cycle.

    1. Not so much with experts, only sometimes in the main stream media. Experts in the Netherlands focus mainly on preventing crashes from happening at all and helmets do nothing there. They only try to reduce consequences (and they are notoriously bad doing that too.) So wearing a helmet while cycling is generally not seen as a measure to improve traffic safety in the Netherlands.

      1. Your comment seems to be very contradictive to another report by SWOV, which estimates that 85 fewer road deaths per year would take place in the Netherlands if people wore helmets. A meta analysis of 55 studies showed that “the use of bicycle helmets was found to reduce the total number of killed or seriously injured cyclists by 34%”

        Let’s compare a few numbers to the country that is most like Netherlands with regards to bicycle culture: Denmark. And yes, people wear helmets in Denmark. When comparing numbers note that Netherlands population is exactly 3 times Denmarks population (and probably cycle a tiny bit more)

        2018 Total cycling fatalities in Netherlands: 228
        2018 Total cycling fatalities in Denmark: 28

        2018 Total cycling fatalities in Denmark (age 0-17): 0
        2018 Total cycling fatalities in Netherlands (age 0-19): 15

        Yes, those are tragic numbers. There are of course many explanations and bicycle helmets are one of them. The Dutch should stop making fun of people wearing helmets and start to acknowledge the facts that are right in front of you.


        Increasing helmet use in Denmark:

        Road fatalities in Denmark:

        SWOV road fatalities in Netherlands:

        1. That is because SWOV is the odd one out. Also please quote correctly. SWOV claimed: “If all cyclists would wear a helmet at all times”. And they were rightly vilified for this nonsense that holds the same truth as saying there would be no cycling deaths if everybody would stop cycling. One reaction was very clear:

          “The title should be “Bicycle helmets will not be able to reduce the number of cycle deaths with more than 85″. This calculation shows that even if only positive effects are included, there may be 85 fewer deaths per year. Every effect that could have a negative influence is deliberately omitted, because the reduction will then be very much lower. And there are quite a few negative effects. For example, 100% penetration is impossible, risk compensation occurs and the number of cyclists will decrease. The real potential of bicycle helmets is therefore much lower. But even if this number were correct, it is a very inefficient measure. Suppose helmets become much cheaper and are sold for 30 euros each (even if those would be of questionably quality) then that is an expense of 500 million euros for 17 million cyclists! Because helmets must be replaced regularly, that amounts to 100 million euros per year. Every year again. If the same amount were to be put into infrastructure improvements, resulting in fewer conflict situations and fewer unilateral accidents, every 100 million pays off permanently instead of temporarily.”

          To summarise helmet proponents focus on all the wrong things.
          Your comparing numbers are so far fetched I won’t even go into those.

  2. It would be interesting to see also how many crashes are due to vehicles’ fault and how many to cyclists.
    On top of making infrastructures safer, enforcing speed limits there should also be stricter traffic rules enforcement for cyclist, I see too often cyclist checking their phones, not stopping at red light and not bringing light at night.

  3. Just try ‘reducing the maximum speed in the built-up area from 50 to 30km/h’ here in the states, there aren’t enough police to enforce, nor concern for that to work.

    1. When we say “reduce the speeds”, we mean re-design the streets in such a way that speeding becomes impossible and thus they become self-enforcing. The speeds have been reduced in streets without a re-design and indeed that does not work.

  4. It would be interesting to map the sizes of each of those age groups relative to their crash statistics, and how those age group sizes have changed over time.

    Perhaps the ‘increase’ is actually not really a true increase at all but a stable proportion of the 50-85 age group, which is itself growing?

    1. Hi Paul, yes that is a very valid point. The concept of looking per year is maybe as strange as looking per 100,000 people. There are so many variables that influence the result. If everyone would stay at home in a year or of the population you would be safest. The only good way of measuring is looking at kilometres travelled per person and also in how many trips. The group of over 50 is the second wave after WWII. In 1945 many children were born because the war ended obviously. Those people all got kids from the mid 1960s and there we see a second big surge (yet smaller than the first) which is indeed now that group of 50 to 60. So this figure is not more than an indication that you should find out whether something is wrong. On the other hand we try to have as little deaths as possible in abosulute figures as well, because every death is one too many. But with an expanding population being more active and travelling more that would maybe require an improvement in safety that is unrealistic at this point. Unless… you take measures which is indeed what advocates are now asking for.

        1. It would have to be deaths per trip (or better yet, per time spent traveling) for it to be a true comparison but I’d imagine this time data is hard to come by.

          Faster modes will always appear safer than they are as they cover more distance in shorter time. By this method, space travel appears exceedingly safe, until you look at how many astronauts have died up there.

          1. Well, indeed. I’ve seem reports that show that air travel is the safest mode per bn miles travelled, and motorcycling the most dangerous, followed by private motor car.

            It isn’t mentioned above, but I’m assuming motor vehicles are responsible for most of the deaths of people on bikes. On May 2 the UK Daily Mail ran a cycling scare story and mangled facts to come to the conclusion that “Cyclists have claimed more lives than motorists in Holland for the first time in the nation’s history, shocking new figures show.”

            It would be good to be able to rebut that lie.

      1. Mark, do you know if the Netherlands collects data about the nationality of people involved in traffic collisions? This could also be an interesting comparison, because it cannot be assumed that foreigners will automatically understand the Dutch traffic system the way its meant to be. For example, we have a LOT of German and Belgian tourists here in Zeeland. I find them to behave on the extremes of the spectrum. Most are overly cautious, often yielding to me even when they (clearly) have priority. But there are also a minority that just completely disregard my priority at crossings and especially roundabouts, and I had to slam on my brakes a few times because of that. On top of these visiting neighbors, there are also a lot of foreigners who can drive in the Netherlands, whether as tourists or residents. They may also not be so used to the Dutch traffic and all the cyclists, etc.

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