5 tips for driving in and around uniquely Dutch traffic scenarios
Even if you are an experienced driver, you may encounter some challenges and/or charming quirks to driving in the Netherlands – especially in Amsterdam. So consider these five uniquely Dutch traffic scenarios and heed our tips for manoeuvring them to keep yourself and others free of injury, damage and fines.
Let bicycles rule the road
In most Dutch traffic situations where the speed limit is below 80 km/h, you’re likely to be sharing public roads with cyclists. And although many streets have lanes specifically for bicycles (mopeds and microcars for disabled drivers also welcome), remember that two-wheelers are especially protected on our roads. Even on busy roundabouts, cars and bikes often cross each other’s paths, so pay close attention to the road markings to be sure of who has right of way.
Sometimes road surface markings even say “auto te gast” – literally: cars are guests. In this case, you are allowed to enter (unless another sign say otherwise) but bikes have priority and can use the full width of the road. Oh, and when you’re about to exit a parked car, always check for upcoming cyclists – most of whom assume they rule the road and are not expecting to meet your opening door.
Steer clear of the bus lane
Driving around in built-up areas, you might notice “BUS” or “LIJNBUS” painted on the road surface. Intended to facilitate traffic flow and optimise public transportation in cities, these lanes were first established for, indeed, buses. Over time, the bus lane came to accommodate a select few other vehicles: trams, coaches, taxis with permits and in some cities, such as Amsterdam, emergency vehicles. But all other drivers should always steer clear of the bus lane. Otherwise, you risk a traffic fine dropping through your letterbox in a few days.
Treat trams with caution
Besides cars, buses, cyclists and pedestrians, trams are another force to be reckoned with if you drive in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague or Utrecht. Though they roll on their own tracks and tend to move more slowly than other vehicles, trams require some special treatment. At most intersections, trams have the right of way. At the crossing of a railway, which trams may also run along, flashing white lights mean that no tram (or train) is approaching. A flashing red light means you must stop. It’s good to know that as trams may ride in the middle of a carriageway, cars can pass them on the right. But do keep in mind that if a tram stands still to pick up or drop off passengers, the car must give way.
Be prepared for a drawbridge delay
It is no surprise that a country built on, in and against water has so many bridges, including ones that move. Known in Dutch as an ophaalbrug, a valbrug or a wipbrug, drawbridges can be found in large cities, small villages or even along some provincial roads. Drivers who come upon a bridge when it is about to be drawn or already is in a state of suspension will, naturally, have to a stop – a common enough source of frustration. It’s polite to turn off your engine while waiting. How long you have to stand by depends on the boat traffic below, though the wait is rarely more than a few minutes. Still, an open drawbridge serves as a favourite excuse for children who show up late to school.
Stay cool behind the wheel
Coming from the Australian countryside, you might find Dutch drivers brash and bold. Coming from Los Angeles or Tel Aviv, you might find them patient and predictable. Yet on the whole, international visitors and residents tend to report that driving in the Netherlands is a rule-abiding and relaxed experience with rarely any road rage. So if you tend to get hot-tempered, be prepared to cool down and to stay calm when behind the wheel. You can also leave beeping habits abroad, since Dutch drivers are officially only allowed to sound their horns to warn of emergency situations. The same, however, does not hold for bike bells.