Skateboarding and the Belgian police

A minor run-in with a police officer in Ghent while skating
Posted in: ghent.

One of my favorite hobbies is skateboarding, and I especially enjoy doing freeride. We have some reasonably nice spots to practice this great sport here in Ghent: steep streets with little traffic.



So earlier tonight, I was practicing some slides with a friend. As we were walking up the hill again at some point, a police officer, who had seen us going down and parked his car, called us. The conversation went more or less like this (in Dutch, obviously):

Officer: “You know you can’t skate on the driving lane, right?”
Me: “Actually, I think we are allowed to skate on the driving lane.”
Officer: “Why do you think so?”
Me: “It says so in the royal decree of February 2007”
Officer: “… does it? What does it say?”

I paraphrased the contents of that decree (dutch article here) – I had read this attentively after a previous run-in with the police on the same subject (but in Lokeren).

The gist of it is that voortbewegingstoestellen (En.: transportation devices) are subject to the same rules as bicycles iff they move at a speed considerably faster than pedestrians. This law makes a lot of sense to me: moving at a fast speed on a sidewalk is dangerous for skaters as well as pedestrians. It also implies you should wear lights at night, stay in your lane, know how to brake…: these are all good measures, meant to protect you.

Let’s not elaborate about the mind-boggling fact that the police officer was not familiar with the law he is paid to enforce, and continue with the actually interesting part of the story.

Changing trucks

Changing trucks

After my explanation, the officer said he was surprised that I knew so much about this law. He continued to say that given this fact, I must surely know that he could subject me to a drug and alcohol test as well. I was obviously not under the influence of any drugs and said that I would take such tests if required.

I was a bit annoyed that he asked this since there was no reason whatsoever to suspect I would be under the influence of any drugs: hence, it felt more like some kind of personal revenge.

Continuing in this mindset, he claimed that we seriously risked damaging the parked cars in that street. I won’t go into waste-of-time what-if scenarios in this blogpost: I won’t deny there indeed is some risk… just as there is some risk when you’re riding a bike or a car. I politely explained that if anything were to happen we would simply bear the consequences and pay for the damages, either through insurance or by ourselves, just like anyone else.

However, he didn’t really seem satisfied with that answer, wrote down my name and ensured us that if any damages were to occur, he would find me (maybe since he has proof enough, right?). At that point, it almost seemed like he first found people to blame, and only then an offense they were guilty of – instead of the other way around.

After we said our goodbyes and he left, we continued skating for a bit. We went home shortly afterwards, with slightly less confidence in the competence of the police force.