Things that will get you a fine when cycling in the Netherlands
Cycling in the Netherlands is one of the most convenient, pleasant and cost-effective ways to get around. We share the way with swarms of other cyclists. When navigating the bicycle lanes, whether in remote rural areas or in more densely populated networks of streets, there’s an important set of rules and a clear etiquette that shouldn’t be ignored.
For the most part, avoiding accidents and fines is common sense. Some penalties might seem unlikely, whilst others will sound very familiar to some people. Others might surprise you. It’s important to keep them in mind.
Cycling on the footpath
Staying off the footpath is obligatory. Especially in busy areas, like the centre of Dutch cities, you risk a fine when you cycle on the footpath or on any pavements designated for pedestrians. This may sound like common sense but many people cycle on the footpath in order to take shortcuts, thinking they won’t be caught.
You are allowed to cycle along certain pedestrian streets during designated off-peak hours, so staying familiar with these timetables can save you a fine.
Not stopping at a red traffic light
Cyclists also have to obey the traffic lights - the traffic lights for cyclists may be smaller but are no less important than those for motorists.
Cycling through a red light can get you a fine. The exception to this is when bicycle traffic can turn right but a red traffic light indicates that all traffic going ahead has to stop. If this is the case, then pedestrians would have right of way, so extra caution should be taken by cyclists continuing right.
Cycling in the dark without bicycle lights
According to SWOV, the Dutch road safety authority, one in five bicycle-related accidents happen at night.
All cyclists are required to have bicycle lights and reflectors when it’s dark or in conditions of reduced visibility. You need a white or yellow front light and a red back light. Lights don’t have to be attached to the bicycle - they can also be fastened to clothing or bags on the upper body, as long as they shine straight ahead and are therefore clearly visible by traffic.
Reflectors are also obligatory. All bikes must have a red reflector in the back, yellow reflectors on the pedals and white or yellow reflective tyres. You can be fined 55 euros for each missing light and 35 euros for not having reflectors.
Cycling under the influence of alcohol
If you are caught with more than 220 micrograms per litre of alcohol on your breath, or a blood alcohol count of 0,05% then you can be fined 100 euros. This is the same penalty for cyclists and motorists, as the risk of accident is not considered any less significant for cyclists under the influence. If the alcohol levels are accompanied by dangerous cycling posing a risk to others, then the fine is even higher.
Not indicating right or left
When making a turn to the left or right, it’s compulsory to indicate which way you’re going by extending your arm horizontally. Failing to do this can lead to a possible fine of 35 euros.
Not having a bell
If you are cycling around without a bicycle bell, or even if you have a bell that doesn’t work, you could be fined up to 35 euros. A bell has to be audible by other road users at a distance of 25 meters.
Things a cyclist can do without risking a fine
Cycling without a bicycle helmet is allowed, and so is giving somebody a ride on the back of your bicycle. You are allowed to listen to music whilst cycling, even though research shows that this increases the risk of accidents.
Cyclists are allowed to cycle two abreast. Groups of cyclists often try to cycle three or four abreast, which is not ideal and can cause disruption to other cyclists, though a fine is not likely.
A rule that may change
This is one of the rules that is still allowed, but will soon change: using mobile devices whilst cycling.
Yes, it’s strange but true. Being on your phone whilst cycling is currently not illegal. However, the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management wishes to ban mobile device use on bicycles by 2019. Minister Cora van Nieuwenhuizen says she is confident that there is “great support in society and politics” for banning the use of smartphones whilst cycling.
A survey in January 2018 showed that 75% of residents in the Netherlands would like this ban to be put into place. Recent developments mean that the ban on holding a mobile electronic device whilst operating a vehicle of any sort will be put into place from July 1, 2019.
Staying safe on your bike
We may be well aware that we should have a bell and lights, indicate left and right, refrain from traversing pedestrian streets to cut a few seconds off our commute, yet how many of us are guilty of doing these things and risking fines?
Being mindful of the rules is not just about saving yourself the awkwardness and expense of a nasty fine - it’s about being safe when cycling and making sure the cycle path is a safe place for all. That’s why it’s important to take time to think about what’s legally allowed and what’s not.