Mentality in traffic is deteriorating rapidly, says traffic psychologist

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The number of road deaths has risen to a peak since 2008, Statistics Netherlands reported this morning. Last year 737 road users died and the higher number of cyclists aged 75 and older is striking. With 150 deaths, that was 60 percent more than in 2021.

Traffic psychologist Gerard Tertoolen is not surprised that the number of road casualties has risen: “The population is growing and the more people on the road, the greater the risk of accidents.”

It’s getting busier and that leads to annoyance. Tertoolen observes traffic with some regularity: “Bumper sticking, for example, or just passing in front of someone. And cyclists often take priority, while you should be given priority. The number of drunk drivers is also increasing and don’t forget the use of the mobile phone, which is also becoming a major cause of accidents.”

According to Tertoolen, it is mainly a matter of mentality: “We see that the mentality in traffic is deteriorating enormously. People give others much less space. They are individualistic and have a short fuse, also in traffic.”

Cyclist most vulnerable

“What we also see is that cyclists often have to share the road with motorists. If there are no separate cycle paths, the risk of accidents is much higher,” says Tertoolen. “The cyclist is the most vulnerable road user. They can of course also be individualistic and not paying attention, but in an accident between a car and a cyclist, the latter is the most vulnerable of the two.”

According to the traffic psychologist, the electric bicycle certainly contributes to the greater number of deaths in traffic. “The higher the speed, the harder the blow.”

And the electric bicycle is very much on the rise. “Sometimes you have the idea that there are more electric bicycles than regular bicycles and yet we are not really used to it yet. The fact that such a bicycle can suddenly be with you, because it goes much, much faster than before, that is something we are not yet set up for,” says Tertoolen.

CBS researcher Ruben van Gaalen also sees that cyclists are vulnerable and that more and more elderly people are cycling. “Since corona they have started making more kilometers by bicycle. The elderly are becoming more and more mobile and that is good, that people are healthy and exercise more, but the risks are increasing,” he says.

Better bike paths

The Fietsersbond is pleased that the elderly continue to cycle for longer and agrees with traffic psychologist Tertoolen that more separate cycle paths are needed: “The infrastructure is not developing along with it,” says director Esther van Garderen. “There must be more asphalt for cycle paths, because they do not always meet the standard, such as the minimum width.”

The cabinet is aiming for zero road deaths by 2050. The Road Safety Coalition, a group of 36 organizations such as the ANWB, Veilig Verkeer Nederland and also the Fietsersbond, says that this goal is increasingly out of sight. They ask politicians for substantial investments in enforcement and bicycle safety.

Several road users at a busy intersection in The Hague

Traffic psychologist Tertoolen believes that we need to gain a little more understanding for each other again. “There must be campaigns, people must be better informed and with such casualty numbers, measures must also be taken.”

Enforcement, the chance of getting caught, and a different way of punishment, he thinks: “I am in favor of a points system, which means that you lose your driver’s license sooner if you commit really serious offences. Fines are annoying, but once you have paid them, go you can do what you always did. If you lose your driver’s license, that’s a whole different story.”

A helmet obligation?

From a medical angle, a helmet is compulsory on bicycles, can that help? “Of course it is good to advise people who feel a bit insecure in traffic, and especially the elderly, to put on a bicycle helmet, says Tertoolen. However, he is not in favor of an obligation. “It is a bit victim blaming, because very often the motorist is the cause of an accident and to then force the victim to do something unpleasant, I think is the wrong course of action.”

And just like the Fietsersbond, he thinks that making helmets compulsory will make cycling less attractive: “It is actually a good thing that people cycle a lot, with helmets compulsory, far fewer people will get on their bikes and we don’t want that either.”

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