Dutch ministers have announced plans for new legislation that will see texting and calling while on a bicycle treated exactly the same way as using a phone behind the wheel of a car.
The plan comes after an increase in the number of road accidents in the cycling-mad country, where bikes outnumber people and are used to make a quarter of all journeys.
A study by the Dutch Institute for Road Safety Research found that close to a quarter of all cyclists admit to using their cellphones while riding “during some journeys.”
That figure skyrockets for youngsters in particular, with almost three-quarters of 18- to 24-year-olds who participated in the study saying they “occasionally use their phone” while on the road.
On top of that, statistics from the Dutch transport ministry published last year found that a third of those aged between 12 and 21 use their cellphones while cycling, according to Dutch News.
The ministry’s report also showed that use of a mobile device played a role in a fifth of all cycling accidents involving people under the age of 25.
According to the Netherlands’ central statistics office, 206 cyclists were killed on the country’s roads in 2017, a rise of 17 deaths the year before.
The new law updates current rules that ban using a phone while driving a car and states: “It is forbidden to hold a mobile electronic device while driving any vehicle (including bicycles).”
Officials explained the phrasing of the regulation had been left deliberately vague, rather than specifying cellphones, in order to cover future developments in mobile technology.
“This decision sets a clear standard. If you drive a vehicle in traffic, whatever the vehicle, you do not need to hold a mobile electronic device,” said Dutch transport minister Cora van Nieuwenhuizen.
She added that the new regulation was necessary because using a cellphone is “just as dangerous on a bike, and in all types of vehicles, as it is in a car.”
Beginning next summer, cyclists using their cellphone will be handed the same punishments as drivers. The top fine for using a cellphone behind the wheel is currently 230 euros ($266).
The move was welcomed by Michale Kulkens, who has been campaigning for such a ban since his 13-year-old son, Tommy-Boy, was killed in a cycling accident while using his phone.
The teenager was hit by a car and killed in August 2015 while using his device to compile a music playlist for his sister’s birthday party, which was taking place the same night.
Kulkens told the Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf: “I had to stop my car at the side of the road and the tears welled up in my eyes when I heard on the radio that the ban was coming. In my mind, I said: ‘We did it Tommy-Boy. We did it.’”
The proposed law, which has yet to be approved by members sitting in the Netherlands’ lower house of parliament, is set to come into force on July 1, 2019.
Opinion polling carried out in January this year found three-quarters of Dutch voters are in favor of a ban on the “active use” of a cellphone for any purpose while riding a bike.
Of those surveyed, a majority said they had personally witnessed “dangerous situations” involving cyclists using their cellphones.
According to a Dutch government report published this year, there are 23 million bicycles in the Netherlands, a country with a population of 17 million.