Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Our first bike prang in the Netherlands

The one thing I have been frankly terrified of having happen, is that in moving to the Netherlands to enjoy their better standard of living and fantastic cycle provision, we find ourselves in an accident with a car, thus completing the irony and feeling really stupid at best and at worse loosing a loved one. I was expecting it would be the kids and I've been very careful riding with them.
Never did I imagine that it would be my 75 year old mother in law that would be the first of the Joneses to be in a prang with a car. It wasn't fun, but this rates on the feeling really stupid end of the irony. She hurt her knee but both her and the car were travelling in opposite directions at walking speed, she was trapped between the car and the wall with not enough room and the handlebar of her bike scraped the car.
They were out of the car with insurance forms before Ellen had even had time to get up, they just about managed to ask her if she was OK before saying, you've scratched our car, what's your insurance details.
Where my red back lamp is, it the spot where Ellen was squashed between the wall and the oncoming car

From the other direction - cars can travel in this direction only and it's two way for bikes.

We've filled in the forms, I made sure that Ellen's side of the story said, there wasn't enough room, they were both moving - so not just her and that she hurt her knee but it will be the insurance company who decides who pays.
In the Netherlands the cyclist is always given a bit of the benefit of the doubt and is classed as the vulnerable road user, but even in the UK, I think given the amount of space the driver had left Ellen between the edge of the road and his car, I doubt he would be able to say he'd given her enough space to pass.

What's interesting and what I've observed is that in the Netherlands generally speaking in urban areas cyclists and drivers on narrow roads are both at very low speeds.
When prangs happen it's not likely to be serious - in real terms a scratched car is far less valuable than a wounded knee, even if a scratched Audi costs much more to fix. Of course the Dutch driver in his early 20's driving an Audi in the centre of Utrecht doesn't see Ellen's 75 year old knee as being more valuable than the side of his car. This is never going to be a simple equation in the modern world - I am very interested to see how the insurance company see it, if legally and morally there is any chance that, yes indeed the driver doesn't have the right to make a 75 year old cyclist he barged past pay for the scratch because she wobbled and fell onto his car. To me, it's straight forward, but I still don't know what the outcome will be. This is my bias opinion, as I'm sure you are aware.

One thing we've been musing about is the difference the provision here makes when drivers are arrogant assholes - and they come up of course. For the most part, you only see them from the safety of your segregated cycle path. Where you find yourself on a shared way -

  • either in the old narrow parts of the city 
  • or an access road - most streets with houses are no through roads, so cars are rare and are generally about to park or are just starting their journey, 
  • or on a road that's been deemed a 'fietstraat' which means the whole road is red tarmac and there are signs all along it saying 'Auto te gast'  and drivers have to treat the road as if it's predominantly a cycle road and they take 2nd place 
BUT all sorts of bad behaviour can still happen.
I've been riding on a fieststraat and been practically sideswiped while riding with a kid next to me by a driver doing faster than I would have liked. I shouted at him but the man in his 50's clearly could see me and did it because he wanted to communicate that he wasn't playing the game expected of him.

But here, you see, is the difference and it's a very significant one - he saw me, he knew that it would intimidate me but that would be it, it would be irritating, but nothing more. He saw me.
The infrastructure means that whether you are on a separate cycle path or on a road shared with traffic, they can see you.
The big killer on the UK's roads is SMIDSY - sorry mate I didn't see you, and your dead.
Here, yes there are some right tools in charge of motors and there's sometimes a weird way that at 10mph cars and cycles in the city somehow can coexist millimetres apart with the odd scratch or angry exchange, but they see each other.
Access road to our flats, no through road, cars only come here to park or are leaving - example of shared space we cycle on with cars.
Example of two-way path that runs along major roads - you can see and hear crazy drivers but they can't really bother you or endanger you.
In conclusion, it was horrible that Ellen spent one day riding around Utrecht, only to have a prang and not to get back on the bike for the rest of her weeks stay once we'd ridden back to where they were staying. It was the worst thing to happen to someone on their first day riding in a foreign country. There I am trying to demonstrate how wonderful our life is here, and it seriously backfired. I'm just glad her knee was better the next day. Hopefully Ellen will still cycle in to Ely on a sunny day, but she said herself, it's been months since she'd ridden in Ely and as traffic volumes there keep going up, the whole idea is less and less attractive.
Has it put us off or the kids here in the Netherlands? Nope, I still would prefer to pay the insurance in case I scratch some twat's audi, and I prefer taking the risk of that uneasy prang at 5mph than a SMIDSY left hook in the UK any day.

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