Even in the bike-obsessed Netherlands—one of the safest places for cyclists in the world—crossing the street still sometimes means getting hit by a car. Twenty-five percent of people who die in crashes there are on a bike.
Now the Netherlands thinks it can do better by using new technology, called the BikeScout, which is designed to detect oncoming cyclists and warn drivers with flashing lights.
"What we see is that even though the Netherlands is quite a safe country in terms of traffic safety, we still have a need to improve on that, specifically on intersections," says Joziene van de Linde, managing director of technology at Heijmans, the company that designed BikeScout. "Added to that, we see more and more electric bikes, so speed differences between different cyclists are actually increasing, and not all drivers are aware of those differences."
The system continuously tracks the speed and location of both cars and oncoming cyclists or runners, and if there's a risk of collision, it flashes LED lights that are embedded in the road. Heijmans tested a prototype in its own parking lot—itself a dangerous place to ride—and then installed the first official system at an intersection in the Dutch city of Eindhoven in March.
It's likely it will be even more helpful in countries where biking is less common. "In lots of places beyond the Netherlands, people still have to get used to more and more cyclists on the road," says van de Linde. "I think nobody intentionally goes on the road and says, 'Let's hit a cyclist today.' For drivers, it helps them to be aware of dangerous situations."
The technology also collects data about how many people are using a particular intersection, so cities can better plan their future urban design.
It's not exactly cheap—the first system installed in Eindhoven cost about $43,000, and will cost another $1,100 each year in upkeep. But the city thinks it's worth it.