Traffic rules & regulations for cyclists
Cycling with one child in front and one on the back, having my dog running next to me on a lead, while pulling a trailer with my weekly shopping and talking to my Mum on the phone - is that allowed in Holland? Yes. It might not be safe, but it isn’t illegal. If you go cycling in Holland, it's important that you're aware of the legal requirements for your bicycle and the traffic regulations for cyclists.
Legal requirements for your bicycle
Is a bicycle bell compulsory?
Yes, a bicycle bell is compulsory on every bike. Other traffic users have to be able to hear it at a distance of 25 metres. You’re not likely to be fined if your bicycle bell does not meet the requirements, but a good bell does make it easier to pass other traffic on narrow and busy roads.
Does my bicycle need lights and reflectors?
As soon as you’re out on your bicycle in the dark or when visibility is bad, bicycle lights and reflectors are compulsory. The rules are very strict. If your bike doesn’t meet the requirements, you risk a fine - or worse, a car driver might not see you in time.
Requirements for bicycle lights and reflectors
- Front light - white or yellow
- Back light - red
- Lights have to shine straight ahead
- Flashing lights are not allowed
- Loose lights (i.e. not fixed to the bike) are allowed if properly visible and attached to your upper body, not to your head or limbs
- Red reflector (not triangular) - on the back of the bicycle
- Yellow reflectors - on the pedals
- White or yellow reflective tyres
Traffic regulations for cyclists
What side of the road do I cycle on?
Like all traffic, cyclists have to keep to the right side of the road.
Must I always cycle on the cycle path?
No, you don’t always have to cycle on the cycle path. There are cycle paths that are compulsory and there are cycle paths that are optional. They are signed with different road signs. Cycle lanes are always compulsory.
Am I allowed to cycle on the pavement?
No, you are not allowed to cycle on the pavement or through pedestrian areas - although many Dutch cyclists ignore this rule. Especially in city centres you risk a fine.
The blue 'Rechtsaf voor fietsers vrij' sign indicates cyclists turning to the right can go through the red lights.
Photo: © Holland-Cycling.com
Do I have to indicate that I want to turn right or left?
Yes, it is compulsory to indicate with hand signals which direction you want to turn.
- Right turn - extend your right arm straight out to the right, horizontally.
- Left turn - extend your left arm straight out to the left, horizontally. Remember to look over your shoulder to check if any other traffic is coming from behind.
Do I have to stop for a red traffic light?
Yes, like in other countries all cyclists have to stop for a red traffic light. However, there is one exception. At traffic lights with the sign ‘Rechtsaf voor fietsers vrij’, cyclists turning right don’t have to wait for the light to turn green. Do look out for pedestrians that might be crossing the road as they have right of way.
Am I allowed to cycle two abreast?
Yes, as long as you don't disturb other traffic, you are allowed to cycle two abreast. You are expected to move to the side to make room for other traffic when necessary. Dutch schoolchildren often ignore this rule and cycle three or even four abreast, taking up the whole road. This is against the law and they risk a fine.
Do I have to wear a bicycle helmet?
No, a helmet is not compulsory for cyclists. For more on this topic, go to our Blog article Bicycle helmet - compulsory or not?
Am I allowed to take passengers on my bicycle?
Yes, you’re allowed to take passengers on the front or back of your bicycle. Children under the age of 8 have to have to be transported in a child bike seat that meets safety requirements. For more, go to Cycling with children.
Am I allowed to cycle under the influence of alcohol, medication or drugs?
No, you’re not allowed to cycle under the influence of alcohol (= Blood Alcohol Content higher than 0,5 promille), medication or drugs.
Am I allowed to listen to music while cycling?
Yes, you’re allowed to listen to music while you’re cycling. Research has shown that you’re more likely to have an accident.
Am I allowed to use my mobile phone while cycling?
Yes, you’re allowed to use your mobile phone while you’re cycling. Research has shown that you’re more likely to have an accident.
Am I allowed to cycle without holding on to the handlebars?
No, it is compulsory to hold your handlebars with at least one hand when you're cycling.
Road traffic signs and regulations in Holland
To find out more about road traffic signs and regulations in Holland, download the brochure Road Traffic Signs and Regulations in the Netherlands (PDF) from the government website.