I live in Asheville, a mile north of the Blue Ridge Outdoors downtown office. Every chance I get, I ride my single-speed to work. It takes about five minutes to climb the hill through my neighborhood, bomb Central Ave. into downtown, and meander through about five city blocks to the front door of our building on College St. Most of downtown Asheville’s designated bike lanes are shared with cars. The Lexington Ave. stretch of my commute, however, has a traditional bike lane between the traffic and street parking.
During this part of my ride, I’m peering in through the back windows of cars like a hitman for Escobar. I see someone’s head in the driver’s seat and slow down before I pass. While I may not be making a hit and speeding off, I’m making sure my ass doesn’t get hit by the door of this car. It’s owner rushing to a meeting, swinging the door open like a bull at a rodeo with a cup of Starbucks milk-water and accompanying cardboard muffin.
Dooring isn’t some internet fad
When I first heard of dooring, I thought of some ridiculous internet fad like planking. Are folks just laying on top of doors? Perhaps they’re using doors as surfboards or simply slamming them in the face of an unsuspecting roommate? Nope.
Dooring is when a cyclist runs into or is struck by a door opened by a motorist exiting their vehicle. It’s responsible for almost 20% of all bike-related crashes/injuries and a surprisingly large number of fatalities. Most crashes result in minor injuries and, from what I can imagine, some select words being shared. Dooring-related fatalities are predominately caused by a cyclist swerving around the door to avoid a collision.
That’s where traffic lives folks. I’ll take my chances with a door over a garbage truck or city bus any day.
Leave it to the Dutch and the Dutch Reach.
The Dutch Reach sounds totally perverted, but it’s totally brilliant. It’s simply where a motorist exits their vehicle by reaching across their body with their inside/opposite hand, forcing them to look over their shoulder and behind them. It makes perfect sense. When parked, use your right hand to open the door, looking into your rearview for cyclists before you do so. You can even slightly crack your door and peer out before committing to a full open. The folks at Outside Magazine created this rad video further educating you on the topic below.
Where did this start? Why aren’t we doing it?
Turns out, this is just something the Dutch do. There isn’t a name for it. It’s what everyone does when exiting a vehicle. In fact, in the Netherlands, if you fail to do this during your driving test, you fail your driving test.
Still, the practice isn’t widely known or used here in the great U.S. of A. We are getting better though.
States like Massachusettes and Illinois are including the Dutch Reach (or Far Reach) practice in their official driver manuals. If you can turn your tires away from a curb when parallel parking uphill or stop for school buses, you can damn sure open the door safely and check for cyclists.
Who is liable for a dooring accident?
Wanting to hit up that new Ben & Jerry’s downtown? Opening your car door without looking could put you in a world of hurt financially. It’ll take a lot of Cherry Garcia to eat through those tears. In most states, if you open the door, you’re at fault.
According to an article on BikeAttorney.com, Massachusettes laws are very clear on this:
“No person shall open a door on a motor vehicle unless it is reasonably safe to do so without interfering with the movement of other traffic, including bicyclists and pedestrians.”
Violation of this statute is punishable by a maximum $100 fine. However, a citation could also be presented in a civil claim for damages by the injured cyclist as evidence of negligence per se, which is where an act is considered negligent because it broke the law.
In 2016, Virginia joined the District of Columbia, Maryland and 39 other states in placing responsibility with the driver to avoid dooring another road user, whether pedestrian, cyclist or another motorist. However, several states in our region like North Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia have no dooring laws according to BikeLeague.com.
As cyclists wait for more states and motorists to catch on, be sure to keep your wits about you. Slow down when approaching taxis or cars with Uber/Lyft stickers on the back. Keep an eye out for vehicles with lights on. You shouldn’t be hauling ass in the bike lane regardless.
As drivers, it’s time we practice the Dutch Reach.
Note: During my short time on Lexington Avenue shooting photos for this piece, I sat and watched nearly 20 drivers come and go. Not one of them performed the Dutch Reach, swinging their car doors into oblivion as they went about their busy lives.