Why driving in the Netherlands is stressful: My experience of living in the Netherlands

Maybe the hectic driving experience it’s not the first thing that comes into your mind when thinking about the Netherlands, but it’s a factor that you need to consider!

Driving in the Netherlands

I must admit the previous years I came to the Netherlands I have never driven myself, I didn’t have a car and I liked being driven around by my boyfriend. Just looking out the window and enjoying the flatness of the country.

Since I moved here I also imported my car and started driving around here myself. Starting with the fact that I had no mental map of the streets in my head I quite often got lost and did sightseeing tours through the village that I live in now.

I also did some bigger detours – thanks to google maps I always found my way back home (probably 20 minutes later than I wanted to).

dog-camping-in-france
He is not stressing too much about driving! Image: Depositphotos

Further, I want to mention that since I grew up in a city with two million inhabitants I acquired a quite “aggressive” way of driving. I was lucky that I started doing my driver’s license at 16, so I could gain a lot of driving experience.

I learned how to drive whenever it was crowded on the streets, how to switch lanes the Viennese way and I can park in the tiniest spot available if I have 5cm left in the front and in the back – yes, because of that, I am a little bit proud.

So, what’s driving in the Netherlands like?

So, coming to the Netherlands I did not expect a lot of differences. I kind of imagined it to be the little boring kind of countryside driving – lots of cows, no cars, and just straight roads. Maybe I was wrong. The first week I drove to work I got stressed out by the traffic lights.

Traffic lights in the Netherlands:

In Austria, traffic lights jump from red to yellow to green. When the light is yellow, you press your gas pedal to the ground because when the light turns green 5 people are already honking. If you think that is stressful, you are wrong. The fact that traffic lights jump from red to green immediately – is stressful.

READ MORE: The Netherlands: Ready as it can be for Self-Driving Cars

Still having in the back of my head that everybody honks like mad once it is green, I try to sprint away from the traffic light. I really missed the two seconds of the traffic light being yellow to prepare to drive away. After a while, I figured out that my time delay did not make people mad, but it was still a bit of a stressful moment for me personally.

Highway driving in the Netherlands:

The aggressive driving style of Dutch people shows once you are on the highway. People who are driving past you on the right lane going 160km/h, because you drive too slow on the left with 130km/h – most likely when it is raining. Five meters further they are stuck behind a truck and you can kind of wave to them as you drive past IF they don’t just hit their blinker and crash into your lane. That sometimes makes me super scared.

READ MORE: Renting a car in the Netherlands: driving in Amsterdam and beyond

I have learned that the blinker is used to show people that you want to go in a different direction or on the highway if you want to switch lanes. You show people your intention to drive and wait if people let you do so.

If yes – you are happy, if no – you are allowed to curse at them. That is how a blinker is supposed to be used! Not in the Netherlands. Apparently, the blinker is there to show the other drivers “I am coming NOW.” Being the naïve, blue-eyed foreigner, that sometimes really freaked me out. People rushing in between two cars, that one has to brake heavily, causing a chain reaction of braking, causing guess what… jam

Electric-cars-charging-on-a-street-in-amsterdam
Electric cars are getting more and more popular in the Netherlands! Image: Depositphotos

Traffic jams in the Netherlands:

Did I mention the Dutch traffic jams? I’ve always experienced jams as an accumulation of cars because something happened (like an accident, roadworks, or whatsoever). But apparently not here. You suddenly stand on the highway for minimum ten minutes for actually no reason – just congestion, or… because somebody switched lanes and everybody had to brake hard.

READ MORE: Buying and driving a second-hand car in the Netherlands: costs you need to know

Driving daily on the A58, one of the busy roads, I come across all these mentioned points above every single day. The traffic lights I started to accept the after a few months, but the traffic jams still cause quite some frustration, and the lane switching still stresses me out.

I am curious how I will adapt my own driving style in the next few months and years, but these are the reasons why driving in the Netherlands is stressing me and maybe also some other foreign drivers.

Do you agree about these notes about driving in the Netherlands? What are your experiences? Tell us in the comments!

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in February 2018, and was fully updated in November 2022 for your reading pleasure.

Marion Boigner
Marion Boigner
I was born and raised in Vienna, Austria and moved to the Netherlands out of love. I am working as a "German as a foreign language" as well as "English" teacher. My passion for languages helped me to learn Dutch easily and at the moment I am speaking all three languages throughout my days. Furthermore, I am living and enjoying the wonderful but crazy life of having two homes in two countries. This goes along with seeing the beauty of two worlds and broadening my horizon and point of view.

20 COMMENTS

  1. Spot on! Maybe the Dutch driving style has something to do with the way they ride their bicycles: legally absolved of any responsibility to look where they are going. Then, when they get into a car at 17, they already have a ‘spatial skills’ deficit.

  2. I think your impression is a bit one-sided, and negative.
    Living as a Dutchman in South Africa, I miss the orderly merging of traffic that we know in the Netherlands when two lanes merge into one (like a zipper). When everybody does this on time, slowing down is reduced to a minimum. In SA, however, people keep passing you when you merge on time and push in later, thereby bringing traffic to a standstill. Others create a new lane on the shoulder of the road and cause more chaos.
    So compared to SA, Dutch traffic is relaxed! Or is this orderly ‘zipper’ behavior no longer practiced?

    The speed difference between highway traffic is usually not too big, and traffic flows smoothly, especially where the speed limit is 100. Your example of 160 kmph racers seems to be an exception to me. The traffic fines are hefty and people can actually get their car impounded if they break the speed limit excessively.

  3. Marion, don’t ever go to and drive in Arab and Asian countries then if you’re already shocked by Dutch traffic. At least people keep to rules.
    I, female, am glad I got my divers licence in the Netherlands and can handle crazy traffic here in UAE with confidence.

  4. Yup, and here we go. Lot of complaints that you are not right but unfortunately for dutch people, you are. Traffic jams from nowhere. Just because everyone is pushing his little engine car left lane to the end, and then cut into right lane and further, just to get to the freeway exit on last moment. 30 seconds earlier at home is veeeerrryyy important for every dutch person or maybe this is just selfish being? Blinkers? What is that? If someone knows about this devil made lever in his car, never use it correctly. As was said, blinker is more like “may I?” but not in Netherlands, here it means ” Get lost, I`m going now”. There is very true joke in Germany about dutch driving. “When you get to much penalty points for bad driving, you get yellow plates”. Just thinking, if you are so gooood drivers, why your own government, changed speed limit in whole country to 100 on freeways? I guess there will be very logic explanation from all of you here but true is, you can`t drive. If you want to say that every country in Europe is wrong about your driving, think twice. Your opinion as a Dutchman is subjective and you are in the vast minority when it comes to determining if you can drive or not.

    • Dutch driver’s are bad and getting worse, thats for sure. Though I would say the 100kph speed limit is actually accelerating the degredation of Dutch driver performance.
      Something important for your to understand is that that speed limit was brought in due to the governments belief that it will reduce the Dutch CO2 emissions to our EU Target (which is idiotic given the fact that cars produce near to no emissions on a national scale), this limit was not put in place due to quality of driving, or any form of safety concern – since 100kmh is more dangerous than 130kmh.

  5. As a South African who is used to informal taxis weaving in and out of traffic, on the road and off the road without any sign of what they plan to do next, driving in the Netherlands has thus far been nothing short of a rollercoaster. Believe it or not, I feel that SA traffic is significantly more orderly than Dutch traffic, due to a variety of reasons: 1) VERY aggressive driving style here in the Netherlands and a very low tolerance for anyone who is actually trying to avoid a fine. 2) Bicycle has right of way. This point I can’t stress enough: it makes NO sense. A car is a vehicle that travels significantly faster than a bicycle and has upwards of 10x the mass. That’s a lot of momentum that has to stop dead for cyclists that do not watch where they’re going. Not to mention the ridiculous bicycle lanes that weave in between traffic routes. No wonder there are more cyclist deaths than road deaths in the Netherlands. Not a stat to be proud of. 3) Constant concern for the obscene traffic fines. One therefore finds themselves in a position where you are trying not to annoy people who are driving aggressively around you, while doing your best not to knock any cyclists, topped off with the incredibly claustrophobic feeling that you somehow, some way have incurred a traffic fine that will make a dent in your salary. To be honest, I miss SA’s roads hugely. There is at least a relatively easy flow. I wholly agree with this article.

  6. Ben nu 34 jaar buschauffeur in Nederland.. Het verkeersgedrag is een afspiegeling van de volksaard. in Nederland wordt je daar niet bepaalt vrolijk van: Kom vaak in Canada en Zweden; het verkeer is er veel rustiger en gemoedelijker en men houd zich veel beter aan de verkeersregels dan in Nederland, in Nederland bepaal je toch zeker zelf wel of die beperkende regels ook voor jou gelden in je dikke Audi of opgefokte VW Golf ?
    Over 53 maanden ga ik gelukkig met pensioen en vertrek dan voor het grootste deel van het jaar naar Canada, Florida en Zweden, weg uit de Nederlandse drukte en ‘t eeuwige jakkeren en jagen..

  7. I think every Dutch behind the wheel is inspired by Max Verstappen, no? 🙂

    I moved to the NL from Singapore and I still am afraid to drive in the village because several Dutch signs and road rules are unknown to road users from Singapore. For example, on unmarked junctions – I didn’t know that the car on the right has the right of way. And One Way signs and No U-turn are not universal. Many pedestrian crossings are also badly lit. Not to mention the extremely narrow streets that have to be shared with traffic on both sides, parked cars and cyclists.

    I do find that a lot of drivers on Dutch roads are aggressive. We had an incidence once where a guy threw a can of beer at us while we were driving on the highway. He got even more aggressive when I started filming him.

  8. Ha, ha lots of good replies, I don’t drive here, I’m one of those eternal bikers and I never relish being in a car in NL – with anyone! I’d say try NOT being part of the Problem – get out of your car and live the good life like we ex-pats always wanted.😀

  9. I live in the UK and drive for a living, mainly around the London area. I also spent 6 months living & driving in the Netherlands (namely Amsterdam). The only thing I found scary about driving in the Netherlands was driving the narrow canalside roads. I found Amsterdam to be an easy city to drive in (once you got used to it, which took me less than an hour) & I certainly didn’t experience any rudeness, sudden unexpected lane changes or aggressive driving.
    Admittedly, some of the cyclists could be scary, especially when you’ve looked both ways, go to pull out and a cyclist suddenly appears.
    I found the general standard of driving in the Netherlands to be better than the UK

  10. I mostly agree. Actually the situation is even worse. The beep you on the highway and pass on the right lane even if you are going on the edge of the speed limit, just because they cant stay behind.
    Not to mention that somebody should tell them that ”yes, in a junction without signals who comes from right has the way, unless you already occupied the junction!!! When you are already in the junction, the priority is only one: to exit the junction!”.

  11. You seek to fault the local system, but if even something as basic as traffic lights gives you discomfort, you should perhaps be a bit more critical of your own knowledge of the local system. Road rules and etiquette are not universal; rather, they are country specific. Drive in any system that is not the system in which you were taught, and you will find things that will bother you unless you take the effort to get familiar with the system. Taking a few driving classes and studying the local traffic rules can help with that.

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