Friday, May 1, 2009

My first (traffic) stop in the Netherlands

Revealed ... fixed speed and red-light camera locations.In my youth, I was no stranger to the occasional police stop, usually for exceeding the speed limit by (somewhat) more than 5 mph.  With age comes (economic) wisdom and a heightened instinct for avoiding unnecessary risks, so my incidence of police encounters fell rapidly.  Beyond a 20-in-a-10-zone speed trap about six years ago, it’s been ages. Really.

The major regulatory force along Dutch roadways are the Speed Cameras.  These are big box-on-pole affairs, either dull grey or panted with police stripes, and they emit a bright flash as they photograph you. Monitored roads are usually marked with warning signs, and cameras are often visible from a distance.  Lately, they’ve been tucked up behind overhead signage (esp. the A12 in the 100 km/hr zone east of Utrecht), but with a TomTom armed with camera locations, you’re pretty well informed.

Actual police presence is usually limited to occasional mobile sightings on the motorways, or organized stops to spot-check all drivers for valid licenses and safety equipment.

Tuesday I was past Einthoven, headed south from Schiphol and fielding a brief mobile phone call, when I saw a distant red- and blue- striped police car behind me.  I excused myself, put the phone down, and put both hands on the wheel.  The police car went past with a backward glance at me, then another, then they slowed and pulled in front of me.

Dutch officers don’t do lights and sirens from behind you; they turn on a little flashing “Volgen Politie” sign in the rear window and assume that you will.  I cursed, and did.


Unlike the US, you don’t simply pull onto the shoulder and wait.  Instead, we drove on for miles before exiting and pulling into a McDonalds parking lot.  A smiling officer in a green rain jacket came back and asked if I had a good reason for driving without a seat belt.  Argh.  He told me that it was likely to be a 90 euro fine and took my license back to chat with the computer.

He came back to advise me that since I’m a resident, I wouldn’t have to pay on the spot.  Whew.

But your license says you are from Arnhem: why are you headed south if you’re going home?  I live in Maastricht now, registered, and headed back after 20 hours on a plane.

Do you realize you aren’t on a road to Maastricht?  Umm, of course I am, isn’t this the A2?

No, you missed that turn about 10 km back; you’re most of the way to Venlo.  ‘totally blank look as I digested that.

In the US, I’d have been out of the car for a few more questions, a breathalyzer, and a more thorough check of license and registration.

In the Netherlands,  the officer smiled, gave me back my papers and the ticket, then asked me to follow him back onto the highway so that he could get me going in the right direction, then proceed 10 km, watch for the A73 signs, and take them south….

‘I really love the Dutch approach to people.  (Even when it costs me 90 euro.)

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