The organisation promoting cycling for the city of The Hague, Den Haag Fietst, organised a festive Bicycle Lights Parade in the first weekend after the clocks had been turned back to standard time. At the end of Daylight Savings Time it is always immediately dark in the evening rush hour and that means that even children need working lights on their bicycles.
The festive reminder to make sure your bicycle has working lights took place on the evening of 3 November in the city centre of The Hague. People were welcomed with free coffee or hot chocolate and there were even free pancakes. For children who needed a bit of help decorating their bicycles there was a workshop “pimp your bike” which, you guessed it, was also free.
So how bad are the Dutch at riding with bicycle lights? A report revealed that things have really improved in the last 20 years. In 2003, less than half of the people riding a bicycle in the dark did that with a working front and rear light, at the moment that figure has increased to almost 80 percent!
This is partly due to improved technology, state the investigators. “In many new bicycles, including e-bikes, lighting is automatically built into the frame,” says spokeswoman Lise-Lotte Kerkhof of the RAI Association. Such lighting is much more robust, even if it concerns LED lights. The Fietsersbond (Cyclists’ Union) sees also other reasons, for example, the readily available detachable bicycle lights which are cheap and easy to use. According to Eelco den Boer, spokesman for the Cyclists’ Union, the many campaigns to raise awareness about lighting on bicycles seemed to have helped too. “The Dutch have begun to see riding a bicycle with working lights as normal and that is very nice.”
Strictly speaking the bicycle lights parade may not have been entirely necessary anymore and on top of that it made people do illegal things! It is not at all allowed to light up your bicycle like a Christmas tree in the Netherlands. (Sorry Brandon American Fietser, what you did to your fiets would get you fined in the Netherlands!) The rules about which lights are acceptable are very strict in this country!
Firstly, lights on your head are forbidden. Your head moves too much and that may confuse other road users. Secondly, as a cyclist in the Netherlands, you can only have one front light which has to be white and needs to shine constantly. Flashing lights are illegal! Thirdly, the rear light may only be red and may also not blink. Finally, apart from the lights, some strictly defined reflectors are also mandatory. One at the rear, that needs to be red and rectangular (triangular reflectors are again forbidden). Four on your pedals. Each of your two pedals need to have two yellow reflectors (one on each side) and then both wheels need to have white side-reflection in the shape of that wheel. Directly on the tyre or on the rim. Reflectors in the spokes are yet again not permitted.
Why so strict? Because only then all bicycles look exactly alike and that makes them easier to recognise as a bicycle! That in turn makes traffic safer. There hasn’t been a lot of research but the one investigation SWOV did in 2010 did show that the risk of a crash in the dark decreased by about 17%. Although SWOV themselves do not want to draw real conclusions from this minimal investigation.
So, strictly speaking it was maybe illegal, but the police was involved in the Bicycle Lights Parade in The Hague. For once it was acceptable to creatively light up the complete bicycle and – for some – themselves. At the end of the very wet parade the two bicycle mayors of The Hague (the city also has a youth bicycle mayor) handed out prizes for the best decorated bicycle. And then it stopped raining!