Cyclists and bikers who ride in town are at constant risk of “doorings” – the accident that happens when a vehicle door opens unexpectedly in front of them, causing a collision. Doorings can result in death and severe injuries when riders fall over their handlebars or collide with the open door. They are one of the most common and dangerous hazards cyclists and bikers face in urban riding conditions.
In this blog post, we discuss how doorings happen, how riders and drivers can take steps to prevent them, and what to do if you’ve been injured in a dooring accident.
How Doorings Happen
A cyclist rides down a crowded city street. In keeping with local traffic laws, the rider stays in the right-hand part of the lane. To the right of her bike is a line of parallel parked cars. Suddenly, the driver-side door of one the cars swings open. The cyclist doesn’t have time to stop. Her bike collides with the door, she tumbles over her handlebars, and crashes onto the pavement. Luckily, her helmet protects her head, but the rest of her body isn’t protected and she lands with the sickening crunch of a broken bone.
This is a typical dooring. It’s quick and violent, and it happens because of a combination of factors. The driver getting out of his car doesn’t look behind him to see if a biker is coming. The city streets are crowded with traffic, forcing the rider closer to parallel parked cars than she’d like.
Doorings most commonly occur when a rider on the right collides with the door of a parallel parked car to the right. They can also happen when passengers open their door in scenarios where a car parks on the left side of a one-way street, or when anyone opens a car or truck door in a parking lot or similarly crowded area.
Fortunately, doorings are preventable when riders, drivers, and passengers take some simple safety steps.
Steps Drivers and Passengers Can Take
Drivers and passengers can prevent doorings by being more attentive to their surroundings before opening their doors. That advice sounds easy and obvious in principle, but it’s harder to implement in practice. Perhaps the most reliable way to ensure that drivers and passengers take heed of approaching riders is to practice what is known as the “Dutch Reach.” Instead of opening a car door with the hand closest to the door, a driver or passenger using the Dutch Reach reaches across their body and opens the door with the hand further from the door. That simple behavioral adjustment forces drivers and passengers to turn their torso toward the street, making it easier and more intuitive to notice a cyclist or biker approaching from behind the car.
Data on the effectiveness of the Dutch Reach is still emerging, but anecdotal reports suggest that in places where the Dutch Reach is practiced (most notably, the Netherlands…hence “Dutch”), doorings occur far less often.
Drivers and passengers not inclined to start using the Dutch Reach can, of course, still take care to look over their shoulder before opening a door. It’s a little less comfortable to do so but not nearly as uncomfortable as causing a traumatic accident.
Whether or not they use the Dutch Reach, drivers and passengers can also reduce the incidence and severity of doorings by opening their doors slowly. The longer it takes for the door to open, the higher the chance the rider will see the hazard and have time to avoid it.
Steps Riders Can Take
Riders also have a role to play in preventing doorings and reducing their severity. These steps encompass the sort of safety strategies riders should be employing anyway, but they are especially important in urban environments where doorings are common.
- Wear visible clothing and use lights. The more visible a cyclist is, the higher the likelihood that a driver or passenger will spot them before opening a car door. Wearing bright colored clothing and using front-and-back flashing lights, even in the daytime, can increase a cyclist’s visibility significantly.
- Be vocal or have a bell. If a rider sees a car door about to open, yelling “on your left!” or ringing a handlebar bell can be an effective way to alert incautious drivers and passengers to the rider’s presence.
- Ride with a safe margin if possible. Riders typically have the right to occupy a full traffic lane if safety requires it. When traffic is light in an urban area, riders can reduce dooring risk by riding out of the reach of car doors.
- Ride at a safe speed in urban areas. Riders flying down a city street just inches from parallel parked cars give themselves very little time to avoid a dooring. When riding in an urban environment, safe cyclists dial down their speed.
- Wear a helmet. This is a no-brainer (pun intended). No one riding in a city (or anywhere else, for that matter) should go without a properly-fitted helmet. Helmets are the single biggest step riders can take to prevent traumatic brain injuries in accidents.
What to Do After a Dooring
If you have been involved in a dooring accident, your first order of business should be to seek immediate medical help. Once that’s taken care of and you are safe, if possible it can be helpful to collect information about the person who opened the door on you and about the accident scene, including taking photographs of the street conditions, your bike, the car door, and your injuries.
Then, contact an experienced attorney who has handled matters for clients who have been doored. You may be entitled to compensation from the driver or passenger who opened the door in front of you, and from other parties as well. Having an experienced attorney on your side can also help when dealing with insurance companies after an accident that leaves you injured.
At Abels & Annes, PC, we understand the hazards riders face in urban environments and take seriously the rights of victims of doorings. To speak with our team about your dooring injuries and your legal rights, contact us today online or by phone at (312) 924-7575.