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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.”