Cycle Tour by Elderly people

Road fatalities declined in the Netherlands, but less for cycling

billet en français

In the last two decades the number of road fatalities in the Netherlands decreased by 60% for motorists. For people cycling the fatality rate decreased far less, by 11%. But this is not the whole story. For the group of under 30 years of age the number of fatalities also decreased considerably; by 64%, that is even more than for motorists. However that great figure is almost eradicated by the fact that for the ever increasing group of over 70-year-olds the number of deaths increased with a horrifying 68%. Earlier today Statistics Netherlands (CBS) published the results of an investigation of road fatalities in the last 20 years.

Cycle Tour by Elderly people
The group of over 70-year-olds increased by 56% in the Netherlands. The elderly also cycle longer distances and more often. Unfortunately that results in more fatalities.

The fatality figure for car occupants more than halved in the time period of 1999 to 2019 (it went from 587 to 237). In those same years the number of people killed while cycling seemed to have remained somewhat stable within a certain band width with considerable fluctuations. For 2018 the figure was relatively high with 228, one more death even than in 1999. In 2019 the figure was again 25 lower (203). The worst year in the last two decades was the year 2000 with 233 deaths, while in the ‘best’ year 2010 still 162 cycling people lost their lives.

The absolute number of cycle fatalities in the Netherlands fluctuated in the last 20 years but generally seems to have remained relatively stable. This statistic doesn’t take into account that many factors changed in this period: the population increased, the age composition changed and people in the Netherlands cycle more and further.

Statistics Netherlands mentions some measures that helped improve the rate for motorists. Driving under the influence was tolerated even less, since 2002 beginner drivers have been treated differently to help them build experience and finally holding a mobile device as a driver became illegal in 2019. The latter is also the case when you ride a bicycle.

After studying this news one news site wrote: “The Dutch data for last year (2019) shows that in absolute figures more people died in car crashes (237) than on a bicycle (203). If you calculate the figure per kilometre travelled that is reversed. Per one billion kilometres travelled the figure for cycling is 11 while the figure for car occupants is 1.6 fatalities.”

When you look at the fatality rate per age bracket per one million people the figures are different, seeming more stable again, but in this graph the increase in distance cycled is not taken into account. Yet, the difference between the different age groups is remarkable. Cycling is far more deadly for people over 70.

In the last 20 years the age composition of the Dutch people as a whole changed considerably. There are fewer Dutch under 50 years-old and more people over that age. The number of people over the age of 70 was 1.5 million in 1999 while there were 2.3 million early 2019, an increase of 56%! Partially helped by e-bikes (which are not more dangerous than ordinary bicycles) this much larger group of elderly people cycles more often and further, which is unfortunately reflected in the fatality rate. Of all cycle traffic deaths in 2019 the majority, 59%, was from the age group of over 70 year-olds. In that same year under 30-year-olds make up 12% of the people killed on a bicycle. People who get killed while cycling are generally older than people who get killed in car crashes. For car drivers 21% was older than 70 and 35% was under 30-years-old.

Bollards pose a particular danger for people cycling. They can often be removed. It is preferable that car drivers sometimes use the cycleway and pose a danger only then, than to always have a dangerous bollard in the middle of the cycleways.

It means that the Dutch are forced to focus on making cycling safer for older people. The Dutch Cyclists’ Union has asked to give this more attention for years. In an article also published today they note that people over the age of 50 avoid cycling at some locations and fall off their bicycles more often. Why is that? Karin Broers, a journalist, explains: “I have become a bit older myself now and notice things are changing very slowly. We all know about reading glasses, but so much more happens. Your peripheral vision decreases, not something you notice early on. You tend to see cars or other cyclists later than when you were younger. They startle you. That has an effect on how you experience traffic.”

Such clear lines on the outer edges of a cycleway makes it much safer for the elderly in lower light conditions. All other road users also benefit.

Bollards, kerbs and uneven surfaces are the main reasons for the many falls of many elderly cycling in the Netherlands. (In the statistics the falls are referred to as “single road-user crashes”.) Fewer posts in the cycleways, forgiving kerbs and also lines clearly marking the edges of cycleways could help the elderly a lot. The consequences of a fall for anyone over the age of 50 are much more severe than for younger people. Many road managers respond defensively when they are addressed by the Cyclists’ Union: Karin Broers: “I think that the municipalities should judge their cycling infrastructure from the view point of a lesser able cyclist. Traffic experts say: the cycle way is good enough, because it was designed with the recommendations in mind. They forget those recommendations are the minimal requirements.”

Good infrastructure can make cycling age-proof. Smooth surfaces (even in brick) and forgiving kerbs (curbs) which are sloped so they pose no danger when you accidentally hit them with your wheels.


7 thoughts on “Road fatalities declined in the Netherlands, but less for cycling

  1. For Dutch readers (our using automatic translation), the Fiestersbond calculated, after compensating an effective rise of 8% fatalities for 70+, see

    From 1990 to 2019 the number of traffic accidents did go from 1154 to 671 but at the same time the number of people that died because of a fall (not in traffic) went from 1736 to 4720, see

    Every hour of cycling roughly correlates with one hour more life expectancy so more elderly people cycling means an increased life expectancy, something that is far too easy forgotten looking at this kind of numbers.

  2. Comparing accidents by distance is a bit unfair as bicycle trips are a lot shorter than car trips. The benefit of car trips comes with long distances thanks to high speed, and bicycles with shorter trips (where high speed makes less difference).
    Most trips tend not to be longer than 30 minutes no matter vehicle.
    It would be fair to also make comparisons by minute and also by trip.

  3. Old people poluting our road fatalities statistics! That is the frame the news should be presented in.

    All these old people are bored stiff and want to go out and about. Nothing to do. Wealthy. Retired. But reasonably fit. In the Netherlands you have been bicycling your entire life and now that you are not in a hurry (school run, daily commute, etc) you take the (electric) bike each time you can find an excuse for it: The sun shines! Let’s visit my relative! Let’s buy fresh bread! There is a bargain at that shop I heard! Ad infinitum. Wouldn’t you? I certainly would at that age.

    In a different decade, before the 37,000km network of safe bicycle lanes, old people would die at their (elderly) home. They fall of the stairs, they trip on a threshold, slip in the bathroom etc. Breaking a hip, then they get an infection, woops… etc. That would otherwise be the beginning of their end.

    Now they have the beginning of their end on a bicycle instead of at home.

    This is a great compliment to these bicylists. They clench on to their handlebars until their hands are litterally cold. Good for them, praise them. Don’t victimise them, they are heroes!

    But please mention them between brackets in our road fatalities statistics.

  4. Thank you for a fascinating look at some of the statistics. Hopefully the Government of the Netherlands will also consider these when making decisions as to how to spend their cycling safety budget.

  5. See, if everyone had to wear a thin piece of plastic wrapped around a bit of polyethylene there wouldn’t be any more deaths. 🤫

    1. A fall involving one of the usual Dutch upright bikes (which are ridden by the elderly in the Netherlands) would be more likely to cause a broken hip or broken wrist/arm. Wearing a helmet won’t help with that. If they want to, they could wear a helmet, and for the over 70s that might be a good idea, but it’s just that for the 70+ any fall is dangerous. Wearing a helmet while walking would be just as useful for them.

      As keeping active is very important for the health of elderly people, and helmet promotion has been shown to diminish people’s participation in such healthful activity (at a cost of more healthy years lost than are gained by those saved by the helmets), on a population level it is very sensible not to push helmet promotion, even if you just consider the elderly population.

      It might be interesting to see if less elderly are dying from falls while walking or from accidents while travelling in a car (or getting into/out of a car), because they are now biking trips they would otherwise have made on foot or in a car. I can’t see the walking statistics in the linked report. The elderly are dying less in car accidents, but I’m not good enough at maths to see if the decline for the over 70s in that statistic is more than expected considering both the overal decline of car accidents for all age groups, and the increasing percentage of elderly in the population.

      I would consider the fatality rate per trip more interesting than per kilometre, as car trips are almost always much longer – you run into a similar disparity when comparing the dangers for long-distance airplane trips with shorter trip modes.
      It’s more interesting to consider what the chance of dying is for this trip I am about to make, than to have to do sums adjusting for how long the trip is going to be.

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