Who else benefits from the Dutch cycling infrastructure?

Posted: 6 December 2012

Source: BicycleDutch

Members of the “Scooter club Eindhoven” testing the Eindhoven Hovenring.

Every now and then one of my videos shows someone in a mobility scooter using the cycle paths. This is usually completely by chance and to most Dutch this is nothing special. People with disabilities can and do use all types of vehicles, from mobility scooters to hand-operated tricycles, legally on the cycle paths. It gets them from A to B safely without being dependent on someone helping them. In other words; the cycle paths offer people with disabilities a great freedom to travel where they wish.

The laws in Europe for what are old-fashionedly called ‘Invalid Carriages’ vary a lot. If you compare the UK with the Netherlands for instance there are huge differences. In the UK a mobility scooter may only go 8mph (12.9km/h) on the road. That is very slow and most people would think twice about getting on the road and mix with much faster heavy motorised traffic in such a vulnerable vehicle. In the Netherlands motorised mobility scooters have several options. They are allowed to go 45km/h (28mph) on the road, which is only slightly slower than motorised traffic (50km/h or 31mph). But they may also use the extensive cycle path network. On those paths, in the built up area, they are allowed to go 30km/h (18mph). This would be considerably faster than most Dutch cyclists. In reality, most people in mobility scooters use the cycle paths at about the same speed most Dutch cyclists go (20km/h or 12.4mph), so they blend in nicely.

Mobility scooters and other vehicles for people with disabilities on Dutch cycling infrastructure.

That mobility scooters are allowed to use the well-designed Dutch cycling infrastructure gives people who are not able to cycle (anymore) the freedom to travel from A to B in an independent and very safe way. Something which really enhances their quality of life. I know this from firsthand experience. When my father lost the ability to hold his balance after a series of mild strokes, and thus the ability to cycle, he switched to a mobility scooter to get to wherever he wanted or needed to be. He was for instance able to continue his voluntary work in the Utrecht cathedral where he welcomed tourists and where he did light administrative work. Because of the mobility scooter he was able to continue to make all sorts of short journeys by himself for almost 10 extra years until his condition made interacting with other traffic impossible altogether. These were 10 extra years in which he could make a valuable contribution to society, which is very important for someone’s well-being and thus for society as a whole. National health care supplies the mobility scooters to most people in the Netherlands, and sometimes local municipalities cover the costs or rent out vehicles for longer periods. Mobility scooters are especially made available to people who can still walk short distances. If you stop using them they must sometimes be returned.

Dutch law treats mobility scooters as mopeds or scooters. But the Dutch public sees the two very differently. While most people rightly complain about speeding scooters on the cycle paths you hear only few complaints about mobility scooters. I think many Dutch people have a parent, an aunt or uncle or they know someone else who is dear to them who is dependent on a mobility scooter. Once you see how important they are to someone, you are very happy to share some space on the cycle path with people in mobility scooters or in another specially designed vehicle.

Cycling next to someone in a mobility scooter is so ordinary that it is even used as an image in advertising, as can be seen in this video. In which people are persuaded to become a Maatje (buddy) of someone who can use one.

There are clubs all over the Netherlands for people in mobility scooters. They make tours together and when the Eindhoven Hovenring was built the local ‘Scootmobiel vereniging‘ was requested to test the steepness of the entrances.

So good cycling infrastructure is not only good for people from 8 to 80 who want to cycle, the cycle paths also shield pedestrians from motorised traffic, and they offer quality of life to people with disabilities. In short: cycle paths are good for society.

Rules and regulations

For motorised vehicles for people with disabilities (electric wheel chairs, mobility scooters, and covered vehicles) the following rules apply:

The law treats the driver of a mobility scooter as a pedestrian when driving on the pavement (sidewalk) and as a slow moped/scooter when using the cycling infrastructure or the road way (it is not permitted to use motorways).

  • Third party liability insurance is required. Proof of insurance must be attached to the vehicle and be visible to all.
  • Vehicles may only be operated from the age of 16.
  • Vehicles may not be larger than the following dimensions
    • Width: 1.10 metres (3 ft 7 in)
    • Height: 2 metres (6 ft 7 in)
    • Length: 3.50 metres (11 ft 6 in)
  • Maximum speeds:
    • on the road way: 45km/h (28mph)
    • on the cycle path: 30 km/h (18mph) in the built up area and 40km/h (25mph) in the countryside
    • on the pavement (sidewalk): 6km/h (3.7mph, to protect pedestrians)

(note that the speeds are always adapted to the general speeds of the other road users in a specific place)

(Legal information from the site: Regionaal orgaan verkeersveiligheid Limburg)