Police checks in the dark

It’s dark. You’re late; you jump on your bike and take off. As you hurry through the rain, you can see the light reflecting off police jackets just ahead of you. And suddenly, you’re stuck with a 55 euro fine. If only you’d bought those bike lights…
By Remco van Veluwen / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen

Every year, as the sun sets earlier and earlier, the police carry out bike light checks. But this year they are working extra hard, says Siemon Luimstra of the Northern Netherlands police force. He was behind the large-scale check on bike lights carried out on Wednesday 28 November.

‘There are too many people who bike without lights’, says Luimstra. ‘Because of that, there are many fatal accidents. Last year, for the first time ever, we had more cyclists die because of traffic accidents than drivers. Cyclists tend to think they’re safer than drivers because they can see 360 degrees around them.’

‘But in bad weather, cyclists wear hats or hoods, which limits their vision’, says Petra Koops van ‘t Jagt, police contact for the light checks.

Bring more batteries

Anouk, a twenty-year-old student of chemistry, is looking for batteries. ‘I usually have another light, but it’s in another bag.’ Just when she resigns herself to a fine, she realises her headlight is working. What has she learned? ‘Bring more batteries, and pay attention next time. I think it’s good that the police are doing this.’

Jonas is twenty-three and studies computer science. He’s just received a fine because his headlight wasn’t working properly. ‘The dynamo wasn’t working properly anymore.’ The fine was 55 euros. ‘It’s a shame, but that’s what DUO is for’, he jokes. He’s not bummed? ‘Of course I am. But I did it to myself. I should’ve bought lights.’

Contrary to what you might think, the police actually encourage people to warn their friends about the light checks. It’s not their goal to hand out as many fines as possible: they want people to be safe in traffic. ‘We could hide in the bushes, but we’d rather be visible’, Luimstra explains.

Too late

Josef (28), a graduate of small business and retail management, cycles with an extra bicycle he holds in his hand. Neither of the bikes have light. ‘I saw the police, but it was too late’, he says. ‘But I’m glad they’re doing it. When you’re in the car, you can barely see cyclists who don’t have lights.’ He’s lucky: he is only fined for one bike.

The question is whether the checks actually change behaviour. Luimstra thinks they do. Information and ad campaigns mean people are more aware of the need for proper bike lights. ‘A good set will cost you less than five bucks’, he says. Research published by Rijkswaterstaat has shown that the percentage of cyclists with both a head- and a tail light has increased to 70 percent in Groningen.

Aware of the rules

Bidong-Zhang is a thirty-year-old pharmaceutical student. It took some time for him to get used to biking, but he was aware of the rules. ‘I knew I needed lights. Unfortunately my built-in light broke. I’m buying new lights first thing tomorrow.’

Hanna (24), a student of film and contemporary audiovisual media, disagrees with her fine. ‘My tail light broke a few days ago because someone hit my bike. If that had happened five minutes ago I wouldn’t have been able to get a new light. My head light works just fine.’ She plans to complain to the police. Needing both a head- and a tail light is news to her. ‘I think they should change the rules.’

The rules are:

  • White or yellow headlights
  • Red tail lights
  • They should shine straight ahead
  • They aren’t allowed to blink, nor can they blind people
  • Loose lights can only be attached to your torso, your clothing, or your bag
  • You need a red reflector on the back of your light
  • You need yellow reflectors on your pedals
  • You need white or yellow reflectors on your wheels
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