5 reasons why the Dutch cycle without bike helmets.

There are many shocking sites you see when it comes to the dutch and bicycles. There are the ones carrying up to 4 children at a time; others managing to ride whilst their dog runs alongside attached by a lead; some holding onto another empty bike and others carrying two huge bags of shopping and still managing to wave to their friend as they cycle past. But perhaps the most shocking site of all is the lack of protective head gear. 

 

It may seem alien to an expat who has just moved to the Netherlands that the majority of the cycling population do not wear a helmet. Most countries in the western world, whilst it is not illegal, take a stern view on cycling without a helmet. So why is it then that the Dutch, a leading country when it comes to innovation and forward thinking ideas, still refuse to wear a helmet…

1. Other road users are more aware of cyclists

Over 27% of all trips are made by bicycle. So that means wherever you are in your car (except the motorway of course), you will almost always be sharing some part of your journey with a cyclist.

And this has remained so for years and years, so all those 17 year olds taking their driving licence will have watched their parents, and grandparents sharing the road with their two wheeler comrades, and know exactly how to act when they are around cyclists.

Compare this to the UK where only 4% of journeys are taken by bike and you can begin to understand why dutch car users are so used to sharing the road, which in itself leads to a lot less fatalities.

Despite the recent headlines stating that Cycling is now more dangerous than driving’ thanks to a report from Statistics Netherlands, director of  the Institute for Road Safety and Research (SWOV) Peter van der Knaap argues that cycling is in fact becoming safer due to the Dutch cycling so much and to a much older age.

 

2. No one wears a helmet whilst walking…

Ok so it sounds a bit of a weak argument but it’s true! Head injuries aren’t just dangerous when you are cycling. They are just as likely in the car as on a bike, with most head injuries happening whilst walking. Falls are responsible for almost 50% of traumatic brain injuries in the USA. And yet there is never a debate on whether helmets in cars should be compulsory or when heading out for a summer’s stroll.

And in fact there has been research which states that biking with helmets may make the car drivers take MORE risks, as they no longer see the cyclist as being vulnerable, especially if it is a man. So fellas if you insist on wearing head gear then its probably safer to also borrow your wife’s dress at the same time.

3.Helmets can be ineffective

Many Dutch people argue that bike helmets are restrictive and can actually obstruct the vision of a cyclists, making it difficult to quickly look over you shoulder to check the traffic, or make a sharp right turn without hitting anyone. And to further back up this theory that bike helmets are about as much use as a chocolate teapot when it comes to bike/car collisions, along comes Theo Zeggers, a traffic consultant for Fietsersbond who had this to say:

‘If you are hit by a car on your bike there is no helmet that will protect you. There is actually no bike helmet ever developed that will protect you against the kind of dangerous impacts you experience at high speeds. It is impossible to make such a helmet and I don’t think one will ever be developed.’

 

So helmets may be fine when having a collision with another cyclists, but if you get hit by a car- a helmet will not make a difference. A very controversial statement!

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4.They get bike and traffic lessons at school from as young as 5.

‘Verkeerslessen’ or traffic lessons start in school as young as Groep 2 (that’s from about 5 years old). It may just begin with running around the playground and knowing that red means stop and green means go but the idea of obeying traffic regulations is indoctrinated at a very young age. The older they get, the more complicated the lessons become and then before you know it (around 8 years old) they no longer require cars or buses to go on school trips- they all just go by bike!! Imagine the health and safety headache that would give the teachers in the UK!!

Warning kids- please never cycle like this. 

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5. They don’t want to become obese!

As you can imagine, cycling every day (the dutch manage at least 70minutes per week!) means they’ve definitely earned their frikandel and fries at the weekend. In fact all this cycling and fresh air means dutch people have a half year longer life expectancy and 6500 deaths per year are prevented according to a 2015 study quantifying the benefits of cycling in NL   .

So what would happen if the Government suddenly decided to introduce compulsory helmet use? According to cyclinguk.org enforced helmet laws in some countries have caused a huge reduction in cycle use, for example in Western Australia bike use has dropped by around 30% since the introduction.

Who knows what would happen in NL if the Government introduced a similar law. It’s possible that it would put people off the many short cycling trips they take if they didn’t have their helmet with them, drastically reducing the amount of minutes a person cycles per week which could mean that they no longer earn that frikandel and fries.Image result for frikandel

The dutch seem to be more focused on implementing good biking practice (such as no drunk cycling or biking whilst apping) and investing huge sums of money into properly lit bike paths, than promoting helmet use.  And with the lowest number of cyclists killed per mile travelled in the world the dutch must be doing something right

Giving birth in the Netherlands

What’s it really like to give birth in a foreign country, especially one which has the HIGHEST rate of home birth in Western Europe and you’re planning on requesting an elective c-section…

 

When we arrived in the Netherlands back in the summer of 2014 I was around 28 weeks pregnant with my third child. My husband had been signed to a football club in Emmen and we were given a ‘holiday home’ to temporarily live in whilst we searched for something more permanent for our soon to be family of 5.

emmen house

 

Why I chose to have a c-section

Due to the nature of my first two birth experiences (10lb + baby, back to back etc etc) I was advised by health providers in England to go for a csection if I ever decided to have a third. Having been scared shitless by stories regarding the dutch and their preference for unmedicated home births (25% of births in the Netherlands are at home, compared with just 2% in the UK) I prepared myself for battle with my hospital consultant but I needn’t have worried! I explained everything about my first two birthing experiences and my consultant was more than happy to schedule me in for a csection on my actual due date- Monday 3rd November.

Mondays child

How the dutch do it

I was monitored every couple of weeks, including growth scans and blood/urine tests. I also had a Glucose Tolerance Test (GTT) due to my first son being so huge, which luckily came back negative.

I was also visited by a kraamzorg a few weeks before I was due. A kraamzorg is something completely unique to the Netherlands and definitely something the UK could benefit from introducing. She is a cross between a maternity nurse, au pair, cleaner, cook and support system all rolled in to one.

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Our kraamzorg came armed with leaflets and advised us that she would be with us the day I left the hospital and would be with us a maximum of 10 days as I was having a csection (normally its around 5 days post birth).

 

Birth Day!

And then the day was finally here! We had luckily just purchased a house 6 days before (great timing!!) which meant that the last few days were action packed, as well as my oldest son starting primary school in our new neighbourhood at the same time.

walters first day school

We were expected at the hospital at 10am and by 1:30pm my baby girl was born. We didn’t know the sex and after two boys I really expected to see another little willy. I had asked for the doctors not to tell me what sex the baby was but to just hold him/her up so I could see for myself. And what a surprise it was. The section itself was totally calm and I was able to cuddle Sylvie straight away, and she was kept with me the whole time.

syvlie and me

The nurses who accompanied me down to theatre were amazing and did such a good job of keeping us all calm and also made sure my mother, who had flown over from the UK, was kept up to date as only my husband was allowed to accompany me into theatre.

Soon after the birth I was wheeled back to my private room and was able to tell my mum that the bundle I was holding in my arms was a little girl. A truly priceless moment.

I ended up staying in the hospital for 3 nights, with the nurses making me buzz them everytime I needed to do something for Sylvie so that I could recover as much as possible.

When we arrived home on the thursday we were joined by our kraamzorg, who’s duty it was to take over the household activities such as cooking, cleaning and getting the boys from school, as well as doing regular checks on me and the baby. However as I had both my mum and husband home I didn’t really feel like I needed an extra person in the house and I sent her away after only a few days. My personal experience with the kraamzorg differed wildly to that of my friends, some of whom cried when their kraamzorg left!

kim k crying

 

Comparing a dutch birth to one in the UK

Overall I was extremely impressed by the level of care offered by the dutch health care system. Everything seemed geared towards making sure that mum fully recovered so that she could take care of the baby. I know that I personally struggled with how quickly I was discharged from the hospital in England after I’d given birth to my first two children, with little to no advice on breast feeding and still suffering from the after affects of a traumatic delivery. I was lucky I had a very supportive husband and my mum looking after me once I was home but for many women I can imagine that isn’t always the case.

 

Dutch Traditions

A few days after Sylvie was born her older brother Walter got to carry out the first of many dutch traditions- bringing ‘beschuit met muisjes” to school to celebrate the birth of his sister. They are a sort of rusk with a sprinkling of either pink or blue aniseed balls and are traditional to eat after the birth of a child (I actually ate one of these in the hospital!) the idea being the aniseed stimulates milk production!

walter beschuit met muisjes

So there you have it, my first (and only!) experience of giving birth in the Netherlands, any questions please ask!