“Dutch Reach” can prevent dooring and save bicyclists’ lives

As an Alameda bicycle injury lawyer, I have represented a number of bicyclist who have been “doored.”  That is the expression used by cyclists when the driver of a parked car suddenly opens his door just as the cyclist is approaching, causing the cyclist to run into the door.  This often results in the cyclist suffering  serious personal injuries.

The cyclist can also be seriously injured when trying to avoid a door that is suddenly opened before him.  This happened to a young woman in Boston recently.  She was driving down a busy street when the driver of a parked car open his door in front of her. She suddenly swerved to avoid the door when she was struck by a large truck coming up behind her. She died as a result of the injuries she sustained in the collision.

A doctor, and avid cyclist, Michael Charney heard about the accident, and decided to do something about it. He is advocating that drivers use what he calls the “Dutch Reach.” The term comes from a maneuver that is the norm in the Netherlands and has been in use for over fifty years. The technique is taught in driving school classes and is actually part of their driving test.  The move is simple, and effective in helping prevent dooring accidents.  When exiting your car, instead of opening the door with your left hand, which is closest to the door, use your right hand.  This causes you to pivot your upper body and instinctively look out the side window before opening the door. You can then easily spot approaching bikes or other cars.

In California, a driver is responsible for making sure it is safe for approaching traffic before opening a door.  Vehicle Code section 22517 provides: “No person shall open the door of a vehicle on the side available to moving traffic unless it is reasonably safe to do so and can be done without interfering with the movement of such traffic, nor shall any person leave a door open on the side of a vehicle available to moving traffic for a period of time longer than necessary to load or unload passengers.”  So using the “Dutch Reach” will help keep you in compliance with California law, and protect bicyclist against being seriously injured in an accident.

For bikers the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition provides these safety tips to avoid being “doored.”  Ride on the outside of the door zone.  If you are in a bike lane, you should stay as far to the left of the bike lane as practical. On streets with “sharrows” (share the road arrows), you should ride your bike through the middle of the of the arrow, staying clear of the swing of the door.

In cities all across America, biking is becoming a more popular  form of recreation and as a means of commuting.  As drivers we must be cognizant of all those with whom we are sharing the road, including bikers.  By learning this simple “Dutch Reach” move, and making it a habit, we can take a major step towards reducing the number of dooring accidents, and avoiding serious injuries and deaths caused by dooring.

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