Ask any expat, and many locals, what the worst thing about driving in Belgium is, and they’re sure to answer: the crazy priority to the right rule. Experts, as reported by the Flemish motoring organisation VAB, are in agreement. The rule, on its face, is quite simple: unless instructed otherwise, priority must be given to vehicles coming from the right. In practice, however, the rule “does more harm than good” by being responsible for 15,000 accidents a year, the experts say. According to the insurance federation Assuralia, 5% of all accidents involving material damage are a result of confusion over priority.
“We have to scrap the priority to the right rule at as many junctions possible,” said Maarten Matienko, a spokesperson for VAB. “It is an outdated principle and it does more harm than good. The rule is certainly difficult for young people to interpret, and it is troublesome for anyone whose attention is distracted, which sadly happens frequently thanks to the smartphone. Above all, some communes misuse it as an instrument against speeding.”
On the other hand, some communes have started taking the law into their own hands. The priority rule applies in general wherever there is no indication to the contrary, such as give way signs or shark’s teeth on the road surface. At a local level, communes are able to influence the effect of the rule. For example, in Lede near Aalst, the local authority is currently installing 300 give way signs at 34 junctions, effectively scrapping the priority rule within the commune.
As De Standaard reports, Lede is following the example of Lubbeek, Gooik, Wervik, Tielt-Winge, Bekkevoort, Linter, Geel and Dilbeek. Lede says its new system is “uniform, clear and safe”. Glabbeek mayor Peter Reekmans said, “In one year the number of traffic accidents related to priority went down from 18 to three. The figures show that our measures have improved road safety in our commune. With the exception of three junctions, priority now has to be given to traffic on the major road.” At those three junctions, he said, the commune has installed “clear signs of who has priority. That makes things clearer for all road users.”