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Dooring & The Dutch Reach

If you ride on two wheels, whether a bicycle or motorcycle, you will know that dooring is very real risk and is potentially fatal. 

What is “dooring”?  This occurs when a person who is seated in a parked vehicle opens the vehicle door, creating a collision or near collision with a cyclist or motorcyclist.  Typically, in left-hand drive countries like our own, it would be a vehicle that is parallel parked on the side of the road with the driver or rear seat driver-side passenger attempting to exit the vehicle, as the cyclist is passing the parked car. It could also, however, involve the passengers on the right hand side if the vehicle is parked on a one way street, is facing the wrong way, or is parked in a parking spot that is to the left of a bike lane, or simply a vehicle stopped in traffic where the passenger exits the vehicle (such as a taxi).    

These incidents happen more often than you might think.  Cycle Toronto shared statistics that between 2014 and 2016 there were 516 reported dooring incidents on its streets, with 209 of those incidents occurring in 2016 alone.  It is important to note that these are only incidents that are reported to the police.  There is no reporting mechanism for dooring incidents on the motor vehicle accident report or the self-reporting collision form, for example.  Clearly, change is needed, but that is beyond the scope of this article.

Unfortunately, the term “dooring” seems to underplay the significant risk that it actually involves.  The phrase “it isn’t the fall that kills you, it is the sudden stop” actually carries a lot of truth. Dooring may often involve a blunt chest trauma which can cause a traumatic aortic rupture.  The aorta is the largest artery in the body and it branches directly from the heart to supply blood to the rest of the body. If it ruptures, blood is pumped out of the aorta rapidly, quickly causing shock and, if not immediately treated, death.  Traumatic aortic rupture is the second cause of death in automobile accidents, after traumatic brain injuries.  Certainly this is a very high risk for motorcyclists in dooring collisions, but it is also high risk for cyclists depending on the speed involved. 

Further, dooring does not have to result in a direct impact with the cyclist to cause injury.  The cyclist may have to swerve suddenly to avoid the impact, thus creating other traffic risks.  This happened recently in Brooklyn where a cyclist was killed after she swerved to avoid an opening door and was struck by a transport truck (https://gothamist.com/2019/07/29/cyclist_death_sunset_park.php ).  While certainly death is not the only outcome, other serious, life-changing injuries may include head injuries and orthopaedic injuries.

The Dutch Reach is a very effective way for drivers and passengers to minimize this risk.  What is it? Simply, it is the practice of opening the car door with the far hand, as opposed to the near hand.    This causes the driver/passenger to reach across the body for the door handle, thus turning to look both in the side view mirror and, most importantly, behind and over the shoulder. The graphic below, from The Dutch Reach Project (www.dutchreach.org)  demonstrates the technique:

It does take time to disrupt an old habit.  The Dutch Reach Project recommends putting a reminder on your interior door handle, such as a ribbon or a bike charm, to remind you to do this every time. If it takes 21 days to create a new habit, this is a good and safe habit to start creating now.

Not only will practicing the Dutch Reach keep cyclists safer, avoiding these potential incidents will also keep you out of the crosshairs of the law enforcement.  Under section 165 of the Highway Traffic Act, no person shall open the door of a motor vehicle without first taking due precautions that his or her act will not interfere with the movement of or endanger any other person or vehicle.  Failure to do so can result in a fine between $300 to $1000 and 3 demerit points in Ontario.  

Remember, we are all traffic – pedestrians, cyclists, motorists. Please share the road.

This article was written by personal injury lawyer Judith Hull.