Will a law against the use of a phone while biking work? | Belicons

Will a law against the use of a phone while biking work?

Posted on: 
Friday 14 December 2018

Email this page

This email address will not be used for any other purpose than sending this one email successfully.
Will a law against the use of a phone while biking work?

Photographer: Santeri Viinamäki

A couple of months ago the Dutch minister of infrastructure and water management announced that starting from July 1 2019 it isn’t allowed any more to drive a bike and hold a phone at the same time. Many people immediately have an opinion about this measurement. They either think it is nonsense, most of all because they think that this law cannot be enforced. Or they think it is a great improvement of the law, since many accidents in which the use of a phone was a factor have happened already.

It is easy to quickly have an opinion about this, but eventually it is about the result. If this measurement will really make traffic more safe, then it is a great measurement. However, when this law will operate merely symbolically, then it has no use. Since this is not easy to determine, in this blog, I won’t write about a statement that I regard as strange, as I normally do, but this time I want to consider the pros and cons of this law in order to better understand whether this law will really change something. Let's take a quick look at the arguments:

Arguments pro

  • Many accidents or almost accidents have happened already in which a phone was a factor.
  • If some people decide to not use their phones any more while biking because of this law, then this law is useful already.
  • With this law people can tell each other that they are doing something that is not legal if they hold their phones while biking.
  • Only when holding the phone while biking will be forbidden, data of phones can be used as evidence in court.


  • This ban cannot be enforced and for that reason people will ignore it.
  • It is unclear to what extent the use of a phone really causes accidents.
  • Won’t it just be just cool for youngsters to be able to disobey the law by holding a phone in traffic, so that they will do this even more often?
  • This ban is the nanny state at work, people can make good decisions about this themselves.

Arguments of the minister

  • Symbolic value: Tthe use of the phone has grown drastically in the past few years. Consequently, the law should be edited accordingly.
  • A ban should increase the threshold for bikers to look at their phones.
  • Each accident that is caused in this way is one too many.
  • A majority in society is in favour of this law.
  • Only when this ban is reality, the police can easily fine a biker for holding a phone in traffic.
  • According to the police and the Public Prosecution Service this law can be enforced.

I got most of these arguments from NU.nl. (Text link in Dutch).

Peiling: Wetten met een signaalfunctie kunnen ook nuttig zijn

Peiling: Wetten met een signaalfunctie kunnen ook nuttig zijn

Poll: Symbolic laws have value too

Poll: Symbolic laws have value too

Read the blog that goes with this poll https://www.belicons.nl/en/blog/handfree-biking

Body 2: 

Our laws concerning traffic are something special

I think that in this discussion we should take a good look at ourselves too. It is odd that it is clear for most people that we have a problem here. That many people who use their phones while biking realize that they are a danger to themselves and to others. Still, they keep using their phones and think that the symbol of a ban won’t help.

This is not only the case for using phones in traffic, but also in case of turning on lights while biking, not speeding with a car, etc. Somehow in traffic we think that we can break the law without that leading to problems. ‘I can do this quickly’, is our thought in such cases.

In case of bans outside of traffic we have less trouble keeping them. Think for example of not stealing. Thieves do exist, but most people just pay for whatever they take from a store. It isn’t difficult for us to keep this law. The same that goes for buying a ticket for the train. Even when conductors don’t check the passengers that often, most people do buy a ticket.

So this is about perception. If we are caught while steeling from a store, most people will be embarrassed because of that. But if we are speeding and get a fine because of that, or when we will get a fine for using a phone while biking, we are mostly annoyed that the police bothers us for this and that it costs money. But we aren’t ashamed because of it.

More than that, we do tell our friends when we got a fine for speeding or for ignoring a red traffic light. But has ever a friend told you: ‘Last week I stole some wine from the store and got caught. That was bad luck!’ First of all, this is not something most people do, and even when they do, it is not something they tell others about (not counting some exceptions).

What can we do against this perception?

When we see the amount of deaths and wounded people in traffic then it is clear that something must happen. That the Dutch government is working on a big plan to make traffic more safe in general, is very good. However, if we keep thinking that we can quickly take a risk in traffic, then still it will be hard to change anything.

At the same time, this doesn’t seem to be an insurmountable problem. For we are the ones that should consider that it is better to miss a few messages, than to get an accident. This raises the question of what should happen in order to change this perception. The government wants to try to educate us, but in the end it is us who should change.

Since this is all about perception, I think that the argument concerning the nanny state does not apply to this case, since the nanny state implies that we do not need the government to handle this problem. But we are the problem here! To be honest, I do not have the ultimate idea about how to change this. Perception is one of the hardest things to change.

Once I did see that people succeeded in making clear to some drivers that they were tailgating, even when they were convinced that they weren’t. But that wasn’t easy. In order to do this, they conducted an experiment that I really liked. This is what they did: There were too driving lanes. The drivers who were tailgating were on the one lane and the other car was on the other lane. The other car started to drive first and the tailgating driver should drive on the other lane at a distance that (s)he regarded as safe.

These drivers knew that the other car would stop at a certain moment and then they should stop too, as quickly as they could. This happened and all the cars stopped next to the other car, which means that if they had been on the same lane, this had been a collision. Note that in this case the drivers knew that the other car would suddenly stop, so if this were in traffic and a car would stop unexpectedly, then it would have been a lot worse. The drivers were shocked about this and I think that they realize now how important it is to drive at a greater distance of the cars before them.

Would conducting such experiments be the only solution for us to realize that we should be ashamed as much for a fine for speeding or biking without our lights turned on, as when we had stolen something from a store? If you have some ideas to change our perceptions, then let me know!


Watch the vlog that goes with this blog:

I will create the vlog that goes with this blog soon!

Stay up to date for what happens on Belicons and subscribe to my monthly newsletter

Other blogs of this theme: 

Can Twitter change its image?

Today Twitter called for proposals to help them to measure their influence on the societal debate. They want to improve this influence. This is a great call of course, but it is also very...» Read this blog

How should politicians deal with fake news?

In the United States and in several countries in Europe people are very worried about fake news that has been spread by the Russians in order to influence our opinions. I think that it has no use...» Read this blog

Vlogs of this theme: 

Why do we so easily think in traffic what we can take some chances?

In The Netherlands the government wants to implement a law that says that it isn’t allowed any more to hold your phone in your hand in traffic. Most Dutch people think that this is a good idea, but that doesn’t mean that they are willing to keep that law themselves. What are your ideas? How can people motivate each other to obey this law?» Watch this vlog

Can Twitter ban negative tweets?

Twitter wants to have a more positive influence on society. That means that they need to ban the users who often post angry tweets. Some of these people have realized this too and some are calling this censorship already. But this isn’t a limitation of our freedom of speech. More than that, the more you explain what your opinion really is, the bigger the chance is that it won’t be removed.» Watch this vlog