Verkeersexamen – School Cycling Training

The Netherlands has 17 million inhabitants and 23 million bicycles – 2 million are e-bikes. If you are interested in the safety cycling stats in the Netherlands you can see them here online.  In addition here are some addition outtakes found on the same PDF. 

  • Cycling leads to a longer and healthier life: – it helps counteract various illnesses, such as diabetes, some forms of cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and depression; – it is an efficient way to prevent obesity. 
  •  Cycling is relaxing, convenient, and economical: – cycling takes you from door to door and offers individuality, flexibility, and freedom; – it is a cheap mode of transport and yields substantial social benefit.
  • Cycling improves accessibility and, compared to cars, involves lower greenhouse gas emissions and less air pollution: – switching from a car to a bicycle saves an average of 150 g of CO2 per kilometre and 0.2 g of NOx per kilometre.
  • Bicycle traffic safety remains an important point for attention: – the traffic mortality rate among cyclists is not declining and the number of serious injuries is increasing. I am certain that one way to reduce the traffic mortality rate among cyclists and the number of serious head injuries is to require helmets, but I’m 100% sure that will NEVER happen.

No idea how many of those are kids bikes but Dutch kids learn to ride a bike VERY YOUNG! Most kids under two are zooming around on scoot bikes and by 3 many are riding without training wheels! It’s really cute and hard not to stare when you see a tiny kid riding a bike! Our kids both were seven when they learned to ride bikes without training wheels! So “late” but we were not living in the Netherlands so it was a bit different. They both had steps and used those to get around more.

A bit like the water safety and the swim diplomas, In an effort to keep the kids safe on their bikes, they created a special bicycle safety program.  Apart from parents teaching them how to ride safely, each year, most Dutch school children between Groep 7 & 8 take a “Verkeersexamen” (traffic test) sponsored by Veilig Verkeer Nederland . Depending on which region you are in and your specific school, of course.  The exam at our school is normally done in Groep 7 during the Spring, but with COVID the kids couldn’t take their exams, so that is why they are doing it today, September 18th in Groep 8. 

EXAMS – THEORETICAL & PRACTICAL 

The exam consists of two parts: an obligatory theoretical part, to test the children’s knowledge of road safety rules, and an optional practical part, to test if the children can apply what they’ve learnt when riding their bike in regular traffic. I only just today learned the second part was optional, as all but one child in my son’s class took the practical part.   I also learned that some schools do not currently participate. The main reasons are: not enough time to organise the exam, the exam route is unsafe (in larger cities) and some pupils don’t have sufficient cycling skills to take part.  The last part is due to a growing number of children with immigrant backgrounds who do not learn to cycle from their parents and they often don’t own bikes.  Surely, it is this group that would benefit most from compulsory cycling lessons and a cycling exam.      I’m part of this group, so I can relate. I never rode a bike around major cities like I do here and some rules are different than back in the US.   So when I first rode a bike around Rotterdam I was nervous but now I’m much better at it and do it often.   I still have a hard time getting used to foot breaks but my bike here in Den Bosch is easy and my main method of transport.    I am so acclimated to riding it around the city, I’d never consider walking to the grocery store when I can ride my bike.   

Most kids in primary school walk or are taken to school by car or by bike with an adult. But by the age of 12, they are expected to be able to cycle to school independently – whether it’s a short ride through the busy traffic of cities like Amsterdam or even in a 15-km ride along rural road if they live in the countryside. The cycling infrastructure is set up here and truly amazing. We don’t know yet where our son is attending middlebare school next year, but as of today his favorite school is 7.3 km from our current house which he’d absolutely ride himself daily. Unlike in the US where you take a school bus (and drive a car at 16 to high school) or and in Ireland/UK where kids take public transport alone due to the lack of cycling infrastructure, safety and overall a non-cycling culture. Here they go by bike in all weather conditions. Even in the cold, pouring rain – they wear waterproof outer clothing – that is miserable if you asked me! 🙂 Luckily we have *many* apps on our phones which we can see when we expect downpours and we can attempt to dodge the heaviest showers – though many times they all show different amounts of rain so it can be quiet comical.

The full route of the “Verkeersexamen” (traffic test) in our area was done for two city center schools. They kids were given a map and a route with a few weeks to practice. The nearly 5 km bike route provided different traffic situations that they would also encounter once they ride their bicycles to secondary school. The children had to cycle a set route with traffic situations that are typical for the area, such as a crossing with traffic lights, bridge crossing or even a railroad crossing. The route has to include certain basic traffic situations, such as turning left and crossings with and without priority. Parents and volunteers are posted along the route to score the children’s traffic skills and behaviour. Everything is taken into account, from sticking out the correct hand to indicate a left or right turn, to giving priority when necessary and stopping at a red traffic light.

My son practiced the route four times with different friends, and I even went along one time with him so he could show me the route and how he was to do certain movements. He was very experienced and confident and looked forward to the exam today! Coincidentally, when I was coming home from an appointment, I saw some of the children in his class coming around the corner near our house, so I knew if I waited a bit longer, I’d see him. Sure enough, he came around the corner and I was there with my phone waiting for him. Thankfully, it didn’t distract but I’m thinking he was thrilled to see me and his dad waiting for him on the corner.

You are allowed to make up to three mistakes. Truthfully I think it would be pretty hard to fail the exam unless of course, you ignored a red light, failed to apply the priority rules correctly and any other serious road safety offence. When he returned home from school, he reported all kids passed!

In March of this school year, it will be my daughter’s turn! While I’m confident she’ll also pass, she’s not trilled with cycling like her brother – who lives on his bike. She’ll certainly have a new, lighter bike before that, so that will of course, help her enjoy cycling more.

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