They’re much better behaved on the continent, aren’t they?

A common refrain from British cycling campaigners is that continental drivers respect and understand cyclists – that there is better behaviour towards people cycling, and general courtesy and civility amongst road users. This is either attributed to ‘culture’, or to the influence of policies like strict liability, or both. The implication is that we need to change our ‘culture’ in Britain, or bring in strict liability – perhaps, it is sometimes said, before we even start to think about physically changing the way our roads and streets are laid out.

Now of course better behaviour, and policies that favour that more vulnerable parties in civil claims, are good things in their own right. But the problem is that our perception of how people drive on the continent is far from objective. For a start, British people who are cycling on the continent are almost certainly cycling while on holiday. That means they are going to be cycling in calmer places, and at calmer times of the day.

By contrast, cycling in Britain is very often undertaken in towns and cities, and at peak times. Cycling in Britain (and especially in London) is very much commuter-dominated, with people cycling to work, and not much for any other purpose. British people are often cycling in congested areas at peak times. However, these same British people do not go on holidays on the continent and attempt to make trips through urban areas in the rush hour; if they did, they might form a different impression of how pleasant it is to cycle on the continent.

Indeed, it is probably the fact that Dutch people experience British drivers only when they are in Britain on holiday that has given rise to their impression that the British are more careful and law-abiding than Dutch drivers. These Dutch holiday-makers are driving in Britain at off-peak times, and in calmer areas, that are less congested. They are not commuting in urban areas.

In precisely the same fashion, British people almost certainly get a misleading and distorted impression of the nature of continental drivers due to the places they are cycling in when they are in Europe. A British friend of mine commutes in and out of Geneva by bicycle; he was knocked off and quite badly injured two years ago by a woman who drove into the back of him. I have accompanied him on one of his commuting trips into the city, and it was a far from pleasant experience. There is just the same degree of haste, impatience and lack of care that you might find on a commute in a British city during rush hour.

So, if we were aiming to make an objective comparison between driving standards on the continent and in Britain, we should be sampling the opinions of British people who are cycling to work in continental towns and cities, not just those who have been on holiday there.

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Just last weekend I was cycling in the hills above Lake Geneva. There was – naturally enough – very little motor traffic on the roads I was using. As a result it would be quite easy for me to form a misleading impression of the standards of driving here. When roads are empty like this, it is very difficult to drive badly around cyclists. The opportunity for close or risky overtakes rarely presents itself. I wasn’t cut up on these roads, because there was rarely any oncoming traffic to create opportunities for stupidity.

This was brought home to me as I descended back down to the lakefront on a semi-urban road that I use quite frequently when I’m here. It’s normally largely devoid of traffic, but a combination of roadworks elsewhere in the town, and the arrival of one of Switzerland’s largest music festivals, meant that it was suddenly rather busy – more like a typical British suburban road. Instantly, the familiar impatience and risk-taking from drivers who were following behind me appeared, either squeezing past on bends, or without sufficient space. A road on which I usually experience what I perceived to be careful and courteous overtaking from Swiss drivers suddenly became a more hostile and rather more ‘British’ road.

This points towards a final variable that might skew our perception of how continental drivers behave. In general, the density of motor traffic on the continent is much lower compared to Britain, and England in particular. France, for instance, is a very big country compared to Britain, and yet has a similar population. That means if you are cycling in the countryside in France, you simply will not have as many encounters with motor traffic as you might do on an equivalent trip in Britain.

Now of course the Netherlands has a high population density, and rather a lot of cars per capita, but I don’t really believe that Dutch drivers – or the Dutch in general – are really all that better behaved or more considerate than their British counterparts. What creates the impression of courtesy on British people cycling in the Netherlands is design - design that reduces the number of interactions between drivers and cyclists to a bare minimum, and that limits the potential for stupidity when those interactions occur. Cycling in the Netherlands – even in urban areas – is the equivalent experience to riding along a quiet Swiss country lane. You are not going to be encountering many drivers, and when you do, they don’t have the opportunity to behave badly.

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21 Responses to They’re much better behaved on the continent, aren’t they?

  1. hushlegs says:

    Interesting post. I’d never considered it this way before, thanks.

  2. paul gannon says:

    A very good point. My experience (in the mid-1980s and early 90s) living for several years in the Netherlands and Belgium backs up this analysis.

    However, I would add one key feature that I found significant in setting driving style, namely pedestrian priority at junctions when vehicles (ie motors & bicycles) when turning. No doubt many British cyclists are aware of this rule as applied to cyclists, but I doubt if so many realise how important it is for pedestrians (and their priority over cyclists in this situation) for determining overall urban driving style. Additionally, cyclist & pedestrian prioirity along with the general ‘priority to the right’ rule at (unmarked) junctions means that drivers know that they may need to slow/stop at any junction.

    British pedestrians used to have this right (check out old copies of the highway code, in newer ones it’s been reduced), but practice has removed it and now driver in Britain see junctions as their priority (even applying it to driveways across pavements, etc.).

    There would be great improvements for cyclists and pedestrians if they could get together in Britain to change this.

    • Completely agree Paul, the loss of pedestrian priority at junctions is the main cause of grief in the UK when we think about making junctions safe and convenient for pedestrians and cyclists. I’m not sure how this can be fixed, possibly by a combination of corner geometry design and zebra/elephant markings, but it could be tricky.

  3. If by making the roads safer for cyclists, you attract all kinds of people with all kinds of abilities, you will get people that are more commonly driven around in cars here. Giving them mobility can only be a good thing but it does come with risks of course, generally they are out weighed by the health benefits. By keeping them generally separate and making cycling obvious and joined up, it’s rarely an issue.
    The Dutch are incredibly tolerant of numptyism, I’ve witnessed it time and time again but that does mean that the fact that that they are, shows there are still plenty of numpties to need that level of grace and patience. You only have to go to a Dutch free festival to see that there is always a proportion of people you end up wishing had been drowned at birth, same as anywhere.
    The Highways engineers have on the one hand very low expectations of UK drivers – they won’t slow stretches down because they think it will just cause over taking. But then, they will say in response to a junction being too dangerous, well, if people just obey the rules, it would work fine. So do they expect drivers to behave or not?

  4. Chris says:

    This is absolutely spot on, and not just about cycling! I’m always amazed at the number of people who move to France or Spain because they’ve loved it on holiday without giving proper thought to the fact that it’s not quite the same when you’ve got to live there as a normal working person rather than as a holidaymaker. Suits and ties in 40 degree heat aren’t much fun!

    In terms of the cycling, I have exactly the sort of profile you mention in the article – my UK cycling is 95% commuting up and down CS7, and my holiday riding will be pottering around quiet lanes with my kids in the Vendée.

    With regards to the solution, however, whilst it would be lovely to have the equivalent of a quiet Swiss lane between Colliers Wood and the Elephant, how would it ever be possible to fit the infrastructure in retrospectively? You could put a fully separated bike lane in, I suppose, but then you’d have to move the buses into the main traffic line, and making buses slower isn’t likely to be considered politically acceptable. In addition to that, there are roughly 70 sets of traffic lights already on that section of CS7, plus countless other side roads which aren’t traffic-light controlled. These roads will still be there. The closest I could see to a solution would be to run an elevated cycle path above the existing road, but then you’re going to have people at street level complaining about lack of light unless you make it transparent!

    There are certainly specific areas of difficulty which could be addressed – I’ve seen 4 people knocked off bikes by vehicles in the past 3 years, and three of those vehicles have turned left across the cyclist going North on Clapham Common Southside, turning onto Rookery Row, so there, clearly, is an individual danger spot which could do with some sort of addressing (although again I struggle to see what, seeing as you’re still fundamentally going to have vehicles turning across the line of the cyclists), but in the meantime, I would like to see blogs like this balancing comments on the things that are wrong with some recognition of the simple fact that there is safety in numbers.

    I don’t know what the official statistics look like, but purely from personal observation, CS7 is far less terrifying to cycle on than one might think just from reading the web, and the more cyclists we get on there, the safer it will become! I’d certainly encourage people who haven’t cycled in years to get some bike-handling confidence back on quiet roads before venturing onto CS7 in rush hour, but other than that, more bikes can only be a good thing, so let’s not spend too much time putting potential cyclists off whilst in search of the Holy Grail, because the only thing likely to speed to arrival of said Holy Grail is significant increases in the number of people cycling on the infrastructure already available today.

    • paul gannon says:

      Chris says, ‘let’s not spend too much time putting off cyclists whilst in search of the Holy Grail’. Well, the Holy Grail is by definition something unattainable/mystical/legendary. The ‘Holy Grail’ I want is none of those things but everyday life in several countries just a few miles across the waters that separate us from the continent (& I do means several, not just the Netherlands). So, it’s not a Holy Grail in any meaningful sense at all. It’s something which is quite attainable, even as a bolt on to existing urban infrastructure (which is of course what those other countries also had to do). It doesn’t require supernatural actions, just political power and influence.
      That does of course require addressing Chris’s other point about not putting off potential cyclists in search of this (attainable) goal – he is right in that getting more people cycling is the way we will gain political influence. But Chris is overlooking the key message promoted by AEARAB & others – sharing with motors in and of itself limits the levels of cycling. My saying that CS7 is fine to cycle on won’t change anything, because (ordinary) people will look at it & say, ‘stuff that (every day millions make the choice that they’d rather squeeze into the incredibly unpleasant tube/urban rail system rather than cycle – think about why they make that decision!).
      The approach I have suggested is that we need to identify places where we can easily and effectively put in proper cycling infrastructure so as to provide opportunities for (ordinary) people to cycle (such as Royal College Street & Bloomsbury) and to try to link them into more effective network routes thus creating the conditions that will attract more cyclists, give us more influence, etc. It’s not as sexy sounding as chasing the Holy Grail, it means slow, hard work, but I don’t see an alternative.
      PS – check out what we did in Camden to see why you’re mistaken about continental style networks being ‘retroactively’ impossible in London.

    • Tim says:

      “You could put a fully separated bike lane in, I suppose, but then you’d have to move the buses into the main traffic line, and making buses slower isn’t likely to be considered politically acceptable.”

      Your suggestion assumes that the buses then have to share with cars. How about: segregated lane for bikes, buses go in the middle, cars no longer allowed. Now the cyclists are (subjectively) safe and the buses are faster! Crazy talk? Too politically unsavoury? But this is precisely what’s being proposed along Manchester’s busy Oxford Road corridor ( http://www.tfgm.com/buspriority/pages/website/consultations-oxford-road.html ). Of course it’s too early to start counting chickens, but as Paul points out, this stuff can happen and has happened (all over the Netherlands and in some other locations).

      We need to be careful not to give up before we start. As a nation we are paying too much money, to be fatter, less safe and more polluting than we need to be. It’s not right and it needs to change.

  5. pm says:

    I’ve never cycled outside the UK, so can’t really speak of the truth of the article. Sounds plausible, though I think people get their ideas about driving standards from many sources (including actual statistics), not just holiday experiences.

    I do think British drivers, while awful in objective terms, are, at the same time, rather good by international standards. But I can’t say quite where I get that view from. I just generally see NW European drivers as being better than Southern Europeans. And (from what I’ve personally seen as a pedestrian and passenger) driving standards in places like India or China are something else entirely.

    Also, three words are enough to make me moderate my annoyance with UK drivers – Russian Dashcam videos!

  6. This post is spot on!

  7. inge says:

    Dutch motorist are rude and love to park their cars anyway and anywhere they want , even in your front garden if they could get away with it. I don’t know how many times I had an argument with those selfish and arrogant bastards ( I don’t like cars, but you would never guess , right?) because they blocked the pavement and pedestrians had to walk on the road.
    The strange thing is that I quite like many of those people as neighbours or acquaintances but as soon as it comes to their cars they change into automobilefacsists . And I turn into Ninja cyclist cum pedestrian who gets into heated arguments with those carlovers. In the Netherlands in the urban area , about 70 % is occupied by cars, stationary or moving. And most people here seem to take that for granted including the nuisance and enviromental damage this causes. I know , compared to the U.K and many other counties I shouldn’t complain because most Dutchies also ride their bike . And when they do that they are just as vulnerable as all the other cyclist or pedestrians, and they know it. That and the safe infrastructure where slow and fast moving traffic is separated is the only reason we don’t have the same situation as in the U.K.
    Not because we are so wonderful and ZEN like.

  8. I disagree – I’ve not commuted in France or Belgium, but I’ve done similar leisure rides there, and in the UK (Cheshire lanes in the latter, similar to the sort of rural roads I ride in France and Belgium). I’ve had less close overtaking (very much less), tailgating &c in France and Belgium.

    I’ve ridden fast urban roads in France (albeit only twice) at laden touring speed (10 – 12mph) and not experienced the sort of hostility and lack of consideration that I have done at far quicker speeds on similar roads in the UK,

  9. Jitensha Oni says:

    They’re forced to behave better in the safest cycling countries. I’ve cycled to work in the Netherlands and cycled at off-peak times in the UK, and vice versa, and there is some truth in what you write. However, your last sentence is incorrect, at least in the Rotterdam-Den Haag area. You’re often sharing the roads with other traffic and are subject to close passes in all conditions. There are also stats like London 14, Paris 0 to consider. However, IME continental drivers do give way to cyclists more frequently than their UK counterparts and SMIDSY’s from the left, or left or right hooks are exceedingly rare in Europe within an hour of going out on 90% of journeys whereas such an encounter is virtually guaranteed in the UK. This *is* partly due to design – better lines of sight, give way signs favouring the cyclist etc, but impatient driving endangering cyclists is much more frequent in the UK at so-called off-peak times with similar traffic densities to Europe. I attribute that to a) better roads, better education about cycling, more and better motor traffic calming (as the 2 Pauls Gannon and James allude to) and a dffferent legal basis for treating interactions with bad outcomes in Europe and b) where there is infrastructure taking bikes away from cars, in addition to what you say, the driver coming up behind a cyclist on a shared street knows that the cyclist will soon be on their own path so is maybe prepared to be a little more patient than their British counterparts. Of course, this is helped by many cycle paths in Europe being mandatory for cyclists – the lack of this in the UK maybe adds to driver frustration especially when cyclists won’t use the paths. On the other hand most UK paths are simply not good enough quality to make their mandatory use defensible. So how about this – if the UK wants NL levels of subjective safety, the UK is going to have to make cycle paths (of appropriate quality) mandatory. This is not discussed very much, though the forums are full of cyclists saying “we already have a system of cycle paths called the roads” but how can the UK hope to have safe mass cycling without it?

  10. jake says:

    I commute by bike in Auckland, New Zealand. After a cyclist died after being doored and run over in a notorious blackspot, the coroner made some unwise suggestions about making the use of cycle lanes compulsory. Questions I raised for him were:

    Where are all these lanes and what do we do when they are blocked, crap or non-existent?

    What do we do when we want to turn right?

    How far out of their preferred route will cyclists be required to detour to make use of mandatory facilities? (This directly relates to the requirement for pedestrians to use a crossing if one is available within 20m)

    How do you propose to enforce the rule, especially when it comes to judging intent? (For instance, did I move out of the cycle lane to turn right?)

    I would also like to add:

    Why didn’t the mandatory helmet law here in NZ help our friend?

    I offered the good coroner a free tour of Auckland’s good, bad and non-existent cycling infrastructure, including the hire of an electric assisted bike. I have yet to receive any response at all.

    Challenge this idea wherever you see it, because it’s drivers who should be justifying their presence in urban areas, not riders and pedestrians.

  11. goetzendaemmerung says:

    Sorry for the long post, but I think you’ve touched on some key issues and I’d like to respond from a “German” perspective (even though I’m Irish…)

    Background: I’ve been living in Germany for the last 5 years and I have found myself in pretty much every cycling “role” imaginable in that time. I cycle in heatwaves and snowstorms, in fog and in blinding sunlight, by night and by day, in lycra and in jeans, helmeted and unhelmeted. On road bikes and mountain bikes and mainly on a tourer/citybike contraption, loaded and unloaded, in the countryside and in town. I’ve also made trips to the playground or the creche with my three-year old niece in a child seat on the back, or on her own “bike”. I also work as a city bike guide occcasionally, and I recently guided a group of 20 tourists aged between 75 and 79 on a four-day, 160 km rural bike tour. So I think I’m coming at this from a perspective which is slightly informed, even though much of what I’m going to say is based on my personal experiences.

    I can’t compare cycling in Germany with cycling in England, but I find it infinitely more civilized than cycling in Ireland. This is not really because of the cycling infrastructure; some of my local cycling infrastructure is absolutely hair-raising and horrible: Two-way, compulsory-use bike paths on busy routes that are only as wide as one set of handlebars. Shared-use paths on steep, winding descents with no buffer whatsover between the path and the very solid objects (gabions) shoring up the slope. Cycle paths running next to car doors with no buffer. Bidirectional cycle paths that abruptly start half-way along a rural road, so that cyclists have to cross the road to join them at locations where it’s impossible to see what might be coming over the brow of a hill or around a bend. Cycle paths which force me to the inside of right turning lorries (in an industrial district with lots of lorries) when I’m going straight on. Cycle paths with very, very loose, rough or muddy surfaces, nettles and low branches.

    So what I really like about living here – and it’s not an exaggeration to say that it is a factor in my quality of life – is the standard of overtaking. My residential neighbourhood is full of free-range kids. Even on trunk roads, I’ve rarely had problems.

    An example: I got a puncture at dusk, fixed it, and then had to cycle 40 km home in the dark. My lights aren’t good enough for me to see the cycle path ahead (which is a bidirectional one on the “wrong” side of the road) on a dark night whilst being blinded by oncoming traffic. (Had I planned being out in the dark, I would have packed a more powerful light.) So I switch over to the B4 trunk road, a national primary route. Nearly every driver dims their lights and slows on approach to let me know I have been spotted, and to check for oncoming traffic. There is space for them to squeeze by (possibly even with 2m clearance) in lane, but they don’t, they wait for a decent gap, pull across the white line with their passenger (!) wheels well before they pass me, and merge in again so far up the road that I wonder at times whether I’m on the wrong side myself. When I used a trunk road in Ireland in the dark in January, fewer drivers dipped their lights and overtakes were closer, even though (because?) I had gone with the Christmas-tree approach to being visible.

    Some German drivers speed, some don’t, but even the ones who do usually scrub a lot of speed before overtaking cyclists. I was overtaken by a motorist on a very quiet rural road recently (part of an official cycle route) and then came around a corner to find him standing beside his car in the middle of the road, the engine off, waiting for a hedgehog to finish crossing.the road.

    I buy your “lower population” argument, absolutely. I live in a town of 75 000 people in Germany, like I did in Ireland, but it has a sleeply hinterland. I can recall a recent Sunday morning weekend cycle when I met the same milk lorry in every village for a while and that was about the height of what I had to contend with. Even when populations are comparable, people here seem to make shorter trips, or make fewer of them by car – a result of better land-use planning and more cycling. I’m also lucky to live in a medieval town where driving/parking is physically difficult. BUT I’m not sure that I would say it’s easy for drivers to deal with cyclists when there is little traffic and they aren’t dealing with anything else. There’s always SOMETHING. On bendy rural roads where overtaking isn’t feasible, traffic bunches up, even where there is hardly any of it, so I might meet no cars for an hour and then five together.

    I am not entirely sold on your “holiday” argument, for two reasons.
    1) My own favoured leisure cycling routes are very, very popular with motorcyclists (because of the hills, the bends and the scenery) and therefore demonstrate amply whether traffic is civilized or not.
    2) Even on greenway-type flat, dull routes, some interaction with motorized traffic is inevitable, and I think there will always be a moments when a country’s “real” character shows through, even on a route that has been nicely packaged. When I guided a group of elderly tourists along the river Main shared-use path recently, we were diverted onto a trunk road several times, for a few kilometers every time, because of hedge-cutting on the cyclepath. So I had to cycle with 20 tourists on a trunk road, and we had to cross it multiple times, and some of them were partially deaf, a few had Parkinsons’s, all of them were nearly 80, and it was hot. If German motorists on trunk roads didn’t conduct themselves in a fairly exemplary fashion in the presence of cyclists, I think I would have noticed – “holiday” or not.

    I would very strongly echo what Paul said about straight-on pedestrian (and cyclist) priority at junctions. Pedestrians have to pay a little bit of attention at signalled crossings (i.e. wait for green) but at unsignalled crossings, it is possible to cross without having to even check for turning traffic – no interruptions to daydreaming or even screen-time required. That helps cyclists too – drivers are used to the idea that they have to LOOK before they turn. I think this is much more important than the technicalities of strict liability. German traffic law also states very explicitly that drivers must slow down if they see children or elderly people ahead who MIGHT run/wander into the road, and signs warn drivers when they are near kindergartens or old people’s homes. (Sign clutter- bad or good??)

    Now, this is a bunch of anecdotal evidence, and I haven’t got statistics to back it up, but the conclusions my gut instinct lead me towards are:

    1) German drivers ARE good (at least in situations that affects me personally a lot: narrow, bendy, hilly rural roads, roads through my own residential neighbourhood).
    2) Germans are good at regulating access and restricting rat running (cyclists can go nearly everywhere, motorists have to deal with “Residents Only”, “Forestry Traffic Only”, “Agricultural Traffic Only”, hunting and fishing traffic only, beekeeping traffic only etc. etc – (you see the weirdest stuff on signs!) People think carefully about who and what roads are FOR and this is linked with wider questions of network planning and land-use planning.

    These are things I would like to see emulated, full stop. My third conclusion is more nuanced:

    3) We can learn a lot from German cycling infrastructure, but the really story here is how design guidance in Germany HAS CHANGED AND BEEN MODIFIED over the years in response to the furious protests of German cyclists (in the form of political lobbying, but also various court cases) against crap infrastructure with very low design speeds, very low capacity and a multitude of unnecessary built-in hazards. I’m a translator myself, and I think the debates between “infrastructuralists” and “vehicular cyclists” in the UK and Ireland could be usefully informed if more material on this process were available in English. I suspect that a few thousand Euros worth of translation might help to avert millions been spent on supposedly “Dutch” infrastructure which actually turns out to be old-style poor German infrastructure that has to be dug up again as soon as cycling grows even by a few percentage points and it fails to accomodate increased cyclist numbers. Germany is obviously still full of crap cycling infrastructure, and cycling on it would teach any engineer or interested party a lot about what NOT to build, but the changes now being made for the better (albeit in a slow and piecemeal fashion with some retrograde steps) are the real story.

    Issues like (fast) cycling on footpaths and shared-use pavements are now being handled much better after years of problems like the ones Sustrans have recently complained of. I cycled through Coburg last weekend, and when I got to the shared-use pavement opposite the railway station that I found bumpy, uncomfortable and crowded the last time I had been in Coburg, it was still there, but the signage had changed (I’m paraphrasing) from “cyclists/pedestrians” to “pedestrians/may be used by slow, careful cyclists who yield to pedestrians.” I was happy to use the road instead, and I’m sure the pedestrians were happy to have me there, too. The car traffic may have been slightly less happy, although I wasn’t really slowing it, but the key thing is that the drivers can no longer cultivate a sense of exclusive entitlement to the road by pointing to a big blue “bike” sign on the pavement. That kind of thing makes a real difference – it facilitates more comfortable journeys and reduces antagonism between cyclists and pedestrians. The car traffic wasn’t heavy anyway, as I was following the “cycling” route signposted through the town on reasonably minor roads, not the main road.

    I would love to see more cycle campaigners/planners/bloggers in Ireland and the UK inviting German cycle campaigners and planners as speakers or guest bloggers, reading German material and finding out how to avoid mistakes the Germans have spent decades trying to recover from and emulate German successes.

  12. Peter Clinch says:

    It is true that when I cycle in NL I am on holiday… but it is further true that since I am visiting my (Dutch) wife’s friends and family on many occasions I am cycling in “normal” (as opposed to holiday) locations. My very first Dutch cycling experience was Amsterdam from the main station out to a residential suburb, with luggage in rush hour, which was not typical touroid fare.

    As for design preventing interaction… up to a point, Lord Copper, but one interaction which is very common is where a fietspad has to cross over a road at a junction creating a right of way conflict (not so common in the UK, nothing much like fietspads). These are clearly shown with shark’s teeth to indicate right of way, but I have always found that even when the teeth tell me I have to wait, and I do, then drivers will still routinely stop and wave me over anyway, and this is in non-touristy bits as well as touristy ones. Not something I would really expect to the same degree in a random UK location, to be honest.
    But whether this is consideration or not is perhaps a moot point: Dutch drivers are, on average, more aware of cyclists simply because they’re far more of a fact of life, and that will make a useful difference in a lot of cases. And even the eejit who tried to reverse in to me last year and appeared to take exception to my very existence doesn’t alter that general case.

    • Arno says:

      I’m Dutch. All i can say is: it’s not because we’re so kind or whatever. It’s because at least 50% of the time, the right of way in those occasions will be with cyclists. This means motorists are very aware of this fact. The way the angles have been set most of the times means motorists need to drive very slow to take the turn anyway (which enables them to see all other road users) and them being used to giving the right of way to cyclists in these kind of situations means they MIGHT do it even if you do not have the right of way as a cyclist.

      Note that both types exist for a reason: If a cyclist would always get the right of way, they could assume a car would wait without looking themselves. Likewise with motorists. In the Netherlands, everything is based on the fact that people make mistakes, no matter how careful they might be.

  13. The first time I went cycling in a fairly rural bit of Norfolk, I thought similar things. On quiet country lanes, most drivers were polite, patient, and nice to me. Compared to my usual London commute, I thought it must just be that rural drivers were more patient, and there was something about city people vs country people that explained it.

    However, the more I thought about it, the more I realised that on a quiet weekday afternoon, there was so little traffic on the lanes that it would be quite difficult to drive badly around cyclists. That, and the lanes were more likely to be used by ramblers, horse riders and tractors, so drivers were expecting to slow down. They weren’t useful through-routes, and no-one was in a hurry to get anywhere. On the occasions where my route took in a short section of A-road or dual carriageway, the close passes and terrifying speeds returned.

    Given that it’s likely that many of the drivers I encountered on the quiet lanes would also use the busier routes, it’s impossible to argue that it’s a cultural thing. Drivers pick up signals from the roads they’re driving on – when they’re fast, straight roads with mainly car traffic, they’ll drive faster, be less patient, and give other road users less room. When the roads are slower and they’re looking for vulnerable road users, they slow down and drive more considerately. The environment influences our behaviour, so we have to start creating an environment that enables that.

  14. I’ve cycle toured in nice places in Britain, France, Belgium, Spain, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Romania, Canada and the USA. I’ve experienced careless and inconsiderate driving in all of those countries but In only one country have I experienced (and I have experienced it far too often) a car pulling alongside on a country lane, passengers winding down the window and yelling some loud but usually inaudible abuse. No surprises which country that is. For reasons I still don’t really understand, cyclists in Britain are regarded as an ‘out group’ in a way that I’ve never experienced elsewhere.

    • goetzendaemmerung says:

      I get roared at in Germany by car drivers or passengers from time to time, but almost always for one specific “crime”: opting (legally!) to use the road rather than a hazardous cycle facility at locations where cyclists have only recently been granted this privilege.

  15. Pingback: What would measuring overtaking distances in the Netherlands tell us about Dutch drivers? Very little | As Easy As Riding A Bike

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