In Which Our Parked Car Causes an Accident

By alison - August 17, 2009 (Updated: December 1, 2014)

European Priority Signs

All of these signs indicate who has priority at an intersection. Nary a one is found in our neighbourhood.

When your door buzzer shrills loudly at 8 o’clock on a Sunday morning, it can never be good news. As I rolled over groggily I realised the bell-buzzer could only be one of two people – a drunk or a cop. I was hoping for the drunk.

Andrew sleepily staggered to the intercom. It was the police requesting Andrew to go to the station and file an accident report.

“On Sunday morning?”


Did I mention the accident Andrew had to rush to the police station and file a report on happened in April… and we weren’t even in the car?

About three weeks ago, Andrew was contacted by his insurance agency to make a written statement. It seemed someone was claiming our parked car had caused an accident because it was parked illegally and it obscured the view.

If you’ve spent any time on Cheeseweb, you probably know I don’t hold a great deal of respect for drivers in Belgium. You’ll also have probably noticed my complaints about the priority to the right rule. Our street is subject to this rule. At the end of our block a street enters. There are no stop, yield or any other sign to indicate priority, therefore the priority is to the right. There are accidents literally every week. I know this because I hear the serenade of screeching breaks, grinding metal and broken glass from my office.

The culprit is a combination of a blind corner where a house sits, obscuring the view, and the refusal of people driving in either direction to slow down and check for oncoming traffic.

The second major problem on our street is parking. If you’ve tried to park anywhere in central Brussels for a long period of time, you’ll know that this is complicated. People tend to abandon their cars wherever there is space, be it a sidewalk, cross-walk, street corner or curb.

In the past few months, we lost parking on a major street for the construction of a bus lane. Since then, parking in our neighbourhood has become even more difficult. So difficult in fact, people have taken to parking on the sidewalks overnight.

Our car was parked on the corner in question. Under normal circumstances this would be illegal but the police never penalise cars that park there because they know the parking situation is so dire.

So, even though there is a five story building blocking the view of the entering street, the driver at fault is trying to blame our parked car for the fact that she didn’t give right of way and slammed into the driver who had priority.

Andrew filed his statement, complete with videos of the intersection in question. Now we wait for the verdict. We’ve been told that in Belgian law, a stationary object can’t be responsible for an accident. It remains to be seen if this applies to stationary object owned by Canadians.

But the story doesn’t end there. Andrew was asked about his driver’s licence – his Canadian license which should by now be exchanged for a Belgian one. We know people who have lived here for over 10 years without changing their license but because of an accident that we weren’t even present for, we will now have to start another paperwork process which will inevitably result in more commune visits, more expenses and definitely more headaches.

Next time, we’re parking on the sidewalk.

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Alison Cornford-Matheson is a Canadian freelance writer and travel photographer and the founder of She is the author of The Foodie Guide to Brussels: Local Tips for Restaurants, Shops, Hotels, and Activities. Alison landed in Belgium in 2005 and, over the years, has become passionate about slow and sustainable travel, in Europe and beyond. She loves to discover hidden gems - be they museums, shops, restaurants, castles, gardens or landscapes, and share them through her words and photos. She has visited 45 countries and is currently slow travelling through North America in an RV, with her husband, Andrew, and two well-travelled cats. You can also follow her work on Google+
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  1. Comment by Thomas Stromberg

    Thomas Stromberg August 17, 2009 at 13:11

    Good luck battling it out with the local authorities. I feel like the paperwork here is never-ending. I did switch my US license for a Belgian one as soon as I got my residency card [as required], but had to deal with one more bit of bureaucratic mess: For Ixelles, there is a ~6 week wait for a US to Belgian license conversion. During this time period, you give up your US license, and cannot technically drive in Belgium.

    I thought this was ridiculous, so I asked the license office what most people do during this time period. “Oh, they drive.”. Confused, I asked her how this is possible. She said “Just don’t anger the police officer and it should be okay”.

    I <3 Belgium.
    .-= Thomas Stromberg´s last blog ..Bones, Brno, Bratislava =-.

    • Comment by Alison


      Alison August 17, 2009 at 14:15

      Thanks for your comment Thomas and it so doesn’t surprise me. The 6 week wait was one of the reasons we have resisted. In fact, Belgium still only recognises driver’s licences from several provinces. Nova Scotia of course is NOT on the list. We had our licences changed to Ontario ones a few years back to avoid having to take Belgian driving school, only to learn that you had to have a driving record in that province for several years before you could make the swap. I’m sure this story will not be over any time soon…

  2. Comment by Andrew


    Andrew August 17, 2009 at 14:52

    “It should be okay.”… yeah right! I’m sure that won’t hold up in court 🙂 I guess we’ll find out tomorrow.

    I did take a (bad) video with my phone of the offending corner that I can post. In it you can clearly see that there is NO WAY to see around the corner even if there was no car parked there.

    The police officer I spoke with explained that there is common practice and the law. If they applied the law on parking in Brussels then there would be a lot less parking, but the judge has to apply the law. I shared my opinion of this with him because it creates two sets of rules to follow. He was sympathetic and agreed but he couldn’t be sure how the judge would view it. He made sure to include my points about how it is impossible to see around that corner so hopefully that will influence the decision. He then informed me about the law that a stationary object can not be held responsible for an accident… like a tree, trash bin, etc. So, it’s really hard to say how this will go.

    Anyway, I hope it doesn’t drag out for another few months (unless they decide against me in which case it can drag out for years).

    • Comment by Alison


      Alison August 17, 2009 at 16:26

      I love it how even the officials here know that the laws are F$%#ed up. Like the customs officer who just shrugged and said “Eh, paperwork. That’s Belgium…”

  3. Comment by Lilacspecs

    Lilacspecs August 17, 2009 at 15:52

    Ugh. The driver’s license thing was a pain. Luckily I exchanged mine for a Belgian license right before they changed the law, so I didn’t have to retake a driving test (which is good cause I can’t drive a stick). Couldn’t you get an international license? I think you can get those faster than a Belgian one.

    And I can’t say much about parking here in Gent cause we don’t own a car. The main issues here are immigrants abandoning there cars and the police taking a long time to tow the cars because it’s an immigrant neighborhood, so they tend to not care.

    Some of Hans’ friends were moving last spring and they had those placards out front that said it was a designated no parking area and someone parked there anyway. It had a Bulgarian plate and while it was being towed the owner came running over and said, “I didn’t park it here! Someone must’ve stolen it and parked it here!”
    Dude lived one street over.
    .-= Lilacspecs´s last blog ..Het Achterhuis, the diary of Anne Frank =-.

    • Comment by Alison


      Alison August 17, 2009 at 16:25

      As far as I know the International license is only good for a six month period. You can still legally drive with your licence from home for up to a year (as long as it’s a recognised licence). We’ve been here for four years so I don’t think that’s going to fly either. I will keep in mind the Bulgarian’s excuse… Maybe we can tell the judge that our car was stolen… We live in an immigrant area too 🙂

  4. Comment by expatraveler

    expatraveler August 18, 2009 at 05:20

    That sounds like the logic in Canada if you cannot provide evidence further than 7 years back of insurance.. I mean aren’t you supposed to purge records after that point anyhow??? Good luck with all of this. Sounds crazy for sure…
    .-= expatraveler´s last blog ..Photo Hunt – Artificial =-.

  5. Comment by Jenn

    Jenn August 18, 2009 at 20:01

    *shakes head in disbelief*

  6. Comment by Andrew


    Andrew August 19, 2009 at 11:01

    Minor update on the driving license… apparently your driver’s license must be dated from before you entered Belgium… so if you’re like me and you renewed it while home on vacation, you’re out of luck. Now I need to go an pass a written and practical test… If I pass I don’t have to do the learner period. Fun.

    I’ve heard you can do the tests in English, but I’ll need to check that out… not sure my french is good enough yet… my dutch certainly isn’t. More fun.

    Haven’t heard about the court case though… no news is … well… no news. 🙂

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