When cyclists matter
A busy junction in ’s-Hertogenbosch,
also known as Den Bosch. For the Netherlands unusual old fashioned street design
that will be updated after the city hospital moves away from here. On an evening in July four young cyclists
are waiting at a red traffic light. The cyclists are two girls and two boys
aged 16 and 17. A turning car needs to pass them
on the narrow bridge. The huge American Pick up truck is
even more unusual for the Netherlands. At the wheel is a 24 y.o. beginning driver. Eye witnesses report he deliberately takes
the turn at a very high speed. Underestimating the power of the car,
he gets in a spin, slams into the cyclists and comes to a halt at the bridge railing. Only one of the cyclists manages to jump away in time. The three others are hit but can be considered
very lucky as just one of them has to be treated for minor injuries. All’s well that ends well? … Not really! Police accuses the driver of “reckless
dangerous driving” and for a beginner driver that means his driver’s license is suspended
and taken away from him. He is taken in police custody
and his car is seized. Then something interesting happens. After the first front page reports
the local newspaper’s website is flooded with angry comments
towards the driver. The paper brings article after article
in the days following the incident. “Extra police surveillance
does not stop road rage” “More complaints despite extra surveillances” “Reckless driving is the order of the day” There is even an elaborate interview with
one of the victims. She says: “We could have been dead,
it was such a big monster truck” Her injuries: a bruised knee. The newspaper calls the driver
who was released from police custody. He hangs up twice before he tells the reporter
that he is above the comments on the internet, that they should stop harassing him
and that he doesn’t feel remorse. Thus provoking even more outrage. The newspaper continues the coverage and does
a public enquiry as to what people think are danger hot spots in the city. A two page spread
displays a map with no less than 16 junctions that are deemed unsafe. A national traffic expert is brought in to
judge the safety of the junction of the incident. The city council is asked to respond to his
findings and advice. A city spokesperson explains the city is already taking action. The former chief editor writes a very angry
column about reckless drivers, traffic jackassess and the driver “nearly killing 4 young cyclists”.
He is pleased this beginning driver has to do a compulsory “safe driving refresher
course”. This will cost him 800 euros and he will have to take three days off from work.
On failing the course his driver’s license will be revoked permanently. “Serves him right:
because that is the way to handle these terrible traffic offenders that everybody fears.” Just when you think the public outrage comes
to a boiling point, everything stops. In November a small article shows
the driver got his license back in October. The car was already returned to him
and so far no decision was taken about a possible prosecution. But the incident was not forgotten.
On the very last day of 2010 the newspaper looks back at the year in pictures. The World-cup fans in orange and this particular traffic incident
seem to sum up 2010 for ’s-Hertogenbosch. So just how dangerous are the roads in this city? There were 339 injuries and 7 casualties in 2000. The figures dropped sharply every year
to 133 injuries and just 1 road death in 2009. Only 44 of these injured people
needed medical treatment. Reckless driving does occur in the Netherlands.
But from the public outrage to this particular incident it is clear that it is uncommon
and not tolerated. The figures show that traffic in ’s-Hertogenbosch is very safe indeed.
But drivers of big cars endangering other people in traffic, especially cyclists and
pedestrians, are treated with contempt. Even if the damage they did
was relatively small. The outrage after this incident may seem a
bit exaggerated. But if it makes one thing clear it is that cyclists matter in the Netherlands.