Traffic congestion occurs when traffic demand exceeds road capacity, or when an incident such as a traffic crash, a vehicle breakdown occurs or temporary roadworks take place, all of which temporarily reduce capacity and restrict traffic flow. Congestion crashes mainly occur at the tail end of a traffic jam. There, the speed of the traffic flow decreases sharply, which coincides with frequent and hard braking, and with a high risk of rear-end crashes.

If the average speed on a road increases, crash risk also increases, as does the risk of a serious outcome. This is true in general terms, but more so when motorised vehicles crash with unprotected road users, such as pedestrians, cyclists and (light) moped riders. Furthermore, speed differences between vehicles at any one time or place are related to a higher crash risk. Drivers that maintain a speed that is higher than the average speed on that road run a higher crash risk; drivers that maintain a speed that is lower than average do not.

In this factsheet wrong-way driving is defined as ‘a car driving in the wrong direction on a road with separated driving directions and consequently driving into oncoming traffic '. This relates mainly to motorways. Wrong-way driving crashes are rare. The outcome, however, is often severe. Most wrong-way driving crashes occur when a driver enters a motorway exit ramp or when a driver reverses direction on a motorway. Orientation problems (especially among the elderly) or recklessness (especially among young drivers) are the most common causes.

Risky road user behaviour is behaviour that adversely affects road safety, such as driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs or medicines, speeding, inappropriate speed, distracted or fatigued driving, red light negation, and failure to use or misuse means of protection (motorcycle or moped helmet, seatbelt). Younger road users more often display risky behaviour than older road users, and men more often than women.

This fact sheet considers road safety in the Netherlands from an international perspective. The number of serious road injuries is hard to compare to numbers in other countries, so we almost exclusively focus on the number of road deaths. For the Netherlands, we use the actual number of road deaths provided by Statistics Netherlands; i.e. the numbers adjusted for underregistration. We made this choice because the number of casualties among cyclists in the Netherlands is relatively high and it is these crashes that are by no means always registered.

The social costs of road crashes in the Netherlands in 2018 are estimated at 17 billion euro (between € 15.8 and € 18.6 billion euro), equivalent to more than 2% of the gross domestic product (GDP). This is significantly higher than other traffic-related social costs such as traffic congestion (€ 3.3 to € 4.3 billion) and environmental damage (€ 7 billion). The costs amount to about € 2.8 million per road death and more than € 300,000 per serious road injury.

In 2021, there were 582 road deaths in the Netherlands. Although this number is again lower than in previous years, it is not the lowest number up till now, in spite of it being a ‘COVID-19 year' once more.

The mobile phone is symbolic of ‘distraction in traffic’. But apart from mobile phone calls, texting, or listening to music, many drivers, cyclists and pedestrians are occupied with all sorts of other activities that may distract them. Examples are: operating the navigation system, eating, drinking, talking to passengers or daydreaming.

Driving under the influence of drugs or impairing medicines reduces fitness to drive[i] and increases crash risk. Drugs have a numbing, stimulating or mind-altering effect on the brain, or a combination of these effects, which impair traffic task performance. For drug use in traffic, we (unfortunately) have to rely on research dating back to 2011.

The weather has an influence on road safety. Weather conditions partly determine the road conditions and the driver's behaviour. Most studies into the relation between weather and road safety are about the situation during rainfall. However, many other weather conditions are serious influences: fog, snow and black ice, low sun, hard wind, and high temperatures.