Bike helmets, the Dutch have a different philosophy (CIEE Amsterdam)
Name: Hannah Huber
Resident Director CIEE Amsterdam
What are the first thoughts that come to your head when you see this photo of a child in a bike seat? A majority of Americans are shocked to see Dutch babies without helmets. In the Netherlands, this is a very normal sight. When you ask a Dutch person why they don't wear a helmet their answer is often, "because I know I won't fall off my bike" or "because we're used to riding our bike and others watch out for us". It's also very normal to see a dog jogging beside a bike while the biker is on their cell phone or has their weekly groceries in a basket attached to their steering wheel. I'll never forget the day I saw a Dutch father with a newborn strapped to his front (with a baby bjorn carrier) with two children sitting in the front of a bakfiets (bike with large wooden bucket in front, see photo below) and an additional two children on the back of his bike (on what they call the baggage carrier); Especially during rush hour when parents are rushing to bring their children off to school this is a normal sight, yet it continues to shock people visiting here.
The Dutch philosophy is: Cyclists are not dangerous; cars and car drivers are: so car drivers should take the responsibility for avoiding collisions with cyclists. This implies that car drivers are almost always liable when a collision with a bicycle occurs and should adapt their speed when bicycles share the roads with cyclists. The Dutch seem to have this trust in themselves as cyclist that everything will be ok because other drivers are looking out for them.
I can attest that the driving skills here are above average because they have to be. The written and driving exam are incredibly thorough and it's normal to fail the first and even second time for the driving exam. Here drivers are taught to look out for trams, bikes, trains, buses, dogs, etc. In such a densely populated countries with high public transportation usage and where the number of bikes outnumber the population, it's essential that people learn how to drive properly. The driving age here by the way is 18, compared to 16 in the U.S. Officially, if you move to the Netherlands your drivers license is only valid for 6 months after which you have to take the Dutch driving exam. This law was made to ensure that foreigners eventually have to adapt and learn a new way of driving. I personally had to take the driving exam (theory part) three times before passing! I'm not embarrassed to say this as in a room of 50 people, approximately only 10 would pass each round. Luckily I passed the driving part the first time around, (I suppose that driving since I was 16 gave me a lot of good practice). For my driving exam in the U.S. way back when, all I had to do was drive around the block once and parallel park between two cones; quite a different experience compared to the rigorous Dutch approach.
In conclusion, although the Dutch may appear very lax with their refusal to wear a helmet, they do take extra precautions elsewhere, like ensuring everyone knows how to drive well.
I recall once there was a CIEE student whose mother sent her a bike helmet to use during her semester with CIEE Amsterdam. This student never ended up picking up her helmet here at the study center saying that she felt silly wearing one when no one else does. Regardless, we do point students in the right direction during orientation should they want to buy or rent a helmet as this is always an option.