The question of how many people die each year as a result of bicycle accidents in Amsterdam and Holland in general comes up periodically. I’ve usually thrown out the figure of “a handful per year” that I’d once heard. It turns out that this is about right. Toby Sterling, fellow Amsterdam resident and blogger whom I’ve never met did the research and compares it nicely with other countries and the statistics for murders in Holland as well.
Here are some quick excerpts though Toby’s original text is more fun to read. Basically the message is simple: despite extremely high rates of cycling and negligible helmet use the odds of being killed while cycling in the Netherlands are extremely low.
Nationally the total of bicycle accident deaths hovers around 200.
In Amsterdam about 6 people die in bike-related accidents yearly.
16 million Dutch own 18 million bikes.
About half the population of the NL rides a bike once a day.
The average distance traveled by bike per person per day was 2.5km in 2006.
The bicycle is used for almost a quarter of all journeys, and 35% of journeys below 7.5km.
Overall traffic safety in NL is the best in Europe with 45 deaths per million inhabitants per year.
The US has 147 deaths per million inhabitants per year.
You’re more likely to die of murder in the US than by cycling in the Netherlands.
You’re more likely to die by drowning in the Netherlands than by cycling.
wow. These are fantastic statistics. I didn’t see a comparison of bicycle fatalities in the US vs. the Netherlands, although I’m sure there is a vast gap. Every time I leave the house to go to work I feel like I’m putting my life on the line, even in a somewhat cycling friendly city as Austin.
The differences are vast, to be sure, and I’m not sure we will ever get to the level of the Netherlands, well, not by choice anyway… the energy situation may say otherwise. What was that quote from Churchill about Americans always doing the right thing once all other options are exhausted…
The stats were mostly calculated per inhabitant per year making it more difficult to compare between countries. The average Dutch rides many time more often than the average American confounding the stats. A comparison per distance traveled on bikes would almost certainly show an enormous safety advantage in the Netherlands, though. Almost everybody I know travels mostly bike around a busy city yet I can hardly recall an accident where somebody got more than a bruised knee and ego. Growing up riding bikes in the US I remember the constant carnage.
henry: “The average Dutch rides many times more often than the average American”.
True, but I’d wager the average American cyclist rides quite a bit more distance than the average Dutch cyclist, if you catch the distinction. So “a comparison per distance traveled” might not be quite as favorable as you expect.
Just got back from Amsterdam, where I noticed widespread talking on mobiles and texting being done by cyclists. A young woman gave our bus driver excellent emergency stop practice by pulling directly into his path whilst chatting on the phone – she was compleely oblivious to her near-death experience. It’ll be informative to note how mobile phone use contributes to accident rates over the coming years.
Maggy, Even a nation of cyclists isn’t immune to stupidity. But mobile phones have been in widespread use for more than a decade now and the statistics show that cycling is becoming safer not more dangerous. Of course it’s possible that cycling would be even more absurdly safe without so many distracted people riding bikes but that we’ll never know.
That’s a very good question but I do not know the answer.
The main problem I see is cyclists ignoring or disregarding the pedestrian crosswalks. This is very common, even much worse amongst scooter riders. But we don’t regard it as a problem caused by cyclists; It’s a problem caused by assholes who ride bikes and scooters.
The other problem is is purely the fault of pedestrians (tourists) who walk on the bicycle paths instead of the sidewalk, or walk mindlessly along quiet streets, looking up to admire the buildings, gathering as a group to open up their maps etc. This is real problem in the Jordaan which is treated as a sort of 17th century disneyland. These people, either because they’re not accustomed to cyclists or because they’re stoned out of their minds, frequently don’t react to bicycle bells or even asking to get out of the way. I can assure you that it can be very frustrating to have to thread your way through multiple such scenes during even a short trip.
In busy streets such as the Damstraat you have drunken, stoned and just clueless tourists just suddenly walking into a street full of dense bicycle traffic. I used to commute along this street (because of the city layout still the best way between A and B) twice a day and a couple times watched some moron just walk into the street without looking and totally get creamed by a cyclist, cheeses, little clogs, van Gogh poster and frites flying everywhere. As carefully as I cycle through this area I still periodically have close calls).
Cyclists are not TRYING to harm pedestrians but sometimes people (yes, always tourists) just walk into the path of an oncoming cyclist and the collision is impossible to avoid. Keep in mind that such an accident is at least as painful for the cyclist and can easily ruin their bike too. It’s happened to me but never badly; once somebody (yes, sorry, also a tourist) just walked right in front of me in the middle of a street. I managed to only barely bump him but hit the curb and fell, bending my crank and pedal, and shredding a pair of nice leather shoes. It was entirely his fault and I was pissed that his stupidity cost me several hundred euro.
Do airport staff and city staff , hotel staff in other cities warn about the huge risk of getting hit and killed by a car, bus or tram? No. So why should amazingly safe Amsterdam be held to a higher standard?
I totally agree with Henry! These stats should be comparable and if you want to compare it with other cities or countries, you don’t have to look only on the number of accidents. You should see how often bikes are used in the specific cities. There are large differences and it’s total clear that in amsterdam will appear more accidents in fact of this high level of cyclers.
So, 200 Dutch families are wrecked each year because you can’t be bothered to put a cycling helmet on. How pathetic is that? And comparing your statistics with a group of other socially unacceptable statistics is even more pathetic. I mean, do you really want the Netherlands compared with urban gun crime in the USA? How much lower can you go? Try instead comapring with the number of people killed in industrial incidents in the Netherlands. (54 in 2009). You would hope that a civilised country like The Netherlands could operate biccles more safely than complicated indisutrial jobs. But apparently not.
Andy, Nowhere is it stated that the 200 deaths were related to head injuries nor how many, if any, of those lives would be saved had the cyclists been wearing helmets. Nor does it take into account how many fewer people would cycle if helmets were required. Nor do we know how many of those deaths involved racing type cyclists who mostly DO wear helmets. Perhaps half of those deaths were the result of cyclists falling into canals. Really all we see is that 200 people died while cycling.
They’re not my statistics nor did I invent these comparisons. That’s clearly stated in the beginning of this now more than four year old post.
Your comparison to industrial accidents is far more absurd than those that Toby Sterling noted. Almost everybody in the Netherlands cycles (or gets ridden on bikes if they’re too young to cycle) while very few people perform work where industrial accidents are likely to occur or perhaps even conceivable.
People in the the Netherlands operate their bicycles extraordinarily safely when you consider that some ten or more million people cycle an average of 2,5km/day year round resulting in 200 deaths per year. But you apparently want to draw other conclusions from the same facts or just wish pick a fight for some reason. Why?
Henny, the comparison with industrial deaths is about rates as well as absolutes…look at rates per 100,000 workers and rates per 100,000 cyclists. What is clear is that we look after ourselves rather better at work than on the road, and this is something we need to be aware of. Most of the reason for the differences is the willingness to demand high quality safety performance in an industrial environment, and a willingness to disregard this level of quality in societal life.
My “argument” comes from the disappointing fact that about 3000 people a day get killed on the roads of the world, half of them are not in the vehicles concerned, and about 700 of them are children. It is more than all the wars put together, more than tuberculosis and malaria, and right up there with HIV/AIDS. And it all comes from the poor control of the industrial hazard we have introduced into society, being the kinetic energy in a vehicle or in the person who is in or on a vehicle. Energy doesn’t mind about your nationality, age, gender or even whether it is your fault or not, it just works, and if there is enough of it to kill you in a crash, you die. There is enough energy in your body when cycling to crack your head open, particularly if you it added to when you hit by something else moving with an even higher energy, like a car. The road safety debate is carried on largely by people who haven’t been killed in a crash yet, for somewhat obvious reasons. I have a feeling it might be differently balanced if the dead could speak, so I try to do a little speaking for them.
Making comparisons from one country to another on road safety statistics is very weak…in ALL countries the roads are the number one killer for young people between 4 and 30, and being the top of a heap where all are completely unacceptable does not make you acceptable. By bringing up your children to disrespect this very real hazard you are doing them a great dis-service. And I would almost certainly bet that no-one has ever told you before that it is the kinetic energy in the vehicle or the person in or on the vehicle that does the damage in a crash. Which ought to be a bit of a worry when you consider that it is the number one chance of your children dying young.
Rather more honest to understand the real level of risk you are accepting. If you are quite OK with not teaching young people how to look after themselves properly and so creating a society where a completely unnecessary level of risk is accepted, that’s OK, but be honest about it and get the real level of risk on the table. The best way to do this is to add up the total numbers of real victims…some 200 per year in the Netherlands from riding bikes. And to compare with people who manage kinetic energy well – for example the 29 OECD countries managed to operate commercial aircraft in 2010 without killing a single passenger, and that is energy in 3 dimensions, in 300 tonne aircraft travelling at 800kph. Whereas in The Netherlands you appear to be satisfied with killing a planeload of people every year just on bikes. Pretty poor quality if you ask me, which you did. Finally, of course you don’t have any statistics for knowing how many deaths would have been avoided by wearing helmets, because you don’t collect them. The fact that you don’t measure means you don’t know. And the fact that you don’t know means you should not have an opinion that they helmets are not useful.
Overall, my message to you is that you will get the level of quality in safety that you demand, and your level, in my opinion, is far, far too low for comfort.
Andy, I read your entire comment but I don’t see your point. I’m obviously not happy with even ONE person dying in a bicycle related crash and it’s great to strive for nul as a goal. But in the meantime we have at least the safest roads in the world for both auto occupants and cyclists, and likely other road users as well.
Instead of resting on their laurels the Dutch continue to further develop what is already the world’s best street infrastructure. It was noted, for example, in the newspaper a couple days ago that the city of Amsterdam had budgeted an additional 60 million euro for bike infrastructure improvements this year. That’s on top of whatever the normal cycletrack maintenance and building budget is. Highest priority is building proper cycletracks in the last major streets that don’t have them. Included were also some 38,000 additional bicycle parking spots. In a period of budget cuts for practically everything I think it’s reasonable to be fairly satisfied that the government is doing a decent job in this area and expecting much more is unrealistic.
many thanks for the very clear and consise comments. My point is, even with all the good things that the Dutch are doing, it is nowhere near enough (and nor is it in any country). One death of a perfectly healthy and completely innocent person from a simple activity like cycling is outrageous, 200 per year is unspeakable. I completely agree with you that the Dutch government does a lot. But with transport, we humans desire to manage a social hazard of mixing killing quantities of energy very closely with people. Managing this needs contributions from all sectors of society – business, government, and civil society – to bring risk levels down to acceptable levels. And getting these contributions from business and civil society means that these people need to make some kind of sacrifice to help it happen…it is not reasonable simply to rely on government. Two particular sacrifices that the Dutch civil society can make that would contribute towards this goal are: a) protecting their children reasonably from kinetic energy by wearing a cycling helmet and b) using this training as a way of demonstrating to them that there is a really serious hazard out there that they cannot sense in any way, but will have to manage for their whole life, in vehicles as well as bikes. Cycle helmets are an absolutely fabulous tool for bringing this important story to children, and by actively pushing back on them, the Dutch are hanging on to a serious culture of mismanagement. You shouldn’t need a law to tell you to manage something this basic, you should be out there pulling them off the shelves as a child protection and education device. Some good business organisations have shown that by working on their safety culture they can reach and maintain zero levels of death and injury when operating in very difficult countries, and it is about time for civil society to learn from them. So, while I agree with you that you shouldn’t expect too much more from your excellent government, I do think there is a great contribution that you can make as citizens. By the way, the body energy of a cyclist at 30kph is about the same as a just-fired bullet, plenty enough to kill. Add whiplash and concussive effects when the body hits the ground, and it is well over human tolerance. And the energy simply doesn’t care whether you have strong views or not on social freedoms, it just works. Regards, Andy
In the USA, two-thirds of cyclists admitted to hospital have a head injury. Ninety per cent of cyclist deaths are caused by collisions with motor vehicles. For cyclists admitted to hospital in Western Australia before the helmet law, about 30% of cyclists and 30% of pedestrians had head injuries. Trends and proportions of cyclists admitted to hospital with head injury were similar for all road users. A 2002 study found that, per mile in the United Kingdom, cycling has an overall risk of injury and death similar to walking but higher than driving; it found that in France cycling is safer per hour than motoring. Measured per hour, the risk of driving, cycling and walking are similar.
Nico, Andy, With all due respect I know what a bicycle helmet is and even wear one regularly when I ride my racing bike. However this post nor this blog is not about helmet arguments and there are plenty of other forums to argue that topic. Everybody pounds their lecturn with evidence to demonstrate whatever they need to support their moral perspective or economic needs, for or against various types of helmet legislation. Go argue about it elsewhere.
Trying to use safety statistics from various English speaking countries noted above to draw any conclusions whatsoever about the Netherlands is ludicrous. The bicycle infrastructure systems, driver behavior, attitudes, types of cyclists and their skills are polar opposites. The safest country in the world for cycling has a helmet use rate of roughly 0.00000000%. Think about it.
As an expat living in Amsterdam, my greatest safety concern is the long term effects of almost constantly breathing scooter/moped exhaust and the stress caused by scooters. The numbers of these highly pollutant vehicles has been exploding. They speed regularly on bike paths.
Since then the number of scooters (and assholes riding them) has increased exponentially. Scooters are absolutely now public enemy #1 here in Amsterdam and not just for expats. Locals feel exactly the same way.
There are a lot of initiatives to ameliorate the situation but it’s been a battle to… a) get the police to enforce the existing laws b) push the new laws through the national goverment c) get the police to enforce the new laws
Please don’t hate scooters, but hate the persons on speeding scooters! I love my FR8, and use it for about 100 km urban travel. On some occasions (heavy rain) I use my (4tact) scooter. Because i am aware of both sides I am extra carefull of the cyclists.
Paul, Yes, my hatred of scooters is of course really about the many assholes who ride them. I do realize that, in the greater scheme of things, that a scooter (especially a 4 stroker) is enormously preferable to an automobile. Ironically. though, we Dutch bike riding people have fewer problems with cage drivers than with scooter trash because the infrastructure has effectively separated bikes and cars. Not so with the current situation of snorscooters on the bike paths.
The streets of Amsterdam are totally unsafe for tourist. Bikes do not respect the walkways. The lanes are extremely confusing anyway. Now add to that the cyclists complete disregard for people on foot, and high speed.
I know this post is old, but with the recent comment by Don I had to post something… We are Americans who have moved to Amsterdam and have been here for almost a year now. I LOVE that we can all ride our bikes everywhere! It might be my favorite thing about living here.
Regarding bikes and pedestrians, I have to agree with the others who have posted – it is generally the pedestrian’s fault. You wouldn’t walk into the street without looking to see if a car is coming would you? You wouldn’t just wander across a road, or stand in the middle of a street just chatting with friends, etc. Well, it’s the same thing here. It DOES take a little bit of getting used to and the bike lanes aren’t always perfectly marked, but they are marked. If you take a look around, you will see how it works and it is NOT hard to avoid bike paths.
We are taught from a very young age to look both ways before crossing, stepping into the road – at least in the US. And actually now the rule is look left, right, then left again. As a mother of 3 elementary school kids, I see what kind of rules are taught. He kids all have to learn the rules of the road, right of way, etc around age 10 – why so young? because they are on bikes and part of the traffic flow. Just like cars have the right of way in the street, bikes have the right of way on the paths and walkers have the right of way on the sidewalks.
It’s really not that tough to figure out and it’s an AWESOME system! PS Thank you for the stats Henry, coming from the US where the kids had to wear helmets ALWAYS to here where we don’t, I was curious about the stats.
I am a keen Australian cyclist who commutes to work on his bike daily. Therefore I was delighted and horrified by my experience of cyclists in Amsterdam. I fully expected to see blood flowing on the streets and mangled bodies of mothers and babies strewn among the wreckage as multiple cycles hurtle toward blind intersections at speed CONSTANTLY. No helmets. On the phone. Chatting 2 abreast….etc etc. BUT. AMAZINGLY nobody died while I was watching this sea of accidents waiting to happen. I would contend the good citizens of Amsterdam are being watched over by guardian angels. I would urge the rest of the cycling world to continue wearing helmets, high viz jackets and be lit up like Xmas trees!!
I am living in the Netherlands for a little over a year and I was involved with advanced motorbiking back in the UK. I do also have several driving licences from different places and experienced very different approaches to road safety and licence testing.
Fact is that hazard perception skills in 50% of the Dutch simply do not exist! The fact that the nanny state invested billions into a great cycle path and road infrastructure doesn’t mean people themselves know how to stay safe and I do see an accident happening here every month – I may have seen many aftermaths of accidents before the NL but to see one actually happening is a different story.
The disrespectful generalization of scooterists is also not contributing to road safety, I did actually try to ride my 125cc Honda PCX in NL but was shocked to see how blatantly my life was put in jeopardy by car drivers, maybe confusing me with a poor twat with a death wish who couldn’t afford to pay the outrageous Dutch road tax for cars. Blame the stupid law that says 50cc Scooters are bicycles, allowing totally unskilled people (especially young ones) to risk the lives of others on the cyclepaths.
No, after what I have seen I do not think that the Dutch are all superhumans above all laws of physics, cycling at night without lights seems to be a Dutch national sport plus it looks like somehow Dutch tarmac must be playground soft on impact s thats why helmets aren’t used…. The amount of cargo plus children I have seen on scooters and bicycles alike is only rivaled by the sum of the chicken cages a Vietnamese takes on its two wheeled ride, but at least the Vietnamese would use a helmet.
Anyway, you can see I don’t trust the statistics on Dutch road safety at all but the rest of the country is actually quite nice (medical care, safety from violence, labour laws, windmills, etc.) Now I will leave this witty banter, thank you for your attention and go ask my German friend who was knocked off her bicycle by another cyclists in Amsterdam if she is recovering well from her injuries. Ride safe!
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