In the post Is it OK to kill cyclists? You would think so, from the number of drivers who get charged for it. it was noted that drivers who kill cyclists and pedestrians seem to get off pretty lightly. The Economist covered the same New York Times article and looks at why there are 8 times as many deaths per billion kilometres biked in America compared to the Netherlands. It's not just the infrastructure, it's the law; the driver is almost always responsible. Even if the cyclist is going the wrong way on a one way street, even if the cyclist is running a red light. They carry it to an extreme:
Fine. What if a tornado is racing through the streets of some Dutch town, picks the truck up, and hurls it into the bicyclist, who is in the middle of running a red light while going the wrong way up a one-way street, no hands? Answer: the truck driver will probably not have to pay the cyclist's damages, unless the cyclist was 14 or younger, in which case the truck driver will have to make an extra effort to prove that there was nothing he could have done to avoid the accident.
There is reason in this.
As explained in this FAQ from the ANWB, the Dutch tourism and car owners' organisation, "the law treats pedestrians and cyclists as weaker participants in traffic... The driver of the motor vehicle is liable for the accident, unless he can prove he was overpowered by circumstances beyond his control (overmacht). The driver must thus prove that none of the blame falls on him, which is extremely difficult in practice."
The Economist concludes that this is a burden on the drivers, they have to be careful. On the other hand, he concludes: "I guess it depends on how much one values human life, as against the inconvenience of having to look in the rearview mirror more often."
More in the Economist.